Amid the Rubble: Aftermath of the Tianjin Blast
Out-of-Body: China's Sci-fi Sensation
W O B N S I R A R RRIO WA
atters m p i ansh m w o ary sh t i l i m hina's C y h W
Cracked Nest Eggs: Reinvesting the National Pension Fund
Volume No. 087 November 2015
Published by China Newsweek Corporation Publisher: Zhang Xinxin Executive Director: Zhang Xinxin Editor-in-Chief: Wang Xiaohui Editorial Office Managing Editor: Zheng Zhonghai Advisor: Liu Dizhong Senior Editor: Ruan Yulin Copy Editors: Jack Smith, Brittney Wong Lead Writers: Yu Xiaodong, Li Jia Editors: Wang Yan, Yuan Ye, Xie Ying, Du Guodong First Reader: James Wilkinson Address: 5th Floor, 12 Baiwanzhuang South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing, China Post Code: 100037 Tel: 86-10-88395566 Fax: 86-10-88388045 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.newschinamag.com Art Department Art Director: Wu Shangwen Art Editor/Designer: Zhang Dawei Publishing and Development Office China Newsweek Corporation President: Wang Xiaohui Chief Executive: Fred Teng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Fax: 1-212-481-2503 Address: 820 2nd Ave, 3B-C, New York, NY 10017, USA Email: email@example.com Toronto Office Director: Xu Chang'an Address: 51 Halstead Drive, Markham, ON Canada L3R7Z4 Tel: 1-905-604-6150 Fax: 1-905-604-6170 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Marketing Director: Wang Chenbo Account Manager : Ren Jie Tel: 86-10-88388027 Circulation Manager: Yu Lina Tel: 86-10-88311834 Advertising Director: Gao Weiwei Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Marketing Promoter: Jerry Meng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 New York Office: Wang Yongzhi, Ruan Yulin, Deng Min Washington Office: Zhang Weiran, Diao Haiyang Los Angeles Office: Mao Jianjun San Francisco Office: Liu Dan Houston Office: Wang Huan London Office: Zhou Zhaojun Tokyo Office: Wang Jian Paris Office: Long Jianwu Bangkok Office: Yu Xianlun Kuala Lumpur Office: Zhao Shengyu Moscow Office: Huang Xiujun Manila Office: Zhang Ming Berlin Office: Huang Shuanghong Sydney Office: Zhu Daqiang Brussels Office: Shen Chen Astana Office: Wen Longjie Rio de Janeiro Office: Mo Chengxiong Johannesburg Office: Song Fangchan Jakarta Office: Gu Shihong Kathmandu Office: Fu Yongkang Legal Advisor: Allen Wu ISSN 1943-1902
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
China must look beyond the growth rate to address its economic problems
ased on data recently released by the auIn the past, many government officials apthorities, it has become clear that China’s peared to believe that as long as China could economic slowdown maintain a rapid growth rate, has not come to an end. Total it could limit the impact of Although domestic trade volume in the first half of these problems without actu2015 fell by 7.3 percent, and ally addressing them. Such a officials have stressed the Producer Price Index has mentality partly explains the that the Chinese remained in negative growth seemingly sacred position economy will not for 40 consecutive months. held by the GDP growth rate experience a ‘hard Combined with a Consumer in the government’s decisionlanding,’ most agree Price Index languishing at bemaking process. that the country will low 2 percent growth for a long But now, as economic slowperiod of time, it is safe to say down has become inevitable, face a long period of that the Chinese economy has the government must let go economic slowdown entered a period of deflation. of a mentality centered on an Moreover, overall stagnation economic policy set according in the world economy also to the growth rate. Instead, it presents a challenge for China, should look beyond this to fostill seeking to maintain the cus on addressing other fundaofficial central government mental problems. target of 7 percent growth set at the beginning of Growth may slow further. For example, cutthe year. ting excessive industrial capacity will inevitably Although domestic officials have stressed that bankrupt many companies in relevant industries, the Chinese economy will not experience a “hard increasing overall efficiency but also negatively imlanding,” most agree that the country will face a pacting economic growth. long period of economic slowdown, which has With its long-term goal being economic restrucbeen described as an economic “new normal.” turing, the government should have the courage to To a large extent, what concerns China’s leaders weather some short-term economic difficulties. As most is not the economic slowdown itself, but vari- several major factors that have undermined China’s ous social problems that may intensify and become economic development in the past decades, such a threat to political stability if the economic situ- as a high savings-income ratio and a continuing ation deteriorates further. These problems include process of massive urbanization, have remained environmental deterioration, excessive industrial unchanged, the Chinese government should have capacity, an overheated real estate industry, huge the confidence to restore market mechanisms to debts incurred by local governments which may its currently distorted economy. In the long run, threaten the financial system, and various social this would mean that China can eventually resume problems, including the income gap. rapid economic growth.
Chinaâ€™s vast military parade commemorating the victory of its war of resistance against Japanese aggression was about more than history. NewsChina lifts the lid on the political event of the year
01 China must look beyond the growth rate to address its economic problems 10 Child Sex Laws: An Uncomfortable Debate
14 Parade Diplomacy: Leaders, Weapons and Politics/The Message of the March
28 31 34
Escalator and Elevator Industry: Going Down House Renovation: New Home, New Life Yellow River : Changing Course
P52 NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by CFP
38 Tianjin Blast: When The Smoke Clears economy
42 Pension Fund Investment: Golden Eggs 44 US-listed China Concept Stocks: Homecoming history
48 The Manchurian Campaign: Blood, Brutality, Betrayal culture
52 56 58
Liu Cixin: Sino Sci-fi TFBoys: Fighting Fans Cao Baoping: Director Without Fear
64 Bargain Beijing: Beyond Silk and Pearls Commentary
72 China needs to solve its debt problem 04 MEDIA FOCUS 05 What They Say 06 NEWS BRIEF 08 Netizen Watch 47 China by numbers 66 real chinese 67 Flavor of the Month 68 ESSAY 70 CULTURAL LISTINGS
P48 NEWSCHINA I November 2015
NewsChina, Chinese Edition
China Economic Weekly
September 14, 2015
August 24, 2015
Early Warning Aircraft
At 11:37 AM on September 3, 2015, a KJ-2000, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) early warning aircraft, participated in a flypast over Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square, along with a formation of eight J-10 fighters of the Eighth Route Aerobatic Display Team. The flypast was part of a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of what China officially calls “the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World AntiFascist War.” Just 25 seconds later, a KJ-500, China’s latest homegrown all-weather early warning aircraft, the pride of China’s air force command and a key piece of hardware in its medium- and long-range combat array, made its public debut. NewsChina interviewed ground staff including ATC officers, mechanics, R&D specialists and test pilots to offer some insight into the new technology that is expanding China’s aerospace capabilities and transforming the PLAAF.
Oriental Outlook August 20, 2015
Made-in-China Vogue Over the years, the “Made in China” label has become ubiquitous worldwide, associated with flawed design, outdated technology and, above all, a cheap price tag, thanks to China’s status as the world’s factory. In recent years however, Chinese enterprises have begun to improve their branding and reputation for both technological innovation and management technique. Some have claimed that former copycats have become “tigers,” at least in the tech sector, with domestic enterprises including Huawei, Lenovo and Haier earning recognition for innovation and creativity, and gaining footholds in many key markets. Entering at the low end of the manufacturing sector and then moving upwards, China’s manufacturing industry is now beginning to shed its reputation for shoddy products, and advance towards the higher end of the global industrial chain.
China’s private investment capacity is expected to total 110 trillion yuan (US$17tn) by the end of 2015, with high net worth families accounting for 40 percent of the nation’s privately held wealth, according to a report on China’s private banks jointly released this year by Industrial Bank Co. and Boston Consulting Group. Private banking customers from China, according to the report, are generally those in possession of at least 6 million yuan (US$942,240) in investment capital. The report claimed that 47 percent of these people had earned their fortunes through the real economy, an 11 percent drop since 2012, with 25 percent accruing wealth from financial markets, a 14 percent rise in the same period. According to the report, in the next five years, as China’s economy adjusts to what macroeconomic planners call the “new normal” growth phase, the pace of accumulation of private wealth is expected to slow down.
Caijing September 14, 2015
SOE Reform As of the end of 2014, China was home to 156,000 Stateowned enterprises (SOEs), including 52,000 under direct central control. These enterprises collectively generated gross revenue of 48 trillion yuan (US$7.5tn) in 2014, according to the Ministry of Finance. Over the years, debates have raged over SOE reform, with any tweaks to existing policy sending ripples through key strategic industries. After a preliminary round of SOE reform in 1998, which attempted to make indebted SOEs profitable again, and then a second round in 2003, which created the oversight body State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), China is now expected to embark on a third round of SOE reform by the end of 2015, after a set of central guidelines was issued recently. The latest round is expected to focus on several aspects of SOE administration, and also overhaul the roles and responsibilities of the SASAC.
Economy & Nation Weekly July 10, 2015
Top Brainstorming China’s 13th Five-year Plan (2016-2020), the first issued since President Xi Jinping took office, is expected to reflect new Chinese economic and social development planning. Economy & Nation Weekly interviewed some of the 55 top advisors in various areas, including government agencies, think tanks and enterprises, who have participated in the discussion and appraisal of the latest Five-year Plan. Over half of these advisors had worked on the plan’s predecessor, and 18 of them are drawn from the field of economics. Public opinion is also being courted through traditional media and online, with increasing focus on social media, where discussion has revolved around issues affecting most Chinese families, including pension and healthcare reform. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Illustration by Wu Shangwen
“One of the government’s functions is to raise prices.”
Zhu Xiaozhong, deputy director of the local pricing bureau of Zhengzhou, Henan Province, explaining why a “public hearing” on a water rate hike was put on police lockdown, leading to widespread condemnation.
“The taxi market remains a planned economy... in which taxis and their drivers operate like landlords and their retainers.” Cheng Wei, president of Uber-equivalent Didi Taxi, on the
enduring popularity of taxi-booking apps in the face of government crackdowns.
“How could the War of Resistance be so easy that a handful of people could wipe out an entire platoon of [Japanese] devils? If it were truly that way, how could we have sacrificed so many brothers in a grueling eight-year war?” 99-year-old World War II veteran Ma Dingxin, lashing out against glamorized TV and movie depictions of the War of Resistance against Japan.
“With no precedent for collecting property tax in a country where all land is publicly owned, it’s incredibly risky for China to attempt to be a trailblazer. If we can’t cut the number of existing forms of taxation, to impose another on real estate would be tantamount to hooliganism.” Real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang on the central government’s plans to impose China’s first property tax.
“If we condemn extramarital affairs, it will cause some people to give up on their marriages, but if we tolerate them, vows of fidelity will be merely cosmetic. No matter what we do, the number of extramarital affairs will remain high, and we will remain powerless to change this.” Sexologist Li Yinhe on the Ashley Madison hacking scandal, claiming that the website’s huge number of users was an indication of the vulnerability of marriage. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
“We even discussed the details of his anti-alien invasion bill, including whether the country should establish an emergency response system and which departments should take charge of it.” Liu Cixin, bestselling author of sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, on being approached by a National People’s Congress legislator for advice on establishing a national strategy for dealing with a potential extraterrestrial invasion.
“As an educational reform, the‘self-recruitment system’ is essentially a failure.” Lu Xiongwen, director of Shanghai Fudan University’s management school, speaking out against the system that has allowed prestigious universities to select accomplished candidates from outside the existing college entry examination system, arguing that the outcomes of both systems are identical.
“The deeply divided labor market and the widespread use of social networking tools have produced pockets of shutins.These people would rather type‘I kiss you’to a total stranger than say‘hello’to the people around them.” Social commentator Zhong Ming on an emerging trend of “renta-friend” apps that allow users to pay a stranger to see a movie or go to the gym with them.
“Unlike such crimes against girls, the sexual assault of boys is ignored both in society and the law... This is unfair, since gender equality includes the right to sexual self-determination, particularly in the case of children.” Lawyer Deng Xueping, appealing for greater legislative protection for male victims of child sexual abuse. Outside of child molestation, China’s Criminal Law makes no provision for male victims of any other form of sexual abuse, up to and including rape.
Unusual Amnesty Who is eligible?
Several thousand Chinese prisoners will be set free under a government amnesty commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Those set to be freed are mostly elderly or juvenile prisoners who were convicted before January 1, 2015, according to the special pardon issued by Chinese President Xi Jinping on August 29. Li Shouwei, deputy director of the criminal law office of the Legislative Affairs Commission under the National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislative body, told the official Xinhua News Agency that the government will also provide medical and financial aid to those who have difficulty supporting themselves once out of prison.
While critics have argued that a so-called “imperial pardon” for convicted criminals sends the wrong message about China’s supposed commitment to judicial reform, Lang Sheng, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission, responded that the amnesty was rooted in China’s Constitution statute and is designed to “neutralize negative elements” and “mobilize social energy.” “The  amnesty is a combination of legal [procedure] and the government’s benevolence. It serves as a promotion of China’s Criminal Law” commented Zhi Zhengfeng, a law researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, writing in Party mouthpiece People’s Daily. Zhou Qiang, president of the People’s
1. Former combatants in the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and Chinese Civil War (1945-1949). 2. Those viewed as having safeguarded national sovereignty and territorial integrity, excluding those convicted of bribery and corruption or violent antisocial crimes such as murder, rape, robbery or terrorism. 3. Disabled people aged over 75 who cannot take care of themselves. 4. Those aged under 18 at the time of their crime who were sentenced to less than three years in prison or have less than one year remaining on their sentence, excluding those convicted of the aforementioned crimes.
Supreme Court, pledged that relevant government organs would individually review each amnesty case and publish all pardons issued. The Chinese government has issued seven blanket amnesties since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, with the last one being issued in 1975. Most of those released in these amnesties were former Japanese and Kuomintang military officials and personnel convicted of war crimes or collaboration with the enemy during the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949).
Apple’s China Tax Dodge The Shanghai branch of tech giant Apple had evaded paying a total of 452 million yuan (US$71.7m) in taxes in China by the end of 2013, according to China’s Ministry of Finance. The figure was made public following a recent investigation which alleged that Apple’s Shanghai branch had attempted to dodge taxes by fabricating cost data and failing to disclose its full income. The company will now have to pay back taxes plus late fees of 65 million yuan
(US$10.3m). Investigators revealed that they had discovered tax irregularities resulting in a total loss to the public purse of some 69.1 billion yuan (US$11bn). Experts have attributed rampant tax evasion in China’s corporate sector to poor implementation of the national tax code, calling upon relevant departments to tighten inspection and impose harsher punishments, such as larger fines, upon offenders. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Women’s Volleyball Champs
Railroad to Bangkok
The Chinese women’s volleyball team defeated Japan by three games to one in the final round of the 2015 Women’s Volleyball World Cup held in Japan between August 22 and September 6. It was China’s fourth World Cup victory, though the first in 12 years. The Chinese women’s volleyball team reached its peak in the 1980s when its players swept the 1981 and 1985 World Cups, the 1982 and 1986 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships and the 1984 Olympic Games. A lack of new blood, however, caused the team to lose its shine in the 1990s, as other sports captured public attention. Chief coach Lang Ping, now 55, was a star player of the Chinese team in the 1980s, later going on to coach volleyball in Italy and the US. Lang took over the Chinese team in 2013 and concentrated her efforts on training young players. The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will present the team’s biggest challenge, when Lang hopes to face the players she used to coach – the US national team – who managed to snatch the silver medal from China at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Investment
Foreign Real Estate Investment Restrictions Lifted China plans to lift its restrictions on foreign investment in real estate, according to a Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announcement made on August 27. According to MOFCOM, China will now allow foreign individuals and companies (excluding those already engaged in the real estate industry) to buy commercial or residential properties in China for their own use. Previously, foreigners were required to have worked or studied in China for a minimum of one year before they could buy a house, while foreign organizations and companies were only permitted to purchase a single office for their own use in the Chinese city in which they were registered. The new regulations have also eliminated a requirement mandating that foreign-invested real estate companies pay their registration fees in full before they can become eligible to apply for loans in China from either domestic or foreign banks. Analysts have explained the new policy as a bid to revitalize China’s flagging real estate market by making higher-end properties more freely available to wealthy foreign buyers. Others have described it as a bid to secure much-needed foreign investment in order to prop up a slowing growth rate.
After six rounds of negotiations, China and Thailand finally concluded an agreement to construct a high-speed rail service linking Kunming, Yunnan Province, with Bangkok. The line will be an important section of China’s muchhyped Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) program, which will, when completed, extend south through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia, and terminate in Singapore. According to the agreement, the planned rail will be 867 kilometers long, with trains traveling at a top speed of 180 kilometers per hour. As a crucial link in China’s One Belt, One Road Strategy, the rail service, according to analysts, will help attract two million more Chinese visitors to Thailand every year, and boost the Southeast Asian nation’s agricultural exports. The project will break ground in late October and be completed within three years. Bangkok will ultimately serve as a main hub for China’s planned TAR network.
China Promotes Network Integration China’s State Council has launched a program promoting the integration of TV, telecom and Internet networks, with a particular focus on combining the latter two. According to an official press release, China’s TV and radio networks will henceforth be permitted to provide telecom services, while telecom companies will be allowed to make and broadcast TV and radio programs, excluding those with political content, as well as provide a transmission channel for Internet entertainment. Given intense competition for market share within these three sectors, analysts believe that the new policy will serve as an impetus for “benign cooperation and competition,” especially in the TV and radio sector, which has been hemorrhaging viewers with the rise of the Internet and mobile entertainment. Unlike previous integration efforts, this time the central government will permit provincial governments to individualize their own detailed plans for integration. Success, according to analysts, will depend on various special interests groups putting their differences aside, with cooperation between various official jurisdictions a main stumbling block to previous attempts at multimedia network integration. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photos by Xinhua and IC
Marvelous On the night of September 5, several villagers in Hefei, Anhui Province, claimed they witnessed two UFOs hovering and spinning over the village while emitting a white light. Local police verified the sighting, informing local media that the two circular objects appeared to be revolving around a single unidentified axis. Experts suggested the objects were likely of human origin, though locals preferred to believe they were visitors from outer space.
A video-streaming website named Anqiaoqiao, literally “Let Me Look,” has come under fierce fire for “rebroadcasting,” free of charge, closedcircuit television footage from over 100 cameras installed in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, including those situated in restaurants, shops, offices and even private homes. Although website managers argued that they were authorized by the camera operators to publicly broadcast the images, many residents responded with alarm, saying they weren’t even aware of the cameras. Observers claimed that such cameras are vulnerable to remote hacking, and urged caution in their use.
A six-year-old girl in Fujian Province was revealed to have been violently assaulted by her parents on a regular basis, suffering beatings that continued even after a police visit. When asked why they had not detained the girl’s parents for child abuse, the police responded that the beating was “ordinary discipline.” Netizens argued that pandering to parents is a major factor contributing to high rates of child abuse.
Pictures of two people dressed as characters from the movie Minions selling bananas on a city street recently went viral, though the adorable vendors in question were eventually told to vacate the area by urban management officers. Netizens guessed at the identities of the costumed hawkers, with some suggesting they might be college students, until it was revealed that the whole affair was a promotional stunt by search engine giant Baidu.
Poll the People China has so far abolished examinations for 211 professional qualifications that the government believes are “redundant and unnecessary.” However, English language proficiency exams remain a requirement to advance in technical disciplines, something of an unnecessary “appendix” according to Xinhua News Agency. Passing an English exam, which is mandatory before one can be granted a higher technical title, has become a major obstacle for many professionals who have found themselves unable to advance in their chosen fields. Should English exams for technical promotions be abolished? Yes 81,214 91% No 7,669 9% Source: views.news.qq.com
Most Circulated Post Retweeted 412,039 times by September 11 China invited World War II veterans to participate in its huge September parade commemorating the end of the war in 1945. State broadcaster CCTV called on the Chinese public not to forget the veterans who fought for their country.
“When China was embroiled in war, it was these veterans that risked their lives on the bloody battlefield. Now, they are old and ailing. They are not afraid of death, they are afraid of being forgotten. Let’s retweet this post to salute our veterans. Do not forget history!”
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Top Five Search Queries On
HOT? WHO’S NOT?
over the week ending September 15 September 3 Parade 2,826,174
China held a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
No War No Abe 454,188
Over 40,000 Japanese nationals protested outside the Diet, Japan’s parliament building, in opposition to attempts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to revise the country’s pacifist constitution.
2015 Apple Release 409,917
Apple held a press conference on September 10 to announce the launch of the iPhone 6S, iPad Pro, Apple TV and a stylus for iPhones and iPads.
He Ganhui, a young man in Foshan, Guangdong Province, was mocked by netizens for taking epic bike rides after quarreling with his girlfriend. Some media sources claimed He had effectively cycled to Africa.
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in his speech during the September 3 parade that his administration would cut the number of military personnel by 300,000.
Six Second KO 304,179
Chinese boxer Yan Xibo knocked out his Japanese opponent in six seconds in a bout held as part of the martial arts TV show Kunlun Fight that aired on Jiangsu Television.
Top Blogger Profile Liu Hu Followers: 686,270 (onTencent Weibo as of September 18) Liu Hu, a well-known Chinese journalist accused of “defamation” and “making and spreading rumors,” finally had his case thrown out by a Beijing procuratorate on September 10. Employed by several media outlets, Liu was detained in August 2013 after reporting the alleged corrupt activities of several high-ranking officials and leaders of State-owned enterprises, including Ma Zhengqi, deputy director of the State Administration for Industry & Commerce, and Song Lin, former president of Huarun Group, a State-owned listed company engaged in real estate, infrastructure and public services. Media alleged that Liu’s detention was possibly the result of his reporting alleged sexual indiscretions of Du Hangwei, director of the provincial public security bureau of Shaanxi Province, which was denied by the latter. Liu was freed on bail in August 2014 after his lawyers argued that Liu had merely reported allegations made by his sources. “Neither facts nor evidence are sufficient to prosecute Liu,” read the statement made by the procuratorate. Liu himself remarked that he was surprised at the ruling, telling media that “[the procuratorate] is more independent than I had imagined.” Liu has continued his reporting on his microblog since his release, though he claims to “self-censor” all content before publishing it. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Some of the images used in this section are from the internet
Chinese Disarmament 350,316
Pregnant Freshman A freshman at a vocational school in Yantai, Shandong Province, shocked her faculty by arriving for registration heavily pregnant and accompanied by her fiancé. The school granted her maternity leave after concerns were expressed for her health.
Tireless Teacher On September 10, China’s Teacher’s Day, Jiang Shengfa, a disabled teacher in a povertystricken village in Yunnan Province, earned widespread praise after images emerged of him continuing to teach his students despite having lost the use of his arms – even turning book pages with his mouth.
Crime of Passion A man in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region murdered his girlfriend during an argument, then posted images of him lying next to her corpse on WeChat, a social media platform, accompanied by the words “please forgive me for my selfish love.” Police detained the man hours after the post first appeared.
Child Sex Laws
An Uncomfortable Debate China has finally removed a controversial ‘soliciting underage prostitutes’ statute, reclassifying such activities as statutory rape. However, disputes over the country’s child protection laws continue to rage
Photo by CFP
By Xie Ying
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
n August 29, the 12th Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislative body, approved the nullification of the crime of “soliciting underage prostitutes,” reclassifying this offense as statutory rape. According to the wording of the resolution, from November 1, 2015, any male over 16 years old who has sex with a girl under 14, regardless of whether or not “consent” has been given, will be prosecuted for rape, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of death. The change has been viewed as a positive response to public outrage at media exposés of groups of adult men, including many government officials, whose sexual abuse of children has been punished with only light penalties due to the now-defunct statute. However, while the Chinese public appears to overwhelmingly support the new law, lawyers and legal experts are divided, as they were when the crime of “soliciting underage prostitutes” was added to China’s Criminal Law in 1997.
According to legal professionals, the crime of “soliciting underage prostitutes” first appeared on the NPC’s agenda in the early 1990s when the Chinese government launched one of its perennial crackdowns on the country’s sex industry. Although China’s Criminal Law classified sex with a minor as rape, many offenders attempted to escape punishment by pleading ignorance of their victims’ ages, or by arguing that the children involved gave consent. As verifying such claims in a court of law proved difficult, China’s legislature added the crime of “soliciting underage prostitutes” to the Criminal Law statute in 1997, recommending a penalty of five to 15 years imprisonment for any offender. Judges were given discretion at trial when it came to determining whether or not a child molester was guilty of rape or of “soliciting underage prostitutes,” but no plaintiff could be prosecuted for both crimes. Although the revision split the legal profession, the NPC Criminal Law Committee told media at the time that the revised statute was designed to “facilitate cracking down on prostitution and protecting
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
children.” Legislators argued that they were merely complying with requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which China became a signatory in 1991. “The [new crime] aimed to distinguish between soliciting child or adult prostitutes, [as the latter] is not defined as a violation of China’s Criminal Law,” Gao Mingxuan, a law professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, told China Youth Daily. “As some instances of sex with children occurred at illegal sex markets without coercion, intimidation or the use of anesthesia, the legislative body drew a distinction between [such crimes] and rape, but set the minimum penalty [or imprisonment] two years higher than that [set for] rape,” he added. The revised criminal statute did not, however, curb child prostitution in China. Instead, it appeared to offer pedophiles a potential way to dodge charges of child rape. Public outcry reached fever pitch in 2009 when media reports exposed several local officials in Xishui, a county in Guizhou Province, as having solicited sex from 11 female high school students (three of whom were under 14 years old) who had been groomed by a child sex ring. The court sentenced the men to seven-to-14 years in prison under the underage prostitution statute, which led to public outrage, not least among lawyers, who insisted that the men should have been charged with rape, and that the court should have sought a more severe penalty. Since then, similar cases have come to light, further stoking the ire of those who saw the solicitation statute as a smoke screen for pedophiles. In 2011, several local officials in Lüeyang County, Shaanxi Province, reportedly coerced a female minor into having sex with them each in turn. Their victim later hemorrhaged. In 2012, several officials and businessmen in Zhejiang Province were revealed to have procured underage virgin girls for sex. Then, in 2013, a local official and the president of a local elementary school in Wanning, Hainan Province, were detained for “sexually harassing” six female pupils in a hotel room. Although the final sentences handed down to many of the convicted were kept from the public, the public blamed the solicitation
statute for emboldening pedophiles, particularly those in positions of power, by “opening a door” to lighter punishments. “The crime of ‘soliciting underage prostitutes’ has become a shield and an amnesty for the rich and powerful,” Sun Xiaomei, an NPC delegate, told the media. Sun, who is also a sexologist with China Women’s University, argues that the solicitation statute “humiliated” and “re-harmed” victims of child rape by labeling them prostitutes, despite it being impossible for them to give legal consent. “Underage girls subjected to both rape and prostitution are all victims who deserve equal protection,” stated Sun in a 2013 proposal to the NPC which later drew considerable praise from the public and the media. “Even if a few of these victims sold sexual services of their own volition, their ages make them blameless.” Sun’s views are shared by many lawyers and legal scholars who have argued that the solicitation statue has diluted the severity of the violence, intimidation and coercion that lies behind sex crimes against children. For several years, many lawyers, legal experts and NPC delegates, as well as NGOs and governmental organizations, including the All-China Women’s Federation and its local branches, have separately or jointly submitted proposals and bills to the NPC, calling for the crime to be incorporated into existing child rape statutes.
The NPC, however, remained cautious when it came to abolishing the controversial solicitation statute, even when the country’s law enforcement organs, including the Supreme Court, began to gradually lean towards abolition. In March 2014, a local court in Qionglai, Sichuan Province, charged a man who had procured a 13-year-old girl for sex at a price of 800 yuan (US$127) with rape. When convicted, the man was sentenced to five years in prison, making that case the latest in a string of controversial rulings. While elements of the public commended the court’s decision to charge the man with rape, the judgment attracted criticism in some legal circles for “failing to respect the law.” Some lawyers argued that, regardless of the moral implications of the case, the crime itself, according to statute, was “soliciting underage prostitutes” and not rape. The Qionglai court, however, argued that the accused was clearly aware of the age of his victim, adding that the Supreme People’s Court had in 2013 issued guidelines on cases related to child sex, stating that any act involving exchange of money for sex with a minor should be
prosecuted as statutory rape. “This document does not contradict the articles [pertaining to] rape [in the Criminal Law statute],” said Zhou Feng, president of the First Criminal Tribunal of the Supreme People’s Court, following the publication of the new guidelines. “In the interests of facilitating crackdowns on [those causing] criminal harm to children, we should inform the public that these acts should be treated in law as rape rather than prostitution.” Analysts responded by claiming that the new guidelines effectively suspended the controversial solicitation statute. Yet, despite an outpouring of public support for the SPC’s decision, the NPC did not propose abolishing the child prostitution statute in either its first or second draft revisions to the country’s Criminal Law, with an official statement blandly remarking that “the Standing Committee has not yet reached consensus.” “If we simply abolish the crime it may not solve the problem,” ran an NPC communiqué to Sun Xiaomei in 2013. “Before this crime was added to the Criminal Law, soliciting sex from underage girls was [already] defined as rape, but this was not enforced well.” Supporters of abolition continued to chafe at what they saw was NPC vacillation. Some radical voices even opined that some officials guilty of child sex offenses were seeking to protect themselves. As the debate gained ferocity, the NPC suddenly included a proposed amendment recommending the abolition of the crime of soliciting underage prostitutes into their third draft revision to the Criminal Law. The proposed amendment was swiftly approved.
The amendment was not without its detractors. Some accused the NPC of failing to take the legislative process seriously by chopping and changing their stance on certain statutes. Some even claimed that the NPC was “being raped by public opinion.” “I don’t think that an underage girl can be denied the right to sexual self-determination, whether they are having or selling sex,” Fang Gang, a prominent sexologist, wrote in a blog post on portal sina.com. “I think that genuine child protection means acknowledging their human rights and offering them better sex education.” “Underage girls involved in prostitution are not the same as those covered by the rape statute, since the law defines prostitutes as individuals who have engaged in the sex trade for a long time, or are professional sex workers,” remarked Peking University law professor Che Hao, speaking to a reporter from Legal Daily, the official newspaper of the Politics and Law Committee of the Communist Party NEWSCHINA I November 2015
“Underage girls subjected to both rape and prostitution are all victims who deserve equal protection. Even if a few of these clauses in the existing Criminal Law statute on victims sold sexual services of rape. their own volition, their ages “I don’t think it is necessary to worry about make them blameless” the severity of penalties, since the Criminal
of China. “[Sex with] underage girls [who] fall into [the latter] category should be prosecuted under the ‘soliciting underage prostitutes’ law, while all other cases should be treated as rape.” Che’s suggestions were echoed by China University of Political Science and Law professor Ruan Qilin, who told NewsChina that “soliciting underage prostitutes” is simply a legal definition. This definition, he argued, represents a perceived distinction between solicitation of an underage prostitute and rape in terms of the level of harm done to the victim. Such statements incensed supporters of the amendment, who argued that their opponents had failed to understand basic legal principles. “In China, the age of consent is 16. Therefore, a girl under 14 years old has neither capacity nor right to [consent to] sell sex. This is the prevailing view worldwide,” criminal law specialist Dr Shao Mingyan of Beijing Union University told NewsChina. “Opposition [to the amendment] sounds reasonable and understandable from a purely theoretical angle, but a legislative body has to make the rights of children its priority,” Lu Junxiang, a lawyer from Beijing’s Crown & Rights Law Firm, told our reporter. “Mounting public outrage at the sexual abuse of underage girls by government officials proves that the criminal statute [of soliciting underage prostitutes] has produced a negative impact on society, something a legislative body should take into consideration,” he added. Shao Mingyan agreed with this analysis. “A Criminal Law is formulated to punish acts that harm society, therefore it cannot separate itself from the demands of that society – namely, public opinion,” he told NewsChina. While both sides of the argument claim their main interest is better child protection in law, they remain divided over how this shared end would best be achieved. Opponents of the abolition of the solicitation statute have argued that, in many cases, a child rapist will receive a lighter sentence than someone who has procured a minor for sex. “Although the maximum penalty for soliciting an underage girl is much lighter than that imposed for rape, the former crime carries a heavier minimum penalty,” said Ruan Qilin. “Whether or not violent coercion is a factor is still a major criterion by which a judge determines the severity of a sentence. While the public might expect a life imprisonment or death sentence, this is seldom demanded in rape cases unless violence was used, [the defendant] raped multiple victims, or if the crime took place in public,” he added, referring to NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Law states that raping an underage girl should require a heavier punishment,” said Shao Mingyan. His counterparts, however, are worried. In December 2013, the Supreme People’s Court issued a document on the crime of rape, stating that “raping one underage girl” could be punishable by four to seven years in prison – a sentence even Lü Xiaoquan, a lawyer who has prominently supported the abolition of the crime of soliciting underage prostitutes, called “too conservative.” “Given that rape is defined as a serious crime whose offenders could be punished by life imprisonment or death, the rape statute is definitely a more effective deterrent than the ‘solicitation’ statute,’” said Crown & Rights lawyer Lu Junxiang. “It would, however, be better if related departments issued more detailed enforcement rules to distinguish between different situations, such as procuring sex from an underage girl, having ‘consensual’ sex with an underage girl, and coercing an underage girl into sex.” As the NPC Law Committee admits, the problem lies chiefly in enforcement at the court level, with many courts prosecuting cases of child rape under the solicitation statute. Legal scholars argue, for example, that the men convicted in the Xishu case should have been charged with statutory rape, as they knew both the ages of their victims and that the victims had been coerced into prostitution. Despite the infrequency of solicitation cases involving minors in China’s courts – around one per province, per year, according to SPC data – the sexual abuse of children is frequently exposed by media reports, with many experts suggesting that the problem is far more widespread than officials are willing to admit. Data from the All-China Women’s Federation indicate that the number of complaints concerning the sexual abuse of children have risen from 135 in 1997 to over 3,000 in 2000. Few of these cases were followed up by either law enforcement or the courts. “The abolition of a crime is only a starting point. We have much more to do to protect our children from sex abuse,” commented columnist Qin Chuan on the official website of the People’s Daily.
Min Jie also contributed to the story
Forward march t
o commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Beijing put on a show for a world audience, a political event of such importance that its timing, speeches and guest list were all laden with meaning. What was China trying to convey to its citizens, its neighbors and the world at large with its spectacular military showcase? 14
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by Xinhua
A KJ-2000, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force early warning aircraft, along with a formation of eight J-10 fighters of the Eighth Route Aerobatic Display Team NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and his predecessors Jiang Zemin (center) and Hu Jintao watch the parade from the rostrum
Photo by Liao pan
A bird’s-eye view of the parade in Tian’anmen Square
Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) with overseas dignitaries before the military parade in Beijing
Leaders, Weapons and Politics
The gravity attached to China’s recent military parade makes every official’s presence, absence, position and handshake a symbol of China’s growing strength and its complex relationships with other regional powers By Yu Xiaodong
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
ince China announced it would hold a military parade on September 3 to mark its victory in what it officially terms the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, the parade’s guest list drew international attention as analysts viewed it as a kind of barometer for China’s global influence. As the parade headed toward Tian’anmen Square on that sunny Thursday morning, a total of 23 heads of state were in attendance, and troops from 17 countries marched along with their Chinese counterparts.
Absence of the West
As expected, leaders of major Western countries were absent from the event. Czech Republic President Milos Zeman was the only European Union head of state who attended the parade, and larger Western countries only sent ministers or lower-level officials. For example, France and Italy sent their foreign ministers, and the US, Germany and Canada were represented by their ambassadors to China. But China rejected the idea that the parade was being boycotted by
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
Photo by Xinhua
Honor guards representing the three arms of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army march during the parade
the West, and stressed that most Western countries did accept their invitations to attend. “It is up to each country to decide whom to send,” said Zhang Ming, a deputy foreign minister. “As the old Chinese saying goes, ‘anyone who comes is our guest.’ We welcome them all.” According to State publication Global Times, China sent invitations to 51 countries for the Victory Day ceremony. Everyone accepted except for Japan and the Philippines. A report by the State’s official Xinhua News Agency emphasized that US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who visited China prior to the parade, said in her August 28 meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping that President Barack Obama thinks highly of the Chinese people’s great contributions to the Allied victory in World War II and of the US-China friendship forged during the war, one of the main themes that China highlighted during the parade. However, although China downplayed the absence of Western leaders, their poor attendance does reflect the reservations held by the Western world about the message sent through the parade’s display of military power, especially when China’s more assertive foreign and defense policies are increasingly seen as a challenge to a Western-centric world order.
Photo by Xinhua
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects troops
Two officers lead a foot formation march
Soldiers march in near-perfect synchronicity
A detachment of army medics
Russia and the SCO
Russian troops march in the parade
In contrast with the absence of Western leaders, the event was attended by senior leaders from many of China’s neighboring countries, as well as other developing countries in Africa and Latin America. A group that received particular attention were attendees representing the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Cofounded in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has played an increasingly important role in China’s diplomacy in recent years, both politically and economically, especially since China adopted the One Belt, One Road economic initiative as its major global strategy. In 2014, the SCO agreed to hold a series of events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. With a greatly strengthened relationship with Russia, it is not surprising that the event’s most prominent guest was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was seated next to Xi during the parade. This diplomatic courtesy was a reflection of the courtesy Xi received when he attended Russia’s V-Day parade in Moscow on May 9. Of the SCO’s seven member states, not including China, six sent their top leaders or honor guards to attend the parade. The only absence among the SOC bloc was India, which joined the SCO along with Pakistan in July. According to Indian media, China asked India to send a 75-strong honor guard to attend the event, but India declined the invitation. Besides the SCO bloc, many of China’s neighbors also sent either their top leaders or honor guards, including Mongolia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. Other countries who sent top leaders or troops include Belarus, Cuba, Serbia, Venezuela, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Mexico. In total, 10 out of the 14 countries sharing land borders with China, boundaries that make up about three-fourths of the length of China’s total land borders, sent either their top leaders or honor guards to participate in the parade. In the past few years, China has devoted significant diplomatic re-
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
sources to what many call “periphery diplomacy.” A better relationship with Russia and other bordering countries is considered a major factor behind China’s decision to cut the size of its military by 300,000 troops. By announcing this decision during his speech at the parade, Xi appeared to be trying to neutralize the message conveyed by China’s display of military power and to reassure the world that China seeks peace, not conflict. If the reduction plan is executed, the size of China’s armed forces will be reduced from 2.3 million to 2 million military personnel. Experts believe that the downsizing of China’s military will particularly target its standing army. As a traditional land power, China has a large ground force and a relatively small navy and air force. Due to a closer relationship with Russia and other bordering countries, China can reduce its resources devoted to its colossal army and focus more on developing an advanced navy and air force, something it has been steadily working on over the past two decades.
The Korean Element
Among all the leaders that attended the parade, the one who perhaps received the most attention was South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Being one of the US’s major allies in the region, China, South Korea and the US all watched closely for word on her attendance before it was eventually confirmed. Many expected that Park would not make an appearance to avoid being seen as too close to China, especially after South Korea’s decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank earlier this year. Therefore, Park’s eventual attendance has raised some concern in the US that South Korea is “tilting” towards China. In contrast, Park was received with special courtesy in Beijing. During the parade, Park was seated near Xi during the parade; only Putin was closer to the president. It appears that Park’s decision was well received back in South Korea, as her public approval ratings rose from 49 percent before the parade
to 54 percent after, according to polling released on September 4. Analysts believe that Park’s decision to attend the event was motivated by a shared sentiment over Japan’s attitude towards its wartime history, a desire to seek more diplomatic independence in solving its security issues with North Korea, and a drive to cultivate a better economic relationship with China. Both China and South Korea are wary of Japan’s tendency towards historical revisionism regarding World War II. While Xi has met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe briefly on a few occasions, Park has not met with Abe since assuming power. Referring to a shared “time of great adversity” as “a precious foundation for the friendship of both nations,” Park also attended a ceremony in Shanghai after the parade for the reopening of the historic site that hosted the Republic of Korea’s provisional government while Korea was occupied by Japan. Apart from finding common ground over shared wartime experiences, South Korea seeks China’s support in solving its major national security issue, North Korea. Just before Park’s China trip, Seoul and Pyongyang negotiated an agreement to de-escalate tensions following an exchange of fire across the Demilitarized Zone. It is reported that when Park and Xi met on September 2, Park thanked China for its role in helping end the recent conflict, while Xi reiterated China’s commitment to a denuclearized Korean peninsula, calling for renewed talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. In contrast with Park’s presence and the courtesy she received was the absence of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, although rumors circulated before the event that he would perhaps attend. Kim has not visited China or any other foreign country since assuming power in December 2011. Instead, Pyongyang sent Choe Ryong Hae, Kim’s top aide, who was seated in a far corner of the rostrum, something many analysts considered a sign that the relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang is steadily deteriorating.
As the parade, which officially commemorated the victory of “the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression,” is considered to be “anti-Japanese” in nature, Japan was no doubt a country to watch during the event. In the run-up to the event, Chinese officials repeatedly stressed the parade was not targeted at any specific country. During Xi’s parade speech, he mentioned “Japanese aggression” and “Japanese militarists” several times when talking about the war, but made no direct reference to postwar Japan or the current Japanese administration. However, given the recent rows between China and Japan over a variety of issues ranging from attitudes toward wartime history and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute to a more general regional rivalry, it is inevitable that Japan would feel uncomfortable with the event and its tone.
Unlike the Western countries who sent lower-level officials, no official representative from Tokyo made an appearance at the parade. Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama – who issued a landmark apology for the war in 1995 – announced he would attend in a personal capacity, but, according to the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, he became too ill to attend, expressing his regret to a Chinese official who visited him in the hospital. Despite the absence of any Japanese officials, there appeared to be diplomatic exchanges behind the scenes prior to the parade. In late August, the Japanese media reported that Abe had expressed interest in visiting China immediately before or after the commemorative events, a suggestion later rejected by China’s Foreign Ministry. In a news conference held the same day as the parade, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told the media that “it was extremely regrettable” that Xi did not include “elements of reconciliation” in his speech. Despite Japanese officials’ reservations over the parade itself, they reserved most of their criticism for UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon. After failing to dissuade Ban from attending the parade in late August, Japanese officials denounced Ban’s decision on several different occasions after the event. Suga, for example, said that the UN should “be neutral” regarding “a specific period of the past involving member states” and that it should be more “future-oriented” in its work with the international community. In response, Ban said that the UN is “an impartial body,” instead of a “neutral” one. “If you do not learn correctly from the past, it would be difficult to move ahead toward the right direction,” he said. Japan’s criticism toward Ban appears to stem from a concern that his attendance strengthens China’s claim of being a cofounder of the postwar international order, especially because it seemed to reaffirm the fact that China gained its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council based on its wartime contributions. Moreover, the message that China will “defend the postwar international order” appears to clash directly with Abe’s well-known campaign phrase: “Breaking away from the postwar regime.” Although Abe now argues that the phrase only refers to Japan’s internal affairs, the ambiguity shown by many officials in the Abe administration on various issues regarding Japan’s wartime atrocities have suggested otherwise. More recently, as Abe has pushed a set of new security bills through the Diet, Japan’s parliament, leading to large-scale domestic protests, some analysts say that Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution has been effectively amended. On August 27, a week prior to China’s parade, Japan launched its second Izumo-class helicopter carrier. Japanese officials said the 24,000-ton ship, the largest Japanese military vessel launched since World War II, is a direct response to China’s growing submarine fleet. For Chinese analysts, what is most significant about the ship is that it bears the name Kaga, the same name as a World War II-era ImpeNEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
Above: Shore-to-ship missiles pass Tian’anmen Square
Left: Unmanned aerial vehicles on display
rial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier that participated in major Japanese offensives along China’s eastern coast and later took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The carrier was eventually sunk during the Battle of Midway by US forces. From a Chinese perspective, recycling the name of a World War II aircraft carrier at a time when that period of history is ultra-sensitive is yet another example of what many Chinese consider to be Japan’s “nostalgia” for its imperial past. As China and Japan have become further entrenched in their mutual distrust, their disagreements over the correct historical narrative and their current regional roles have also intensified. At the same time, neighboring powers are realigning their interests and priorities in the face of China’s recent rise. With this geopolitical backdrop, one of the region’s strongest rivalries seems to be growing deeper and deeper roots. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
A total of 70,000 peace doves are set free after the parade in Beijing, September 3, 2015 Photo by IC
The Message of the March
With its grand military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the victory of China’s war against Japanese aggression, China reasserts its position in the postwar international order By Yu Xiaodong
total of 12,000 troops, 500 units of military equipment and 200 aircraft paraded through and over Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square on September 3 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the victory of what China officially calls the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World AntiFascist War. The event was perhaps the single most politically important event in China this year. For many Western analysts, the parade was yet another example of China flexing its muscles. However, being its first military parade to commemorate the end of World War II, the significance of this highly anticipated and carefully staged event extends far beyond the variety of military hardware on display. To understand the message China was trying to convey to domestic and international audiences alike, one must take into consideration the history underpinning the ceremony, especially when China’s view of the war is becoming more, not less, important in shaping the country’s perspective on its current interactions with the world.
The Chinese government has stated that one of the major goals of the parade was to reassert China’s historical contribution to the war
and its role as a cofounder of the current international order. A commonly held sentiment among the Chinese is that the West has downplayed, if not forgotten, China’s contribution to the World War II victory, an issue extensively covered by Oxford professor Rana Mitter in his international bestseller Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II. According to Mitter, China was the first country to fight fascism, holding back 600,000 Japanese troops during the war and preventing Japan from turning toward the Soviet Union, Southeast Asia and British India. China played an important role in the final victory of the Allied forces. Japan launched its full-scale invasion of China’s interior in 1937 and gained control of much of China’s eastern seaboard, while the Nationalists (KMT) and Communists (CPC), led by Chiang Kaishek and Mao Zedong, respectively, forged a temporary alliance and carried on their resistance inland. It is estimated that 70 percent of Japan’s 1.95 million casualties suffered between 1937 and 1945 took place on Chinese battlefields, at great cost to China. China also sent hundreds of thousands of troops to fight against Japan’s aggression in both Myanmar and India after the Pacific War broke out. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
World War II veterans take part in the parade
Photo by AFP
Mitter estimated that 14 million Chinese died during the war, including 2.2 million soldiers. About 100 million more were displaced during hostilities. According to Chinese archives, China suffered far greater casualties, with more than 35 million war dead, including over 3 million soldiers. Even adopting Mitter’s more conservative estimate, among the Allied forces, China’s total losses were second only to those of the Soviet Union, which bore 27 million casualties. However, after the CPC defeated the KMT in a bloody civil war following the end of World War II and the KMT fled to Taiwan, the history of China as an ally of the Western forces was largely forgotten by those same Western countries during the Cold War. China is still resentful that its sacrifices and contributions have not translated into political status in today’s world, especially when Japan has taken advantage of the Cold War environment to emerge both politically and economically as one of the US’s closest allies. Many Chinese people attribute recent historical revisionism in Japan, with a small number of extremists even claiming the Rape of Nanking never happened, to the US’s postwar policies towards Japan. Not only did the US not prosecute the emperor of Japan, whom many believe to be responsible for launching the war at the time, it also allowed many Japanese wartime officials to enter Japan’s postwar government. Given the recent diplomatic rows between China and Japan, it is not a surprise that the most frequently cited example of a wartime official who should not have regained power is Nobusuke Kishi, grandfather of Japan’s current prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Kishi served for three years as a senior official in the puppet regime of Manchukuo installed by the Japanese in northeastern China. Kishi was initially charged with war crimes, but was subsequently cleared and went on to become prime minister in 1957. Such resentment is particularly acute now, because China has recently been repeatedly accused of challenging the postwar international order, especially in regards to maritime disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and conflict with Southeast Asian countries over the South China Sea. China has based its territorial claims in both cases on its position as a major World War II victor. China considers the Diaoyu Islands a part of territories that the Allied forces agreed would be returned to China after the war. As for the South China Sea, China’s claim is partly based on a map drawn and declared in 1947 by the KMT-led Republic of China government after recovering some major islands in the South China Sea from Japan. “The lack of recognition has led some to wrongfully believe that China wishes to challenge the current postwar international order that it helped build in the first place,” commented a Xinhua News Agency editorial published on August 21. By asserting China’s role as a cofounder of the postwar world structure, China tries to present itself as a defender of the current order, not its challenger. “China is... arguing that if American contributions to the defeat of
Medals of honor decorating the uniform of one of the veterans participating in the military parade
Japan in 1945 entitle it to a continuing presence in the region, then China’s own sacrifices also grant it a role,” wrote Rana Mitter in an August 31 commentary published on the CNN website.
Beyond the Party Line
Despite the resentment, most Chinese experts also admit that China itself is equally responsible for letting its wartime contributions fade from the historical record. As the KMT and CPC competed to legitimize their right to rule China during the civil war and to represent the nation after the war, both sides tried to downplay the other’s role during World War II. While the KMT accused the CPC fighters of “running but not fighting,” the battles fought by KMT-led troops were hardly mentioned on the Chinese mainland for several decades after the conflict. It was not until the late 1980s, when China was shifting focus from ideological struggle to economic development, that a more broadbased reassessment of the war was allowed. Along with the rise of nationalism, the wartime contributions of the KMT government and its troops have been gradually rehabilitated. Such “rediscovery” of this piece of Chinese history has led to a boom in research and publications exploring the KMT-led campaigns against Japanese aggression, to the extent that today’s CPC often has to defend its own contributions in the war. In a 2005 speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, China’s then-President Hu Jintao stated that “the KMT led the fight at the front, while the CPC led the fight from behind enemy lines, forming a common strategic front against the enemy,” an assessment which has since developed into the new official interpretation of wartime history. In the following years, the public clamored for not only the official recognition and compensation of the surviving KMT veterans, but also for the reassessment of China’s wartime history from a more nationalistic perspective rather than from one based on political ideology. The fact that celebration of Victory Day in Taiwan was gradually minimized from 1988 to 2008 under the administrations of former top Taiwanese leaders Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, both known for their pro-independence and pro-Japan stances, also injected some urgency into Beijing’s situation and encouraged the leadership to adopt the political legacy of Chinese soldiers fallen during the war. Although the KMT reasserted its role in the war against the Japanese after regaining leadership of Taiwan in 2008, it has been taking an increasingly ambiguous attitude toward celebrating the event under a political culture demanding a more “Taiwan-centric” perspective. Instead of fully embracing the political legacy of the wartime KMT government led by Chiang Kai-shek that represented China as a whole at the time, the commemoration appeared to be more about
averring the legitimacy of the KMT’s right to rule Taiwan. For example, to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender this year, the KMT also held a military parade. But instead of holding the event on one of the dates that fit the Allies’ narrative – such as August 15, when Japan announced its surrender; September 2, marking the ceremony of Japan’s surrender; or September 3, the official Victory Day first declared by Chiang Kai-shek in 1945 – the parade was held on July 4. Many believe the choice of date stemmed from a desire not to antagonize Japan. Moreover, perhaps also as a result of pressure from Japan, the Taiwanese government dropped the term “War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression” that was originally part of the parade’s official title mere days before the parade took place. As a result, many Western analysts interpreted the parade as a warning to Beijing rather than a remembrance of the Chinese soldiers who fell during the war. This has allowed the CPC to become more assertive in claiming the political legacy of wartime contributions made by Chinese troops from all sides. “Chinese people as a whole fought the war against Japan during World War II,” said Luo Yuan, a leading international strategist with the People’s Liberation Army. “It is time to go beyond the party rivalry [between the KMT and the CPC].“ According to Luo, China’s current government has both the right and the responsibility to pay tribute to the sacrifices and contributions made by all Chinese soldiers who fought during the war, regardless of their party affiliation. “The CPC now recognizes the historical role the KMT played as China’s legitimate representative as well as its contribution during World War II,” Luo added. This explains why the Chinese government has been avoiding being drawn into a debate over who has made more contributions during the war in the run-up to the parade. For example, as Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou contended that the KMT led the resistance both on the battlefield and behind enemy lines, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun responded that the war was a “great victory” for all Chinese people. By downplaying partisan rivalry, China also aims to reconnect its current position in the international order with the country’s wartime contributions.
Victor, not Victim?
Along with China’s reassertion of its part in the Allies’ victory, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the parade also focused on China as a World War II victor, not a victim. During his speech, Xi referenced China’s wartime suffering only once, but he mentioned the words “victor,” “victory” and “triumph” a dozen or more times. “The victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression is the first complete victory won by China in its resistance against foreign aggression in modern times,” Xi declared in his parade speech. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by Hou Yu
Photo by IC
Top: A local dons a historical PLA uniform for the parade
Thousands turned out to watch the proceedings
Below: People wait for the parade to begin from the balcony of a residential building
The speech is quite a shift from China’s earlier rhetoric regarding wartime history. In the past, China tended to take a victimized perspective, focusing on urging Japan to face its wartime atrocities. More recently, however, China has adopted a more holistic and triumphal approach that focuses on a broader agenda and warns Japan not to challenge the postwar order. Establishing China as a war “victor” rather than a “victim” is an idea aimed at both domestic and international audiences. Domestically, the focus on being “victors” is in accordance with the Chinese leadership’s keynote concept of “the reinvigoration of Chinese civilization.” By presenting Japan’s surrender as a national triumph and displaying strong leadership, a disciplined military and advanced weaponry throughout the parade, Chinese leaders tried to infuse the country with a sense of national pride and dignity. They were sending a message that the days of “national humiliation” are long gone, and that China has regained its past glory and its rightful position in the region as one of the major powers of the world. “This great triumph... put an end to China’s national humiliation of suffering successive defeats at the hands of foreign aggressors in modern times,” Xi said in his speech. “This great triumph re-established China as a major country in the world and won the Chinese people the respect of all peace-loving people around the world. This great triumph opened up bright prospects for the great renewal of the Chinese nation and set our ancient country on a new journey after gaining rebirth.” “By holding a military parade on a day other than [the Chinese NEWSCHINA I November 2015
holiday] National Day, China, as a rising power, aims to send a message that it is ready to relinquish its ‘victimhood,’” read a commentary in China Daily, something repeatedly stressed by Xi during his speech.
Understanding the parade’s intended messages is crucial to understanding strategic goals behind China’s assertiveness over the past few years. “The real message of the parade is that China seeks an appropriate position in the international order that is comparable to its contribution,“ said Major-General Zhang Shiping, former director of the Strategy Department of the Academy of Military Sciences. On one hand, by highlighting the alliance China once held with the West during World War II and stressing its position as a defender of world peace, China is assuring the West that its more assertive foreign policy is not an attempt to overhaul the US-dominated world order. On the other hand, by asserting its position as a victor in the war and displaying its determination to defend what it considers its rightful interests, China also shows its aspirations of having a bigger role in reshaping the regional order. Regardless of how the US and China’s neighboring countries interpreted the parade’s message, it should be taken seriously, so that China and its rivals can better understand each other’s strategic intentions and allow for self-restraint on all sides when it comes to resolving major differences.
at the parade 55,000
Approximate total number of people who attended the event
Approximate number of participating military personnel
Foreign national leaders present at the parade
Other representatives of foreign national governments
Proportion of China-made military equipment displayed publicly for the first time
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Average age of participatingWorld War II veterans; the oldest was 102 years old
Overseas Chinese attending from about 120 countries
Approximate number of veterans and civilians providing support, including the children of those killed in action
Foreigners from 15 countries who helped China fight against the Japanese during World War II, or whose parents were combatants
Representatives of international and regional organizations
Number of Chinese military and civilian casualties during World War II
China’s direct and indirect economic losses during World War II
Number of aviators who died in the air campaign against Japan during World War II who were honored by Nanjing’s Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum by September 16, 2015. This number comprises 1,468 Chinese, 2,590 Americans, 236 Soviets and two South Koreans
Participating foreign troops from 17 countries
History by numbers
Former leaders of foreign countries
Number of ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia who transported supplies along the so-called Burma Road from Myanmar to Yunnan Province, providing China with its only international supply line from 1939 to 1942. They suffered more than an estimated 1,800 casualties
Percentage of China’s military spending during World War II that came from donations from four million overseas Chinese
Share of treasury bonds issued by China’s Nationalist Government during World War II that were bought by overseas Chinese
Share of China’s fighter pilots during World War II who were overseas Chinese Sources: State Council Information Office of China, Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Escalator and Elevator Industry
Chinaâ€™s elevator and escalator industry has witnessed robust growth in recent years, but a shortage of professional maintenance technicians and an abundance of manufacturing shortcuts has increased safety risks and led to a number of fatal accidents, causing some to question the future of the market
Two workers clean an escalator at the National Center for the Performing Arts, Beijing
Photo by Ng Han Guan
By Chen Fei and Qian Wei
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Statistics from the China Elevator Association, whose purview also includes escalators and moving walkways, show that about 16 percent of the country’s elevator-related accidents are caused by problems during manufacturing, 24 percent are due to improper installation and 60 percent are because of inadequate maintenance or usage issues. About 150,000 elevators and escalators in China have been in use for more than 15 years. According to a May 2015 survey by AQSIQ, 7 percent of these older machines are at a high risk of causing accidents, particularly those used at tourist attractions, schools, big residential communities and shopping malls. No elevator or escalator over 15 years old that was surveyed at a tourist attraction met safety standards, and
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
s Liu tries not to take the elevator anymore. Instead, the Beijing resident climbs seven flights of stairs several times a day to get to her apartment. This was a recent change and had nothing to do with physical exercise – it was for physical safety. “There have been a number of gruesome elevator and escalator accidents this year,” she said. “I can make do with the climb every day. I try not to take the elevator if I have the time and energy to take the stairs.” She is not the only one to make this change. In a recent online NewsChina survey, 71 percent of the 512 respondents said they get nervous when taking the elevator, and 15 percent indicated that they “try not to take the elevator.” In the first half of 2015, at least 30 elevator- and escalator-related accidents were reported across the country, resulting in 27 fatalities. On July 26, a surveillance video that showed a woman who died after being dragged into an escalator mechanism went viral online. Xiang Liujuan, 31, was with her two-year-old son at a shopping mall in Jingzhou, Hubei Province, when she stepped onto a loose panel at the top of an escalator. She fell through, just managing to lift her son to safety before she was killed. According to China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), there were 3.6 million elevators and escalators in China by the end of 2014, with that number rising by 20 percent year-on-year. What’s more, China has the most elevators and escalators of any country worldwide, the highest annual production volume and the highest rate of growth due to the country’s rapid urbanization. The two cities with the largest number of elevators in the world are Shanghai and Beijing. On September 9, 2013, during an elevator safety promotion event, AQSIQ deputy chief Chen Gang told the media that China’s elevatorrelated accident rate is 0.15 per 10,000 elevators, and the mortality rate is 0.11, close to that of developed countries. Nevertheless, safety risks abound because of negligent maintenance, vicious competition in the maintenance industry and inadequate testing. “Rapid installation and low-quality maintenance are common across the country. The Jingzhou accident was bound to happen,” Tang Lixin, professor at Yangtze University’s School of Management, told NewsChina.
Top: 31-year-old Xiang Liujuan manages to lift her son to safety before being killed by an escalator in a shopping mall in Jingzhou, Hubei Province, July 26, 2015 Bottom: A worker repairs a panel at the top of a similar escalator at a shopping mall in Changchun, Jilin Province, July 27, 2015
only 10 percent of those in schools were up to code. “A number of factors need to be considered before installing an elevator or escalator, including expected passenger flow, load capacity, fire safety and physical space,” Miao Busheng, chairman of the Beijing Elevator Commerce Committee, told NewsChina. “Nowadays, China’s relevant regulations are not specific enough, leaving loopholes for some real estate developers to cut costs by installing fewer elevators.” Miao added that this leads to overuse of the equipment, which increases damage to elevator and escalator parts and significantly shortens service life. Chinese safety regulations require elevators and escalators to pass an annual inspection and receive regular maintenance every two weeks, but many maintenance technicians and other workers charged with their management are not aware of these safety measures. Some property management departments hire less expensive maintenance companies that cut corners by only checking on machines after they’ve already stopped working. “Many [maintenance companies] are actually repairing elevators under the banner of ‘maintenance,’” said Zhang Hongwei, head of the elevator department in the AQSIQ, during a recent seminar on elevator safety. He added that China has a shortage of professional maintenance
make the elevator car itself on their own assembly line before selling the entire product to customers. “Some elevator enterprises do not even have a single assembly line, but purchase all the parts from other manufacturers before assembling and selling the whole unit to customers,” Yao told our reporter. “In fact, they provide nothing but the installation service.”
Photo by Feng Li
A worker on an elevator assembly line
workers because of high training costs, lengthy training periods and the fact that workers in the industry are underpaid. “The most experienced installation and maintenance workers have mostly become heads of their own enterprises,” said Yao Yongqi, a former salesman who is now the head of an elevator manufacturer in the Fenhu Development Zone in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. At least 20,000 additional maintenance workers and 10,000 more installation technicians are needed annually to keep up with the growing number of elevators being installed nationwide, but official statistics show that fewer than 10,000 total people entered those professions in 2014. In 2012, Canny Elevator partnered with Changshu Institute of Technology in Jiangsu Province to open China’s first undergraduate elevator manufacturing and maintenance program. It enrolls 20 students every year.
Official statistics show that in 2014, 550,000 elevators and escalators were assembled in China, about two-thirds of them under foreign brands. Among the remaining 200,000 or so, about 160,000 were made in Suzhou, mainly in the city’s Fenhu Development Zone. Fenhu is home to more than 100 elevator and elevator parts enterprises, including 11 factories capable of producing entire units on their own. During a trip to Fenhu, a NewsChina reporter found that, with the exception of the few large companies who manufacture an elevator’s main components, many enterprises use a business model that is similar to that of cell phone manufacturers — they outsource the production of many core parts, including machinery and control systems, and only
The first things people see as they approach Fenhu are tall, thin buildings that tower over the factories — testing towers that are used to check the finished products. Before installing elevators in their final locations, enterprises are supposed to give them a trial run. The height of the tower is often viewed as a sign of the strength of the company that manages it. Yao said that as a matter of fact, in order to cut costs and increase productivity, many enterprises rarely use their test towers to test elevators. Instead, their main function is to display products for potential customers. In 2013, AQSIQ stipulated that every whole-unit elevator enterprise can only earn a necessary manufacturing license after it has constructed a testing tower. “A company needs at least 20 million yuan (US$3.14m) in capital to apply for an A-level elevator production permit, and at least 6 million yuan (US$940,000) to build a testing tower,” Yao said. “As a result, many enterprises have less to spend on management, quality improvement and after-sales service.” He added that this has led to a new phenomenon: As long as an enterprise has the money to erect a testing tower, it can most likely also get a production permit.
According to official statistics, 600 domestic elevator manufacturers exist across the country, but the nine foreign brands with outlets in China produce two-thirds of the market share. At present, there are four listed domestic enterprises that hold a quarter of the market, while the remaining companies vie for the scraps. The average sales volume for those smaller enterprises is 200 units per year. The smallest one sold 20 sets in 2014. In Yao’s opinion, this year is a turning point for China’s elevator and escalator industry, because of slowdown in the real-estate industry and the well-publicized elevator- and escalator-related accidents. Big enterprises will become bigger and smaller ones will struggle to survive. It is expected that at least 50 of these manufacturers will shut down by the end of 2015. “There are at least 77 significant elevator businesses in Suzhou, but in fact, seven would be enough,” said one Fenhu factory director. “This year, a lot of the small ones are doomed to be knocked out.” NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by Chen Tao
New Home, New Life
Architectural designer Wang Pingzhong transformed a poor family of five’s pint-size apartment into a luxury home, wowing the Chinese Internet with his clever use of space. By changing the family’s life through design, Wang hopes to show the masses the art form’s true power By Chen Tao and Yuan Ye
t the end of an alleyway off Shanghai’s Sichuan North Road, century-old shikumen houses stand shoved together like one too many books on a shelf. These townhouse-like buildings originated in the late Qing Dynasty, probably around 1870, and combine both Chinese and Western architectural features. Yet after several wars and property reallocations, most of these buildings are no longer the proper homes they once were. Entire families crowding into a single tiny space are a common sight. Yards and open-air corridors have been swallowed by new walls to create extra pockets of space and accommodate the increasing population. Originally comfortable interior spaces were split into smaller fractions. The residences grew damp as newly constructed walls and roofs blocked out sunlight and impeded ventilation. Now these buildings seem dirty and overcrowded instead of warm and hospitable. Three generations of Zhou Yuan’s family lived in a cramped apartment in one of the alley’s shikumen buildings. The five members had three floors, but each one was a mere 12 square meters, making it a NEWSCHINA I November 2015
typical shikumen “snail home,” a Chinese term referring to small, narrow apartments. In fact, the first floor did not really qualify as a living space; there was only room for a bathroom and the staircase Zhou’s family shared with the neighboring apartment. However, after two months’ work, architectural designer Wang Pingzhong transformed the building. The story of its caterpillar-tobutterfly metamorphosis spread rapidly on the Internet in an August 8 article with the headline “From 12-square-meter snail home to three-story luxury home,” making Zhou’s apartment a hot topic of conversation and turning Wang into a cyber celebrity. Actually, Wang had been well known in the industry for some time. The redesigning and renovation of Zhou’s home was for a reality TV show that roughly translates as Dream Rebuilder, which had previously featured Wang. As more people, especially young people, move into China’s first-tier megacities, living spaces are becoming increasingly scarce and constricted. As a result, many city dwellers have begun to place more importance on clever use of space and the resulting boost
Photo by IC
The sitting room in Zhou Yuan’s house before and after renovation
in the quality of life. In Wang’s opinion, such improvement not only gives people a better life, but also a life of dignity.
Zhou Yuan’s home was never intended to be a home at all. It was built out of the “crack” between other houses. Three of its four walls are actually the external walls of neighboring buildings; a wall was built simply to enclose the small space. Zhou has hemophilia. He often uses a wheelchair because he can barely walk, so moving upstairs and downstairs is torturous. His seven-year-old son, Zhou Junyu, no longer fits comfortably in the same bed as his parents, so before the remodeling, when he slept in his parents’ bed, he had to relegate his father to sleeping on the floor. When the boy slept on his grandparents’ bed, his grandfather would have to sleep in a cabinet. “Not only was our home ‘in a crack,’ so were our lives,” said Zhou Yuan. When Wang Pingzhong accepted the Dream Rebuilder invitation to renovate Zhou’s house a year ago, he did not anticipate the trouble that would come along with the assignment. First of all, neighbors worried the renovation would severely impact their daily lives. Then, when parts of the brick walls were removed, Wang found gas pipes from the alley’s other houses branching off behind them. Electrical wires were not only worn down, but also tangled into a dangerous spiderweb with water pipes and other cables. Coordination with the local residence committee as well as the gas, electricity and water companies had to be done before Wang’s team could lift a finger. But consent from the neighbors was actually the most difficult to obtain. Wang separated the shared staircase into two
The stairway in Zhou’s house before and after renovation
independent ones, later deciding to renovate that adjacent apartment as well. Despite this, a female neighbor threw a brick in protest at the contractors while they were building a gutter on the third floor. Nonetheless, after 16 drafts and two months of construction, Wang Pingzhong and his team completed the renovation. The originally run-down, cramped residence saw new life as a bright, modern, space-saving and highly humanized home. There are beds for everyone, so Zhou Junyu no longer has to displace a family member every night. Covered with reinforced glass, the once-outdoor balcony became a rainproof, sunny space. The front door and its surrounding wall were refitted with glass to fill the entryway with natural light. The kitchen and sitting room were integrated into one spacious area, equipped with a dining table that converts into a bed. An orange mosaic pattern in the bathroom lends it more warmth and modernity. Hidden closets, and chairs that fold into walls, save space and create multiple functions for single rooms. Along with the wooden staircase with a customized railing that is now completely separate from the neighbor’s, Wang squeezed in a hydraulic elevator to let Zhou Yuan and his family avoid the stairs altogether. Upon returning home, the family was shocked and moved to tears. Seeing her sometimes wheelchair-bound son ride the elevator up and down with ease, Zhou’s mother wrapped Wang in a huge hug of gratitude.
Behind the Design
Taiwan-born Wang Pingzhong learned to paint when he was little. He excelled at many art forms, including sketching, oil painting and watercolor painting. At one point, while he spent three days copying a painting of a Spanish building, he realized that he had an urge to NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
Zhou’s kitchen before and after renovation
create the architectural piece in real life instead of just on paper. “I wanted to engage in applied arts instead of fine arts,” said Wang. As a result, he attended Taiwan’s Tunghai University, and later the University of London, to study architectural design. “My ideas of ‘space’ and ‘home’ differ from those of most other people,” Wang said. As a child, Wang’s family traveled frequently because of his father’s work. “It feels like you are always drifting,” Wang said. “For me, where there is family, there is home. The house itself sometimes becomes less important.” Thus, Wang emphasizes constructing a dialog and a relationship between people and the space in which they live. People and their personal needs are always at the center of Wang’s blueprints. He treats every line in his sketches earnestly and seriously. “Every line is meaningful,” he said. “One line might affect the happiness of a family 20 years down the road.” “Our renovations often change a space drastically,” he said. “Yet the important thing is not the appearance of a building nor the interior design, but instead the dialog created between people and the space.” When he came to Shanghai in 2002, Wang found that the perception of his industry wasn’t as positive as he expected. In many cases, architectural and interior design were called simply “decorating,” NEWSCHINA I November 2015
treating the service with less respect. Many clients would ask Wang why his renovation fees were “so expensive.” “They would say they actually have a very good sense of aesthetics, it’s just they can’t draw the sketch,” Wang told NewsChina. But through his hard work, his clients started to accept his concept of design. Now Wang’s company receives even more cases than it can handle. Wang chooses those that match his company’s character. “We are a creative company,” said Wang. “The first thing we [consider when we] accept a client is not how much money they can pay, it’s whether or not we click. It’s like being in a relationship. If we don’t click, we’ll quarrel and complain about each other, eventually breaking up.” All in all, Wang believes that design can change lives. “I really want to contribute to society,” he said. That’s why he chose to help Zhou Yuan’s family renovate their house through the TV program Dream Rebuilder. Both he and the program’s hosts wanted to show the audience the “power of design.” “I think many people may be moved by this design,” Wang said on the show. “Other designers may get inspiration. People might come to see the design industry as one worthy of respect, and recognize that design changes lives through space.”
The pilot phase of a grand resettlement project affecting more than 1.2 million people living along the Yellow River has begun in Henan Province, but the scheme’s necessity is being called into question by a few outlying researchers
Photo by Zhou Guangxue
By Wang Yan
Bridges were torn down in the lower reaches of the Yellow River to allow discharged water and silt runoff from the Xiaolangdi Reservoir to drain downstream, July 4, 2015
hen Cunli, a farmer in his fifties in Xingmiao Village, Henan Province, spoke animatedly with NewsChina when asked about an ongoing pilot resettlement project which will relocate his village. Xingmiao, with some 1,000 inhabitants, is located on the banks of the lower section of the Yellow River, historically notorious for its frequent floods, unpredictable course changes and rising bed due to silt sedimentation.
“Our village is one of the poorest in Henan due to its proximity to the Yellow River, with each farmer allocated a mere 100 square meters of land,” Chen told our reporter. “Almost all the villagers have agreed to the government-initiated relocation project.” According to the official schedule, the project, once completed in early 2016, will provide Xingmiao’s displaced villagers with new apartments located in buildings in the county’s town center, some 10 NEWSCHINA I November 2015
kilometers away. In January 2014, the Henan provincial government formally announced its plan for the resettlement of over 1.25 million people living on the Yellow River floodplain, a displacement on a scale almost equal to that which occurred during the building of the Three Gorges Dam, which saw 1.3 million people relocated. Since early 2015, Henan Province launched the project’s initial pilot phase in 14 villages, affecting some 10,000 local residents living along various stretches of the Yellow River. The main purpose of the project, according to officials, is to ensure public safety, reduce the impact of natural disasters during the flood season, promote healthy development of the shipping industry and help lift local residents out of poverty.
“The resettlement project will cost an enormous amount, over 100 billion yuan (US$15.68bn),” said Qi Pu, a retired senior engineer with the Yellow River Conservancy Commission (YRCC) under the Ministry of Water Resources, in a recent interview with NewsChina. “[This is] a huge waste of national resources, since the current situation on the Yellow River, after decades of human interference, has changed dramatically.” The Yellow River is famous – indeed, named for – the vast quantities of silt created by the flow of a disproportionately “insufficient” volume of water. A commonly acknowledged figure for silt deposits washed down the Yellow River annually is 1.6 billion tons (a figure confirmed in the 1950s and 1960s). In sharp contrast, the Yangtze River, China’s other major waterway, only produces around 600 million tons of silt annually. At the same time, it enjoys an average annual delta runoff of 960 billion cubic meters, almost 17 times the volume of water that is disgorged into the Pacific by the Yellow River (50 billion cubic meters). According to Qi Pu, official data released by the YRCC have indicated that both the average annual runoff volume and production of silt in the Yellow River have been falling dramatically from the mid1980s onwards. NewsChina obtained a 2014 YRCC report on water and silt levels that measured silt deposits in the hydrological monitoring station at Tongguan, Shaanxi Province. Engineering data showed that the average annual volume of silt in the river fell from 1.59 billion tons over the period 1919 to 1959, to 1.2 billion tons between 1960 and 1986, then to 807 million tons from 1987 to 1999, with only an average of 276 million tons deposited from 2000 to 2012. The average annual volume of water discharged into the ocean also fell from
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
42.6 billion cubic meters to 40.3 billion, 26 billion and finally 23 billion over the same periods of time. Indeed, water levels in the Yellow River have hit record lows in recent years due to drought and the central government’s immense South-North water diversion scheme (See: “River of Constant Sorrow,” NewsChina, November, 2013, Vol. 063). In the November 2013 edition of Hohai University’s bimonthly periodical Advances in Science and Technology of Water Resources, Qi Pu published a research paper entitled “Great changes on the Lower Yellow River channel since 2000 and future prospective [sic].” In this paper, Qi states: “With the construction of large hydropower projects on its upper and middle reaches and the development of soil-water conservation and irrigation projects, the probability that a big flood event will occur [has been greatly reduced alongside] flood peak discharges.” “There are at least 600 dams and reservoirs on different scales along either the main course or branches of the Yellow River, with total storage capacity amounting to over 70 billion cubic meters, surpassing the river’s yearly runoff,” Qi told our reporter. “With these reservoirs’ high adjustment capability, the possibility of flooding has been greatly lowered. Meanwhile, because of sediment retained in the reservoirs, especially sediment regulation by Xiaolangdi Reservoir, and sediment release at the right time by floods, raising of the riverbed will not occur. Thus, the proposed grand relocation project in Henan is not necessary.”
Throughout history, the cause of flooding on the Yellow River has been the large volume of fine-grained loess, a loamy sediment carried by the wind, from the Loess Plateau on China’s central plain, and continuously deposited into the river, where it collects on the bed. This sedimentation causes natural dams to slowly form over time, obstructions that eventually divert the river, inundating surrounding settlements and agricultural land. These major changes could ultimately cause the river mouth to shift as much as a few hundred kilometers. Therefore, for thousands of years, the Yellow River’s frequent changes of course in its lower reaches have resulted in the formation of what is known as a “wide-shift channel.” Historical records indicate over 1,500 instances of devastating flooding before the year 1946, and the river has discernibly shifted course on at least 26 occasions. In terms of managing the Yellow River, there’s no international historical model that China can refer to. Extremely high sedimentation load and unpredictable morphology make the Yellow River unique,
The Xiaolangdi Reservoir has regulated sedimentation since 2002 in order to prevent the Yellow River’s bed from rising
so managing it is among the world’s most complex environmental challenges. The traditional approach to harnessing the Yellow River is to build high levees parallel to, but a long distance away from, its natural banks, in order to provide a degree of space for the waterway to change its course. However, the construction of a large number of reservoirs along the river, the application of new soil and water conservation practices in the past two decades, and the massive development of new irrigation projects have transformed the riverbed. In recent decades, based on his personal research into the mechanisms and capacity of the sediment regulation in the Yellow River, Qi Pu and a handful of researchers have put forward an alternative management system to put an end to what Qi views as wasteful and unnecessary practices. Qi believes that it is unnecessary to widen the lower reaches of the Yellow River to accommodate greater floodplain inundation as a measure to reduce wider flooding. “After the Xiaolangdi Reservoir went into operation in the late 1990s, great changes have taken place in the lower channel, with maximum longitudinal water surface elevation reduced by 10-22 meters, and a dramatic increase in bank discharge. But the wandering reaches are still wide, shallow, scattered and in poor condition, and they need to be regulated on both banks to form a stable, deep and narrow channel,” he said. Qi told NewsChina that there are successful international examples of “two-bank training strategy” practices, such as projects on the Mississippi River and some other major US waterways. According to Qi’s son, Qi Honghai, a senior water resources engineer with the global consulting company WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, the two-bank training strategy can form a narrow and deep channel more suitable for flow discharge and sediment transport. In a recent email exchange with NewsChina, Qi Honghai quoted Dr Dave Rosgen, US expert in river restoration and management, who ac-
knowledged that China should use narrow river channels to facilitate sediment transportation, and to develop stable channels that would prevent riverbeds from rising. Proper adjustment of the sediment levels of the Xiaolangdi Reservoir could ultimately restore the natural cycle of silt build-up and discharge that occurs during flood periods on the Yellow River, and prevent the main riverbed from rising too high. Meanwhile, if the speed of the main channel’s current can be increased, the flood plain will decrease in size, and debate over constructing new levees can cease. According to Qi and his team, this is the rational method of managing the Yellow River. In 2010, Jiao Yong, vice minister of the Ministry of Water Resources, expressed support for conducting some trial projects on “regulating both banks” along the lower reaches of the Yellow River.
However, beyond a few token mentions in academic circles, Qi Pu’s concept of “regulating both banks” and “narrow channel” management of the Yellow River remains marginalized within mainstream Chinese academia. Hu Yisan, vice chairman of the YRCC Technical Committee and a proponent of the traditional “wide channel” strategy, told China Science Daily in 2014 that a wider river channel can decrease the average flow of water during an inundation. Meanwhile, a large proportion of silt deposited in the wide channel section can offset silting in narrower channels. “In addition, with a wide floodplain area to contain silt, the speed of the elevation of the riverbed due to sedimentation may slow down, prolonging the river channel’s functional lifespan,” he said. Liu Guowei, senior engineer with the Nanjing Hydrology Research Institute, also told China Science Daily that the bulk of silt reduction in the Yellow River is the result of human activity the widespread construction of dams to store silt. Within two or three decades, Liu NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
Photo by Huang Zhengwei
Resettled residents look out over the site of their former homes, flooded during the construction of the Xiaolangdi Reservoir, June 9, 2007
suggested, the storage capacity of many reservoirs may hit their upper limits, and thus the lower reaches of the Yellow River will need more space to change course. The YRCC has historically leaned towards conservatism when it comes to management strategies for the Yellow River, shunning the implementation of radical measures that could potentially have disastrous consequences. Therefore, consensus is championed, and “rogue” researchers discredited. During a recent telephone interview with NewsChina, Zhao Yong, deputy director of the YRCC, vehemently disagreed with Qi’s opinions, claiming that over 95 percent of YRCC experts share his view. Xue Songgui, chief engineer and YRCC technical committee chairman, also remarked that it was quite natural for academics to debate solutions to the complex situation of the Yellow River. According to Xue, despite the recent trend towards silt reduction, the long-term situation is hard to predict, yet future approaches to management hinge upon knowing whether there will be more or less sedimentation along the Yellow River in the decades to come. “With existing domestic technology, even decades of research is not enough for us to obtain a complete understanding of the changing conditions of water and silt [along the Yellow River],” said Xue. “We share a common grounding in some basic facts and the general trend, however opinions on specific management measures vary widely, with some experts even contradicting one another.” “As far as I know, Qi’s opinion is so far not accepted by the majority of YRCC experts,” Xue added.
Qi Pu has devoted most of his life to researching the Yellow River, and his strong views have turned him into something of an activist. He has brought his concerns and proposals to national leaders, colleagues and major figures across a range of industries. Even those who don’t agree with Qi have expressed admiration for his somewhat quixotic commitment to NEWSCHINA I November 2015
a single cause. A Xingmiao village official surnamed Hao told our reporter that, in the past two decades, the Yellow River has not threatened the village. Instead, he argued, a lack of land has caused severe poverty, making locals eager to use the resettlement plan as an escape hatch. “With moderate compensation from the government, people can at least live in better conditions,” he said. “Whatever the situation is now, we cannot predict that there won’t be any devastating floods in the future, so, in my view, the resettlement project is crucial so long as the country can afford it,” said Xue Songgui. “When addressing public safety, the worst-case scenario should be considered.” In late 2014, Qi Pu joined a few other academics, including Qian Zhengying, one of China’s most esteemed hydrologists and former vice chairwoman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and You Lianyuan of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and National Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in presenting a letter to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stating their opinion on the current situation of the Yellow River and calling off the “unnecessary” resettlement project that would “waste huge amounts of money.” Different sources informed our reporter that the letter was indeed passed on to the National Development and Reform Committee for “further study and reexamination.” Yet, whether resettlement will continue unabated remains open to question. While Qi Pu claimed to our reporter that, since his letter was submitted to Li Keqiang, the resettlement project has been halted, we were unable to get official confirmation of this information. At press time, no official response had been forthcoming from the Henan Provincial Development and Reform Commission. A spokesman surnamed Wang told NewsChina: “The project remains in its trial phase, and it is not certain that it will be promoted in other areas. Nor is there a timeline for the completion of this project.”
When The Smoke Clears
After the August 12 chemical blast in Tianjin shook the nation, both local and national environmental protection departments rushed to contain its ecological impact. Yet addressing the extent of the devastation and managing the long-term environmental effects remains a huge challenge By Wang Yan
light drizzle was falling in the early afternoon of September 10. Almost a month had passed since a series of devastating blasts had shaken the port of Tianjin on August 12, yet as the rainwater began to collect at the blast site, debris began to smolder, producing a billowing plume of white smoke visible from three to four kilometers away. The rain had caused a chemical reaction with residual sodium cyanide– some 700 tons of which were still scattered around the blast site despite official cleanup efforts. “When will it end?” posted a Tianjinbased netizen with the microblog account name “oohbravo,” who claimed to have lived
in a compound close to the evacuated zone. “Who would dare to move back and continue to live in the vicinity [of the blast]?” Some 6,000 people have evacuated the affected areas, none of whom have been able to return to their homes. By September 12, a month after the explosion, the official death toll was set at 173, with over 700 people injured. According to official environmental monitoring data, levels of atmospheric pollutants had fallen back to normal as of August 25. This was cold comfort to local residents, unnerved by the disaster. “Depending on wind direction, we can smell various strange
odors coming from the explosion site every day, even though we’re three to four kilometers away,” An employee surnamed Sun, who works in a State-owned enterprise in the neighborhood around the port of Tianjin, told NewsChina during a September 1 telephone interview. He added that, beyond the unpleasant smell, he hadn’t noticed any other impact on his life.
The deadly explosion occurred around 11:30 PM on August 12. Within three hours, the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau dispatched its first 15-person emerNEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
Soldiers wearing hazmat suits spray hydrogen peroxide on sodium cyanide residue at the Tianjin blast site, August 20
gency response unit to the blast site in a motorcade of six vehicles, monitoring air quality downwind of the devastation. By 3 AM on the morning of August 13, high levels of airborne pollutants, including methylbenzene, trichloromethane and epoxyethane, were detected in the atmosphere. The authorities asked survey teams to post new data every hour, while the city assembled all available environmental monitoring personnel from its 15 subordinate districts and placed 17 emergency air quality monitoring stations around the site that collected real-time data. At the national level, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) sent out a NEWSCHINA I November 2015
request for help from experts working in the fields of chemical engineering and environmental protection. At 5 AM that same morning, Li Xingchun, a PhD in emergency management of hazardous chemical incidents with the Safety Environment Protection Technology Institute under China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), was summoned to join MEP vice minister Zhai Qing on a tour of inspection in Tianjin. Upon arrival, Li was informed of the high levels of airborne pollutants in the atmosphere, including a small percentage of epoxyethane, which particularly concerned him. “Epoxyethane itself is a very hazardous
substance and at room temperature is a flammable, carcinogenic, mutagenic, irritant gas,” Li told NewsChina in a recent interview. “When airborne, it can easily explode if it comes into contact with static electricity.” Thankfully, when Li arrived at the government emergency command center in Tianjin, he was assured by the environmental impact assessments provided by Ruihai International Logistics, the private company whose chemical warehouse was the source of the blast, that no epoxyethane had been released in the explosion. Without knowing what kinds of hazardous chemicals were involved in the explo-
sion, and in what quantities, authorities on August 13 decided to block all drain outlets at the site to avoid contamination of the local water table. “Despite the fact that blocking all drainage systems within the area might have led to a complete operational standstill across the entire industrial zone, we decided to block all pipelines with cement to prevent pollutants running directly into the ocean,” Li told our reporter. Soon, sodium cyanide, a toxic chemical widely used in gold mining operations, was detected at the site, validating the hasty decision to cut the evacuation zone off from the sea. Representatives of the Hebei Chengxin Company, one of the largest makers of sodium cyanide in Asia, arrived at the MEP command center, claiming that 700 tons of their product were being held by Ruihai prior to export. Sodium cyanide, even in minuscule quantities, is highly toxic to humans, and as it reacts with water to form hydrogen cyanide gas, which can be fatal if inhaled, an official evacuation order was issued for all those living within three kilometers of the blast site after a change in wind direction on August 15 threatened to blow toxic particles inland. At a press conference on August 17, Bao Jinling, chief engineer with the Tianjin Environmental Protection Bureau, admitted that surface water at the site had been badly contaminated. He also acknowledged that sodium cyanide had been detected in 17 areas, with areas closest to the blast site showing levels four times higher than what is deemed safe. An army detachment from Beijing’s chemical, nuclear and biohazard defense unit was dispatched to the site to screen for toxic substances and neutralize sodium cyanide residue with hydrogen peroxide and other chemical solutions. A one-meter-high levee was constructed to enclose the epicenter of the blast site and prevent water leakage. Gallons of toxic water were pumped into tankers and transported to nearby waste and water management companies for treatment or
temporary storage. The Tianjin government also built a non-porous, 20,000-square-meter trench for the disposal of contaminated soil. Altogether more than 300 representatives of various chemical companies in surrounding provinces, including 140 from Hebei Chengxin Company, were summoned to Tianjin to assist with the spill, while nine environmental monitoring stations in neighboring municipalities and provinces, including Beijing, Hebei, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Shandong, Henan, Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, were placed on alert for any airborne pollutants. While official information disclosure was slammed in the international media and by the Chinese public as attempting to play down the extent of the disaster, the Statecontrolled domestic media applauded the “prompt and effective response” of the MEP. “After the disaster, the Tianjin environmental protection bureau played its role by promptly and openly releasing bi-hourly air and water quality monitoring data effectively,” Zhao Liang, a member of the Tianjin Binhai Environmental Advisory Service Center, a Tianjin-based environmental NGO, told NewsChina.
In recent years, chemical plants have exploded with alarming regularity along China’s coastline. Prior to the Tianjin explosion, the worst such disaster in China’s history, six major explosions or conflagrations at chemical plants have made headlines. In April, NewsChina reported on the extent of devastation caused by an explosion at the Gulei PX (paraxylene) plant in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province. Less than two weeks after the Tianjin explosions, another blast at a chemical plant in Shandong Province killed one person and injured nine more. In the wake of such accidents, soil, air and water pollution can pose a severe danger to locals’ health. Due to its inability to self-purify, soil, once polluted, can have a massive and long-term effect on the environ-
ment that is often invisible until it is too late. However, in practice, soil detoxification or purification has rarely been recommended after such disasters, despite the potential of such efforts to dramatically improve public health prospects. Immediate soil treatment is crucial to prevent irreversible environmental damage. In recent years, the recognition of China’s soil pollution problem has broadened in domestic science circles, finally appearing on the mainstream political agenda. A revised National Contingency Plan for Environmental Emergencies released by the central government at the end of 2014 clearly outlines emergency measures for dealing with soil pollution. A national action plan for soil pollution prevention and control is scheduled to be released later this year. “Since more emphasis is placed on human [health] and property loss when chemical incidents happen, the public and government may often ignore the large quantities of pollutants released that might cause immediate and disastrous effects on the ecosystem,” Chen Nengchang, a soil scientist at the Guangdong Institute of Eco-Environmental and Soil Sciences in Guangzhou, told NewsChina, adding that China still lacked an emergency response system for soil pollution. “Since the Fukushima nuclear leak, Japan’s government developed an ‘emergency soil sampling guideline,’” he continued. “In today’s China, where chemical accidents happen so often, it is necessary to set up a national rapid response team specializing in soil pollution.” Domestic soil experts including Chen Nengchang and Liu Jianguo from Tsinghua University both emphasized the importance of an immediate investigation on the nature of pollutants, the scale of the disaster and the degree of saturation before drafting a new national-level strategy. However, pinning down such details remains difficult in China. MEP officials did not respond to NewsChina’s repeated requests for an interview reNEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by CFP
A large pool of contaminated water formed at the blast site after the explosion
garding national strategies on soil pollution prevention. A spokesman surnamed Wang told our reporter that “all things are under investigation at this time and nothing can be pinned down.” In Tianjin, meanwhile, official attention has already turned to repurposing the site of the disaster. On September 4, the municipal government proposed building a 24-hectare “ecological park” on the site. According to an initial plan released online for public consultation, the site would include elementary schools and preschools, as well as a monument to those who lost their lives that would be “given pride of place.” The plans were met with derision from many in the media and from public commentators online, who poured scorn on the idea of building a park on a site they believed was still contaminated with sodium cyanide. The MEP informed our reporter through their spokesperson that the ministry was not consulted about the plans. Zhao Baojun, chairman of Hebei Yuhuan Environment Technology Co. Ltd., a company specializing in groundwater and soil NEWSCHINA I November 2015
pollution prevention and remediation, told NewsChina that soil contamination has become a “severe problem haunting China.” “The extreme complexity and confusion around the chemicals involved in the Tianjin explosion mean that we cannot rely on existing technology. It is difficult to restore polluted soil to a perfectly healthy state, and we still have no nationally recognized standard for soil remediation,” he said. “From an economic point of view, soil remediation costs a huge amount of money, so it is only when the economic and social benefits are worthwhile that contaminated land will be considered for remediation,” he continued. “In the US, the situation is similar, and a lot of land polluted by heavy manufacturing remains untreated.” In Zhao’s opinion, the plan to construct an ecological park on the blast site is an “acceptable” solution, and may not be as “spurious” as some have claimed. Cheng Nengchang also agreed that turning the blast site into a park was an “efficient” use of the space. On the local level, however, public calls for a more thorough cleanup have gradually
been drowned out by cries for compensation. “We know that the severe pollution at the explosion site will be around for a long time, and we don’t believe the government’s claims about soil detoxification,” said local resident Mr Sun. “Whatever the official measures taken to treat pollution in the aftermath, I know virtually nobody who wants to return to live [on the site] anymore.” A kindergarten and two schools in the vicinity of the blast site, however, opened to receive students on September 1, despite concern from parents, including Sun. “We’ve temporarily arranged for our three-year-old son to study in a preschool downtown, and will see how things go in the future before deciding whether to send him back,” Sun added. “What about the questions we really need answered?” Zhao Liang remarked during his interview with NewsChina. “What exact types of toxic chemicals were on the site, and in what quantities? What are the potential dangers to the health of local residents? What’s being done to treat the remaining chemicals in the soil?”
Pension Fund Investment
Golden Eggs By He Bin, Lü Tianlin and Li Jia
Is my nest egg safe?” This is one of the main questions keeping Chinese people awake at night. For most of them, their nest eggs are represented by a national basic pension fund designed to secure the well-being of current and future retirees. According to China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS), there was an approximate US$547 billion surplus in the national pension fund by the end of 2014, held mainly by banks in the form of demand deposits, the safest option when compared with any other alternative. However, this national safe deposit box is perhaps not as secure as one would imagine. If the actual value of the fund keeps shrinking, noted Chen Liang, director of the MOHRSS social security insurance supervision department, a cash deposit that today could pay for a bag of flour to feed a family for a few days may in the future only be enough to buy a single steamed bun. In an online video interview with webportal china.com.cn on September 2, 2015, Chen explained that since China’s current pension system was established in the late 1990s, the rising prices of everyday goods and services have outpaced interest rates on pension de-
Photo by CFP
A new investment policy for China’s basic pension fund is supposed to add value to an undervalued resource. As with any investment, this will only happen if the operation is fair and efficient
Seniors work out at a park in Beijing, August 24, 2015
posits, thus devaluing them. It is estimated that more than US$90 billion of the fund has evaporated due to inflation, jeopardizing the retirement security of the world’s largest aging population. On August 17, 2015, the State Council, China’s cabinet, finally decided to turn this fund into a money-making “golden egg” by diversifying investments. Aside from depository products and treasury bonds, investment opportunities with higher returns (and thus higher risks) will now be exploited. MOHRSS deputy minister You Jun, speaking at a press conference on August 28, commented that about US$313 billion of the existing surplus could be used for investment. Before these golden eggs can be retrieved from bank vaults and placed into other “baskets,” however, pension funds in the hands of some 2,000 municipal and county jurisdictions around the country need to be pooled into provincial accounts. Such a fragmented system will make it almost impossible to maximize investment returns – indeed, it has already hindered the free flow of labor for years. Analysts say the new investment policy provides an “unmissable” chance to create provincial accounts and, ultimately, a national account – a long sought-after goal.
Once this breakthrough is achieved, it is also necessary to introduce more competition into the market operations of pension fund investments.
Too Cheap to be Safe
China’s senior population (people aged 60 years and over according to the UN standard) had reached 214 million, or 15.5 percent of the country’s total, by the end of 2014. This number is predicted to rise to 248 million, or more than 17 percent of the total population, by 2020, according to statistics from the China National Committee on Aging. The annual MOHRSS report shows that more than 800 million citizens had joined the national basic pension fund scheme by the end of 2014, a scheme built on contributions from individuals, employers and public funds. The same report states that the average increase in fund expenditures outpaced parallel increases in contributions collected between 2009 and 2014. As corporate annuities are not provided by most Chinese employers, the basic pension scheme remains the sole source of income for most of the country’s retirees. Pension provision has been on top of the agenda when it comes to the life plans of most ChiNEWSCHINA I November 2015
nese people, and has thus taken center stage during public policy debates. It used to be widely agreed that bank deposits and treasury bonds were the only ways to secure China’s basic national pension fund. In practice, the majority of funds are channeled into demand deposits, due to both the need for instant access at any time and the limited availability of treasury bonds, which provide higher interest rates than deposits with similar maturity periods. This concept of security has begun to change in the past few years as consumer prices have risen. For example, after the central bank cut interest rates in August, the current interest rate for national pension fund demand deposits stood at 1.35 percent, while the consumer price index (CPI) rose by 2 percent. This immediately drained about US$3 billion from the fund. Such contrasts are much more striking when compared with the operation of China’s other two pension schemes. One of these is the national social security reserve, which is fully funded by the central government’s fiscal budget. According to the reserve operator, the National Council for Social Security Fund, which was set up in 2000, the annual average yield from its investments in the domestic and overseas markets was 8.4 percent by the end of 2014, much higher than the 2.4 percent average rate of inflation recorded in the years since the fund’s inception. The average annual yields from the investment of corporate annuity reached 7.87 percent, noted MOHRSS official Chen Liang. “Keeping money in banks does not mean it is safe,” Professor Shen Shuguang, vice director of the China Social Security Association, told NewsChina. Other benefits from market-oriented investment of China’s basic pension fund are anticipated. As much as 30 percent of the US$313 billion investable fund surplus will be permitted to be invested in the domestic stock market, giving stock market investors access to a new source of capital that they have desired for years. As Zheng Bingwen, director of the International Social Security Studies Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), remarked in his September 2 video interview with china.com.cn, NEWSCHINA I November 2015
judicious use of the national pension fund, which pursues long-term, stable returns, could help smooth fluctuations in the Chinese stock market, where retail investors frequently both hold and trade the majority of shares. Zheng said that pension funds hold 30 to 60 percent of stock market investments in developed economies, while in China this number is less than 2 percent even if all the quotas for the basic fund, reserves and corporate annuities are fully utilized. According to the annual report of the National Council for Social Security Fund, yields on reserve investments in corporate shares exceeded 11 percent by the end of 2014, better than returns on other reserve investments.
In 2007, China’s labor and finance ministries decided to place all local basic pension funds in provincial accounts, which would in theory pave the way for a single national account. However, progress has been slow. “Places with surpluses do not want to see their money used to subsidize places in the same province that have deficits,” Professor Hu Jiye of the China University of Political Science and Law told NewsChina. A similar situation also exists at the provincial level. A reluctance to share remains the biggest barrier to establishing a national account. Another important factor underlying slow progress in this regard is the reluctance of local governments to lose control of such a huge amount of capital. A CASS report issued at the end of 2014 shows that some of China’s basic pension fund has already been used for purposes other than pension payments. The National Audit Office and media reports uncovered cases in which basic pension funds were spent on local infrastructure projects and government office buildings. This fragmented system, Hu said, not only increases the risk of corruption, but creates the conditions that could allow local protectionism to be placed ahead of investment efficiency. Recent State Council guidelines clearly state that provincial accounts have to be established for basic pension fund investments which in turn must be commissioned to a national institution. This approach
is regarded as China’s last, best chance at achieving the goal of a national account for the country’s basic pension fund. Once local governments gain power over the allocation of funds, it will become virtually impossible to establish a unified national pension fund, Zheng Bingwen told National Business Daily in early 2015. Free movement of labor will be greatly facilitated if all citizens have paid into a unified national account that consolidates all their social security records. In working towards this goal, some provinces are moving faster than others. The wealthy industrial provinces of Guangdong and Shandong have already commissioned their pension funds operation to the National Council for Social Security Fund. Nonetheless, there remains no timetable for the streamlining of all local funds into either provincial accounts or a national one. However, the issues of the misuse of money and investment efficiency may remain a problem even after the fund investment is made at the national level. Besides treasury bonds, China’s basic pension fund can also be invested in national-level mega-projects and local government bonds. The efficiency of such government projects, whether funded by the central government or local governments, has long been questioned by market analysts. When such projects fail, losses are borne by taxpayers, and those losses are compounded when the wasted capital is sourced from national pension funds designed to provide for those same taxpayers in their old age. In China, 28 percent of wages are paid into the basic pension fund, a rate already higher than most OECD countries. Misuse of money, such as spending it on administrative costs, by the National Council for Social Security Fund, which according to existing standards is the only candidate that can operate the basic pension fund investment, was exposed by the National Audit Office in 2014. Professor Shen Shuguang argues that there are many eligible investment institutions in China’s financial market, the products of years of capital market expansion. “What is needed is a set of standards and a risk management system to allow the prudent selection of potential bidders,” he said.
US-listed China Concept Stocks
Homecoming US-listed Chinese companies are eager to return to China, shifting their focus to the stock market back home after a rocky romance with international investors over the past several years. Yet returning enterprises still have a long way to go before they will be prepared to woo Chinese investors By Yuan Lu and Li Jia
The long process of going private – of pulling out of the stock market – is a test for my short temper,” Wu Linguang recently told NewsChina. He is the CEO of the Nasdaq-listed Jiayuan.com International Ltd., China’s largest online dating platform. The company has been seeking Chinese investors to buy out its shares since 2013 in order to turn it into a private Chinese company, the first step required to relist back in China. The desire among US-listed Chinese companies to get out of the US stock market and court investors back home has been palpable in the past few years, particularly gaining momentum during China’s stock market boom in the first half of 2015 and continuing unabated
even in the face of a sudden price slump and volatility that began mid-June. According to national newspaper China Securities Journal, about 30 US-listed Chinese companies had already received buyout offers from Chinese consortia from January to mid-August, more than any previous annual total. Nearly onethird of these announcements were made in late June, July and August. A number of other companies have also begun the process of inviting investors to take over. This is a reversal of the dominant trend from 2003-2010, when Chinese companies flooded the US stock market, lured by an easier floating process and international investors’ enthusiasm for companies that were
both operating in such promising industries as the Internet, healthcare and new energy, and based in one of the fastest-growing and biggest markets in the world. The tide began to change in late 2010, when the US’s positive image of these stocks took a turn for the worse. Enterprises looking to relist back in China felt further pushed back across the Pacific by the regulators’ promise two years ago to relax access to China’s stock market. As many of the 152 US-listed Chinese companies are leaders in their industries in China, meaning their journeys back home are highly anticipated by Chinese stock market investors, and calls for accelerating the reform necessary to realize this homecoming are growing. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
Crisis of Confidence
The graphed curves of the Halter USX China Index, which follows Chinese companies listed in the US, show that the share prices of these Chinese companies did not climb as much as others did during the six-year bull market stretch in the US that started in 2009, yet they suffered more than others when the market suddenly fluctuated in late August. For example, on most of matchmaking site Jiayuan’s trading days, its share prices dipped well below their IPO level set in May 2011. The drop in share price experienced by many Chinese companies during the US stock market’s recent downturn was much deeper than the average drop of other listed enterprises. Observers point to two main causes for
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
what is often bemoaned as the undervaluation of these “China concept stocks” in the US. These companies are called China concept stocks because they are not only run by Chinese operators, but also are aimed at the China market. Thus, analysts say, it is difficult for foreign investors to understand a service whose users are far away from them. Jiayuan CEO Wu Linguang, for example, found it hard to explain to his US investors why it was time to offer offline services to users after working for years to earn success online. Chinese Internet companies listed overseas often run into this kind of communication roadblock, adds Wu Meng, an analyst at Beijing-based Zero2IPO Research, which focuses on China’s private equity sector. The problem is compounded by a crisis of confidence. Most China concept stocks listed on the US stock market between 2000 and 2010, particularly those in the tech industry, received a generally warm reception. For example, William Ding, founder of Netease, one of China’s major online portals, topped Forbes’ “China Rich List” in 2003 thanks to the soaring prices of his company’s shares on the Nasdaq. Netease was overtaken by online games developer and operator Shanda in August 2004, three months after Shanda’s debut on the Nasdaq. Shares of Baidu, China’s largest search engine, closed at US$153 at the end of its opening day in August 2005, 354 percent higher than their IPO price. However, in June 2010, US short-seller Muddy Waters accused a number of US-listed Chinese companies of accounting fraud. Share prices of these companies, whose industries range from papermaking and chip manufacturing to digital media and education, tumbled immediately, and more than 40 Chinese companies were suspended from trading or even delisted within two years. A number of others struggled to stay out of the deep end. In December 2012, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused a US accounting firm and the China affiliates of the Big Four accounting firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers – of breaking US securities laws by refusing to provide the audit work papers of nine Chinese companies under investigation by the SEC. However, the China affiliates were prohibited from providing those
papers under Chinese law. Some Chinese companies, such as Spreadtrum Communications and New Oriental Education & Technology Group, successfully defended themselves against fraud allegations. The regulatory deadlock was eventually resolved with a cooperation agreement between Chinese and US watchdogs in May 2013. In 2014, Another wave of Chinese Internet giants entered the US stock market. Despite these events, the mutual confidence between international investors and China concept stocks had already been hit hard.
Better Back Home
While times are tough for China concept stocks in the US, returning home has become an attractive and feasible option. Besides the convenience of communicating directly with both users and investors at home, the market and regulatory environment are changing. At the end of October 2009, China launched its Nasdaq equivalent, ChiNext. The price/earnings ratio, a key indicator of stock market valuation, began to soar in 2013, with the average exceeding 100, showing that investors had strong confidence in the future profitability of companies listed on the ChiNext. Even after the drastic slump in the second half of June, its average remained high at about 70 in midSeptember, compared with no more than 30 for the Nasdaq. According to a report by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, 72 percent of the companies on the ChiNext by the end of April were in “strategic emerging industries” and 83 percent were “hi-tech” enterprises, making the ChiNext a particularly attractive environment for Nasdaq-listed Chinese companies considering going home. The success of those who were the first to try encouraged followers. In 2013, Beijing-based online video firm Baofeng Technology decided to go public on the ChiNext, not its previous choice, Nasdaq. It listed in March 2015 with a ChiNext IPO share price of US$1.10, rocketing up to US$48 in mid-June. It plummeted to US$12 by early September, yet this was still more than 10 times its IPO price. This makes its market value much higher than its major Chinese competitors still listed in the US, making Baofeng a beacon for China concept stocks considering crossing back over the
Pacific. Previously, policy barriers impeded Chinese companies from returning home, particularly impacting those focused on Internet-related services, yet recent legislation has removed many of these obstacles. For example, a company currently has to report a certain annual net profit before applying for the float. Even if it is fully eligible, it still needs to undergo a lengthy review process. Internet companies then have to rely on foreign venture capital to feed their growth in the early stages. At the same time, foreign-held companies have no access to either the licenses required to provide Internet services in China, or the Chinese stock market. A typical, mutually beneficial arrangement is foreign investors supporting a Chinese Internet company in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The Chinese operation, controlled by Chinese citizens, agrees to transfer profits to foreign shareholders as technical or financial service fees. In early June, the State Council lifted the restrictions on foreign shareholding in ecommerce operations in China to encourage “businesses with a special shareholding structure” to relist back home. This will make it possible for e-commerce providers like Alibaba or Vipshop to return without restructuring. At the same time, Chinese companies with this special shareholding structure are in fact defined as “foreign-funded” under the draft of the Foreign Investment Law released earlier this year, and thus will face the risk of having their licenses revoked. If the company wanted to delist in the US and relist in China, it would have to restructure its shareholding structure to make it a fully Chinese-held company. Moreover, China’s Securities Law is under revision, and relaxed reviewing and profitability requirements for all companies are expected to be the biggest change. All of these factors, as Zero2IPO analyst Wu Meng told NewsChina, have acted as both carrot and stick, giving Chinese companies listed overseas both incentives and pressure to consider revising their “foreign-funded” structures. Apart from this, new options for companies to raise money in the early stages of development have either already become available or are on the agenda in China. The National Equities Exchange and Quotations, a new
exchange to trade shares of non-public, smallscale hi-tech companies for institutional and wealthy investors, was launched in late 2012 and has been growing rapidly due to its easy accessibility. By the end of August, 3,359 companies had been traded there, a figure 80 percent greater than the number of companies that had been traded by January and more than the total number of public companies in China. At a forum in May, Liu Shi’an, deputy general manager of the Shanghai Securities Exchange, stressed that a new board was in the works, specifically to cater to the needs of the growing interest of tech-focused China concept stocks in going home. This concept of a so-called “board for strategic emerging industries,” which include the Internet, new energy and biotech, was endorsed by the State Council in June.
The recent stock market dive and ongoing fluctuations in China have not deterred China concept stocks from setting their sights on returning home. These companies can use this period to do due diligence, which may take several years, explained Liu Gang, an analyst with the China International Capital Corporation (CICC), a China-foreign joint venture investment bank. Each step down the road is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, noted Liu. Most China concept stocks are still going through the first step, buying stocks from foreign shareholders to get delisted from US or other overseas markets. “It is a game of interest between Chinese and foreign investors,” he said to NewsChina. Half a year after its Nasdaq debut in December 2014, Chinese social networking site Momo received a privatization offer from a consortium led by its co-founder Tang Yan. On the same day, US law firm Levi & Korsinsky, LLP launched an investigation into the fairness of the deal. It claimed that the stock price of the company once peaked at $19.11 per share, higher than the US$18.90 proposal. The law firm is collecting responses from investors in the US to prepare for legal action. Also on that date, the SEC filed a lawsuit at a New York court against Chinese national Luo Haijian for insider trading prior to the
privatization offer of NYSE-listed Qihoo 360 Technology, a major Chinese Internet security company. Companies not focused on e-commerce still have to go through this shareholding structure reshuffling to keep their business licenses and to list in China. “It is completely normal for buyout price negotiations with foreign investors to take two to three years,” Wu Meng told NewsChina. The path in China is not easy, either. So far only one out of the 20 or so companies that have already delisted from overseas markets, mainly in the US, have successfully relisted in China. According to Liu Gang, there are three ways to go public in China after quitting overseas markets: acquire or be acquired by a company already listed in China, make an IPO or wait for the new board for strategic emerging industries to be established. Each choice takes time and has its own risks. It is not easy to find an appropriate listed company to act as a shell. For instance, digital media company Focus Media exited the Nasdaq in May 2013. It was not until early June of this year that its detailed scheme of partnering with shell company Jiangsu Hongda New Material came out of the woodwork. Two weeks later, Hongda’s chairman was submitted to a probe by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) for irregularities in information disclosure. On August 31, the two enterprises’ short marriage came to an end. Although Focus immediately found a new love interest in Guangzhou-based Hedy Holdings, the long and dramatic story has been used by analysts as an alarming lesson on the importance of choosing a proper shell, as potential shells are normally badly performing stocks. In early July, regulators suspended all IPOs in China as part of the government’s intervention that aimed to stabilize the market. No one knows when IPOs will be allowed to resume, let alone what possible reforms may be imposed on the IPO system itself. There is also no timetable for the launch of the board for strategic emerging industries. The National Equities and Exchange Quotations has become the only realistic option for companies looking to relist. However, it is difficult to make such a drastic change, giving up the NEWSCHINA I November 2015
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
bynumbers US$93.9bn Month-onmonth reduction of China’s foreign currency reserves in August; reserves have been shrinking for four months in a row.
China’s foreign currency reserves in 2015, US$bn
4000 3875 3750 3625 3500
Source: People’s Bank of China
Profitability of China’s industrial Stateowned enterprises’ main businesses over the first seven months of the year, down from 6 percent over the same period last year.
Recently announced value of online trading in agricultural products in 2014. Source: Ministry of Commerce of China
Main business revenue from US$16 costs
Main business revenue per employee
Debt to asset ratio
Recovery of accounts receivable (days)
US$ 13.5 US$13
Cost per US$16 of revenue from main business
Profitability of main business
Industrial SOEs with annual revenue above US$31 billion compared to the national average, January–July, 2015
open market to move to a much smaller, over-the-counter version that is limited to certain investors. For Chinese retail investors dominating the stock market in China, the surge of Chinese companies coming home could mean both more opportunities and more risks. While China concept stocks may have been undervalued on the overseas markets, they could be overvalued on their home turf. It is widely agreed now that the biggest bubble that caused this summer’s China stock market chaos was from the ChiNext. Before the bubble burst, any analyst questioning the rationale of the ChiNext’s crazy rise had been mocked as being behind the tech-oriented times. However, in the end, profit reports rule. When investors suddenly realized many miraculous growth stories touted by these companies would never come to fruition, prices nosedived. Many China concept stocks are leading players in their industries, with much stronger incentives to provide misleading growth stories, as well as the ability to do so. However, the scrutiny needed to secure proper information disclosure in China remains weak. There is growing impatience among Chinese investors towards regulators’ insufficient progress on cracking down on the accounting fraud of listed companies. The market force is simply absent. In the US, the firm Levi & Korsinsky alone, for example, has launched several legal actions against, or investigations into, US-listed Chinese companies because of misleading statements of their business operations which have caused losses for investors overseas. Whether investors win these cases or not, the legal pressure serves as a precaution. With no access to such legal action, however, Chinese investors have no means to recoup their losses caused by corporate misconduct, giving some reason to doubt these China concept stocks will behave well when they are back home and whether they will fulfill Chinese investors’ high expectations of improving the domestic stock market. Both China concept stocks and China’s stock market itself will need to go through a lot of preparations before they’re ready for a happy courtship.
72% Y-on-y decline of new export orders for Chinese shipbuilders over the first seven months of 2015. 85 percent of new orders are for exported products.
Inventory turnover (days)
Source: China Association of the National Shipbuilding Industry
Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China
The rate in percent since the benchmark interest rate reduction in November 2014
China’s monthly weighted average inter-bank lending rate in August, a number which has increased for three months in a row, yet is still the lowest it has been since November 2010
Source: People’s Bank of China
3 2 1 0
Photo by FOTOE
Officers of the “United Army Against Japan in Manchuria” First Route Army Corps
A militiaman on patrol in western Liaoning Province in the early 1930s
The Manchurian Campaign
Blood, Brutality, Betrayal
Complex and often contradictory narratives have made it difficult for historians to establish a coherent account of resistance against the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, which preceded total war between China and Japan in 1937. New data and renewed interest in the volunteer armies who led the charge are helping shed light into a dark corner of Chinese history By Gong Longfei and Chen Wei from Harbin and Hulin
he Chinese people are accustomed to calling the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) “the eight-year war of resistance against Japan.” However, popular resistance movements sprang up alongside the occupation of various Asian territories by the Empire of Japan from the late 19th century onwards. When Shenyang, capital of today’s Liaoning Province, fell under Japanese control in 1931, a region-wide resistance movement in Manchuria, today made up of the northeastern Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, fought the Japanese for 14 years. This “allied force” comprised a ragtag coalition of Communist guerillas, Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party) auxiliaries, farm laborers, warlords, landlords, bandits, ethnic Koreans and refugees. Dubbed the Army of Volunteers, this force would later be honored in the song “March of the Volunteers,” today the national anthem of the
People’s Republic of China, and eventually came under the command of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In 1935, however, difficult terrain, a harsh climate, material deprivation and the steady advance of Japanese forces cut the lines of communication between the allied force and the CPC Central Committee. Numbering less than 3,000 by that point, the surviving resistance fighters were eventually forced to retreat into Soviet territory in 1940, where they continued to launch attacks across the border. The struggle of the allied force in Manchuria has since been claimed by the CPC as one of its most heroic engagements with imperial Japan. On September 3 this year, a formation dedicated to the “United Army against Japan in Manchuria” marched in a huge military parade through central Beijing that commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, calling attention to another chapter in the NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by Xinhua
Officers pose for a group photo after a field drill, October 5, 1943
grand official narrative of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Mainland histories of the Japanese occupation of China generally begin with the Mukden Incident, which took place on the night of September 18, 1931. When a section of Japanese-built Manchurian railroad near Shenyang’s Liutiao Lake was blown up, the Kwantung Army, Japan’s main force stationed in Manchuria, blamed the bombing on local KMT forces, and immediately shelled Shenyang’s northernmost military camp. Regional commander Zhang Xueliang (or Chang Hsueh-liang) ordered his troops not to resist, and instead organized a retreat south of the Shanhaiguan Pass in today’s Hebei Province reportedly on a pretext of “conserving strength.” Zhang’s actions led many KMT soldiers to defect and join with Communist guerillas and unaffiliated local militias already engaged in local resistance. A hastily assembled force, today called the Army of Volunteers, marched from the Wusuli River in northern Manchuria to Lüshun, or Port Arthur, a key strategic asset on the southernmost tip of the Liaodong Peninsula, which was formally annexed by the Japanese after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). “Academics have yet to reach consensus on the total number of personnel commanded by the Army of Volunteers,” Ma Yanchao, a researcher from the local CPC history institute of Heilongjiang Province, told NewsChina. “At its peak, it is believed to have reached 300,000. [The force] could be dubbed a ‘miscellaneous army,’ half of whom were farmers, with the rest consisting of former police officers, KMT soldiers, bandits and even teachers and students.” According to Ma, the unaffiliated Army of Volunteers lacked a unified command structure, system of rank or standardized training program, but within two years it had launched over 200 engagements with Japanese forces stationed in some 93 counties and towns. The first full assault on the Kwantung Army by armed Chinese forces, for example, was led by Ma Zhanshan, the KMT’s military governor
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
A volunteer bugler with a Manchurian militia
of Heilongjiang Province, who flouted the official policy of non-resistance and fought a three-day battle with Japanese troops who attempted to occupy a crucial bridge over the Nenjiang River in early November 1931. As Ma Zhanshan’s forces included a number of bandits – Ma himself was a former outlaw who was brought into the Qing fold in 1908 – his troops earned a reputation as fierce, merciless fighters who battled the Japanese with improvised melee weaponry. “The [Army of Volunteers] established three defensive lines facing elite Japanese forces, delaying their advance by half a month,” said Sun Wenzheng, general secretary of Jiangqiao Institute of the History of China’s Resistance against Japan in Heilongjiang Province. “This was China’s first organized, full-scale battle against the Japanese army.” However, when Japan established the puppet state of Manchukuo in 1932, enthroning the former Xuantong Emperor, also known as Henry Puyi, as its nominal head of state, Ma Zhanshan joined the new regime. Less than a month later, he switched sides again, allegedly over Japanese interference in his command, though other accounts indicate he never abandoned his opposition to Japanese rule. Wang Xiliang, a researcher into Chinese resistance against Japan in Manchuria who works with the Heilongjiang branch of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told NewsChina that a paucity of reliable sources make it difficult to determine whether or not Ma’s pledging allegiance to Manchukuo was merely a feint. What is clear is that the disparate volunteer armies in Manchuria often engaged in internecine conflict over power and resources. As many armies drew personnel from armed gangs of outlaws, looting, extortion and banditry by troops was commonplace. In October 1, 1932, the National Salvation Association Against Japan in Manchuria, a Peking-based non-governmental organization consisting of prominent citizens and former KMT soldiers and officers who opposed the government’s official policy of non-resistance, solicited donations in the capital and dispatched commissioners to help fund and reorganize the volunteer armies in Liaoning Province.
Even KMT Marshal Zhang Xueliang, by now a symbol of KMT capitulation, donated to their cause. However, the volunteer forces continued to struggle in the face of relentless Japanese attacks. According to The Introduction to the Army of Volunteers in Manchuria edited by the strategic intelligence expert Yan Baohang (1895-1968), around 150,000 people were involved in the resistance movement by 1932, yet the volunteer forces possessed only 60,000 guns, meaning that the bulk of personnel went armed with melee weapons or barehanded. Even those who owned a firearm often had no ammunition with which to load it. The Japanese, meanwhile, had deployed seven divisions plus several brigades in Manchukuo, all of which were armed with advanced weaponry and supported by planes, tanks and artillery. In late October 1932, Japan launched a decisive offensive against the Army of Volunteers, wiping out most of its strength and forcing the remnants to retreat to the city of Jehol, bordering the provinces of Hebei, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia.
In China proper, the CPC was still guided by Leninist theories espoused by the Communist International, or Comintern, which downplayed the role of guerilla operations in furthering the objectives of socialist revolution. As a result, the CPC leadership paid little attention to the resistance movement in Manchukuo until it became apparent that Japan was preparing a full-scale invasion of China proper. On January 26, 1933, the CPC issued an open letter to Party subcommittees and organizations active in Manchukuo, declaring that the Army of Volunteers consisted of four forces, with the one led by the CPC as the most advanced and capable. The letter called on Party organizations to unite the disparate forces into a single army capable of coordinated resistance. From early 1933 onwards, the CPC began to send troops and military officers into Manchuria to fight alongside local militias, in many cases winning eager recruits to the Communist cause. By the fall, the CPC had set up more than a dozen resistance cells in Manchukuo, and had moved its provincial committee to downtown Harbin, a crucial city in Heilongjiang Province controlled by Japan since 1932, with the rationale that “the most dangerous area is the safest when it comes to better guiding the fight.”
Since assuming leadership over the Army of Volunteers, the CPC had established several areas of operations in Manchukuo centered on Hulin, a desolate plain located between the southern Wanda Mountains and the Wusuli River bordering Soviet territory. Covering an area of 9,000 square kilometers with a population of barely 30,000, mostly refugees fleeing the brutal three-decade Japanese occupation of Korea, Hulin was viewed by regional warlords as
a wild, remote frontier. The Japanese, however, viewed its proximity to Russia, whose Manchurian territorial holdings had been seized by Japan in the preceding years, as a potential entry point for a Soviet invasion. Calling the areas around Hulin “the Maginot line of the East,” the Japanese command in Manchuria launched a huge effort to fortify the area between 1934 and 1939, reportedly using 200,000 Chinese laborers and prisoners of war to construct underground fortifications and transport the largest artillery array in Asia at the time, designed to destroy Russian supply lines in the event of a Soviet invasion, into the area. In order to also sever the supply lines used by local resistance fighters, the Japanese army implemented a particularly brutal form of “centralized management” of Hulin’s residents, dividing up and fencing off sections of the population, and imposing a niggardly system of rationing. Since 1934, the Japanese army, along with forces nominally commanded by Manchukuo, encircled and annihilated anti-Japanese forces, forcing surviving guerrillas to subsist on game, wild berries and snow. However, even in the nine-month-long winter, CPC alpine divisions were able to launch strikes against Japanese targets using crude sleds. On February 10, 1936, the CPC delegation to the Comintern published a draft plan on uniting anti-Japanese forces in Manchuria, officially renaming the resistance movement “the United Army against Japan in Manchuria.” Remaining forces were finally regrouped into 11 armies by 1937. These were comprised of former members of the Army of Volunteers, defectors from Manchukuo, KMT soldiers and officers, and local militias and farmers. One army was almost entirely made up of ethnic Koreans, one of whom was future North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.
Official data claim that, at its peak, the United Army commanded more than 30,000 soldiers and officers, fighting running battles in southeastern and northern Manchuria and eastern Jilin, managing on many occasions to outmaneuver numerically and technologically superior Japanese foes. However, as some 200,000 Japanese and Manchurian troops continued the campaign to pacify Manchukuo, intensifying operations with a three-year suppression plan issued in 1936, the United Army’s strength was failing. “In spring and summer, we fed on wild herbs and game, but in winter, we had nothing to eat… we had to dig crude caves to keep warm and treat the injured, [caves] easily destroyed by the Japanese enemy, and hard to restore,” recalled Manchurian campaign veteran Wang Minggui. Li Min, a former female auxiliary and United Army veteran, also recalled horrific deprivation. “In 1938 and 1939, we often starved for days at a time and had to eat tree bark and grass,” she told NewsChina. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
“I was so hungry that I felt my stomach shrink to the size of a tiny bun.” “Without salt, many soldiers suffered such serious edema that they could not open their eyes,” she continued. “Our clothes were in tatters and it was too much to hope for a uniform.” Pushed beyond their breaking point, many former rebels defected to the Japanese. Yang Jingyu, a decorated CPC officer leading the United Army, for example, was killed in a Japanese ambush into which he was led by one of his aides. A Japanese autopsy revealed that he had been subsisting on tree bark, grass and the stuffing from his greatcoat. According to Li Min, the commanders of the eighth and ninth armies both defected. Three leaders of the first army, she claims, leaked strategic information on the United Army, its means of supply and communication, as well as details of the CPC command structure. She even claims her own division commander attempted to surrender. As the war dragged on, the 11 army groups of the United Army gradually split and formed into three route armies under CPC leadership, led by the CPC committees of southern and northern Manchuria and eastern Jilin – the CPC’s provincial committee had been dismissed by the Central Committee’s delegation to the Comintern in January 1936 amid a political dispute. “Officially, as they were on the same level, no one committee could overrule another, so there was no coordinated resistance against Japan in the three zones under the guidance of one headquarters,” Zhao Junqing, another expert in the history of the Manchurian theater, told NewsChina. “They each fought their own battles and seldom cooperated. The heads of the three committees also argued over certain issues, such as whether or not to fight against the puppet Manchukuo regime as well, which further hampered military operations.” By 1935, the United Army had lost contact with the CPC Central Committee, due to major KMT offensives against the Communists in southern China. Instead, the Soviet-dominated Comintern, which retained its influence in Manchuria, assumed command. In 1937, Zhao Shangzhi, a renowned CPC commander of the United Army, visited Soviet across the border to ask for assistance, only to find himself detained for illegal entry, a situation, Chinese historians claim, caused by a suspected turncoat who allegedly forged the Russian invitation. Zhao was held for over a year, during which he was subjected to relentless criticism from the CPC for not implementing Comintern directives, including making peace with Manchukuo, further weakening the already disintegrating command structure of the United Army. By the winter of 1940, the United Army’s forces had dwindled to fewer than 3,000 people operating across the Soviet border. Based on an agreement concluded between the CPC and the Comintern, the guerrillas continued to receive military training and helped the Soviet
92-year-old veteran Li Min visits a preserved Japanese trench in Heihe, Heilongjiang Province, May 13, 2015
Red Army collect data on Japanese military operations in Manchuria. In 1945, its remnants ultimately joined the Russian offensive that obliterated the Kwantung Army. Due to the complexity of contemporary geopolitics and an incomplete historical record, few are aware of the scale of resistance to Japan in Manchuria, with some modern-day Chinese people still holding to a view of the Manchurian population as having, at best, submitted meekly to the Japanese occupation, and, at worst, openly collaborated. However, new oral histories and renewed interest in the period have shown that many Manchurians took up arms against the Japanese. No evidence has confirmed this with greater emphasis than the meticulous records kept by the Japanese during the occupation. According to imperial Japanese army data, 4,200 Kwantung Army soldiers were killed in action between 1931 and 1935, with another 171,300 injured or incapacitated by disease. By September 1937, 178,200 Japanese soldiers and conscripts had died or got injured. Statistics from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed that the Japanese army lost around 46,000 personnel in Manchuria from 1937 until the end of the war, with another 132,000 injured or captured, excluding those killed in border engagements with Soviet forces. “We should study not only the eight-year resistance since Japan’s overall invasion in 1937, but also [the years] before it. The Mukden Incident was the beginning of Chinese resistance against Japanese aggression, and also the prelude to the global fight against fascism,” claimed Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Politburo conference in August. During his speech at the 2015 military parade, Xi re-emphasized China’s “14 years of resistance,” instead of “eight years,” indicating a shift in official attitudes regarding the historical narrative of one of the bloodiest and most drawn-out conflicts in history.
Photo by CFP
The first Asian author to win science fiction’s most distinguished prize, the Hugo Award, reflects on the genre’s past ups and downs in China and what its growing prominence reveals about the country today By Wan Jiahuan and Chen Tao
n August 29, 2015, day four of the Beijing International Book Fair, fair-goers snatched up every single available copy of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, all 1,570. Liu himself was on hand to greet fans. He spent two hours signing over 1,000 of their books,
leaving his fingers stiff and sore. The 51-year-old sported black-framed glasses and a trim haircut, with a small pin attached to the lapel of his denim shirt. It is a gift solely for writers who are nominated for science fiction’s greatest prize – the Hugo Award. Liu’s The Three-Body Problem
was not only nominated, it won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel on August 22 at the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention held in Washington State. Liu is the first author from Asia to earn the honor. Just two hours after receiving the prize, his most popular sci-fi trilogy – RememNEWSCHINA I November 2015
Liu Cixin with concept art from the film adaptation of his bestseller The ThreeBody Problem
brance of Earth’s Past, of which The ThreeBody Problem is the first installment – climbed to the top of the bestseller list on Amazon China. What readers typically refer to as the “Three-Body trilogy” has sold more than 1.5 million copies in Chinese. Liu’s trilogy begins in a Cultural Revolution-era China in which a military group established contact with a group of extraterrestrials who later decide to invade Earth, leaving the rest of humanity to make the choice between joining the superior species or attempting to fight them off. It began as a serial in the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World in 2006 and turned into a three-volume series that was published from 2008 to 2010. The trilogy accrued a number of accolades in China long before winning the Hugo, including the country’s most prestigious science fiction honor, the Galaxy Award, which it won in 2006 and 2010. Some critics have hailed it as China’s best sci-fi trilogy. But it was not until the books won the internationally prestigious Hugo Award that science fiction as a genre began to enter the country’s mainstream culture. “It has been such a bumpy road for science fiction in China after [the genre] underwent the dramatic twists of the turmoil of war, political movements and official criticism,” 67-year-old sci-fi novelist Wang Jinkang told our reporter. In his opinion, science fiction in China has “gone through the wilderness” and, after years of accumulative work, Liu’s creation turned out to be the much-needed final push that brought the genre into the public eye. A big screen adaptation of The ThreeBody Problem is in post-production, with an expected release date of July 2016. The film adaptation has garnered increasing attention recently, with fans doubting whether its relatively unknown producer will do the story justice. Before Liu started signing fair-goers’ books, he was peppered with questions regarding the choice in producer, with most people wondering why such a popular trilogy was not picked up NEWSCHINA I November 2015
by a Hollywood studio or why a famous director wasn’t heading the project. Liu answered them with a question of his own. “Where were all of you five years ago? At that time, no producers cared about the trilogy, and after it was serialized only this movie studio approached me. So the reason lies in history.”
Rise and Fall
Liu has been passionate about science fiction since the early 1980s. To date, he has written nearly 20 books, several of which have been translated into English. For most of his writing career, Liu also worked as a software engineer at a power plant in Niangziguan, Shanxi Province. When Liu first read Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey back in the winter of 1981, he was tingling with excitement. Years later, Liu wrote in his blog that after finishing the book, when he stepped out of his room and stared into the night sky, “he suddenly felt that his surroundings disappeared and he was alone under the splendid starry night, blanketed in the mysteries beyond human wisdom.” In those days, Liu could easily access domestic sci-fi novels in journals like Science Fiction World, which remains China’s most popular publication for sci-fi and fantasy to this day. He could even read sci-fi in some mainstream literary journals. Some Chinese academics have called the early 1980s, just after China entered its period of Reform and Opening-up, the country’s science fiction “golden age.” China’s first exposure to the genre dates back to the early 1900s, when Western sci-fi novels were first introduced to Chinese readers, but because of 20th century wars and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the development of the genre was frequently interrupted. Ye Yonglie, one of the earliest and most renowned sci-fi writers in China, wrote a thin volume in 1961 entitled Little Knowit-All Roams the Future, which described enticing visions of a futuristic world through
the eyes of a child, but his story was not published until its initial print of three million copies in 1978. Over the years, Liu has become curious about a strange phenomenon: In a Communist country, one would think there would be a multitude of sci-fi novels illustrating future communist utopias. But that never happened. The only Chinese sci-fi novel related to communism Liu can think of is Zheng Wenguang’s Capriccio for Communism, which was published in 1958. It envisages the scientific achievements of 1979, in which artificial suns could melt glaciers and transform deserts into rich farmland. When Liu was a college student in the early 1980s, he could not afford to buy his own copies of sci-fi magazines and there were few sci-fi novels in the school library. At that time, when a classmate managed to get their hands on a sci-fi magazine, the whole class took turns reading it. “I had to wait eagerly for my classmates to finish reading it,” Liu said. “After several handovers, the book would be all dog-eared.” In his mind, science fiction then was largely used to “promote science and technology amongst young people,” with works that gained a lot of popularity in Liu’s college. Liu tried writing some sci-fi stories with themes like alien invasions, environmental protection and military conflicts. He still has these manuscripts to this day, including two novels, Inferno and With Her Eyes, which he revised and published more than 10 years later. “It is embarrassing to present most of my work from that time,” Liu told our reporter. “At that age and with so little life experience, I hadn’t accumulated enough knowledge.” In those years he was eager to write, but his zeal was dampened after 1984, when critics were debating whether or not sci-fi novels should stick to scientific fact only. Some critics thought that science fiction should be part of popular science and should only disseminate real science. They
The English-language editions of Liu Cixin’s ThreeBody trilogy
labeled the imaginary aspects as unrealistic and useless, belonging to the category of “mental contamination.” Subsequently, an editorial criticizing science fiction as a genre was published on the front page of Party newspapers and “as a result, the publication of sci-fi novels stopped overnight, and by the next day they’d disappeared,” Liu said. The nascent sci-fi scene came to an abrupt end, and, robbed of an audience, Liu stopped writing, too. In a 2002 article, Liu wrote pessimistically that “the new generation of sci-fi writers has little reason to reminisce about the past, because we don’t really have a past to remember.”
Between the Lines
It was in 2010 that Liu finished Death’s End, the last installment of his Three-Body trilogy. While the books were not an instant mainstream hit, they quickly became popular among those in China’s IT industry. Many IT company CEOs used the saga’s second installment, The Dark Forest, to describe the competition between domestic IT enterprises in their public speeches, even turning some quotes from the novel
into soundbites. From there, the Three-Body trilogy gradually entered more mainstream scientific and literary circles. Theoretical physicist Li Miao wrote a book called Three-Body Physics that explained the physics principles in the novels. The China Academy of Space Technology invited Liu to deliver a speech about his series. For mainstream literary academia, which had marginalized the scifi genre for a long time, “The Three-Body trilogy was like a strange monster who suddenly appeared; critics didn’t know what to do about it, but they had to face it,” Liu said. He told our reporter that the Three-Body books explore whether human beings’ sense of values and morality are still tenable in extreme circumstances. Liu is not the only sci-fi writer to dive into bleak themes; many other Chinese writers’ post-2000 works depicted the darkness of the cosmos and the end of the world, expressing doubts and apprehension over the role of science and technology and the future of mankind. In Escape from Mother Universe, for example, author Wang Jinkang depicts a post-apocalyptic, polygamous society that,
under an extreme dictatorship, has developed a catastrophic moral system. In his new book, Soloist, Han Song portrays a horrifying and absurd nation in which young people sing in the dark of night only to die and leave behind unidentifiable bodies, women get lost in giant airports and elderly people spend their whole lives demanding remunerations. What is interesting to Liu is that in the 20th century, many Chinese sci-fi novels were brimming with scientific optimism. “In those days, the government had been promoting science and technology and that spirit was imprinted in that era’s sci-fi story lines,” Liu told NewsChina. “Technological advancement’s negative side effects were not as obvious then as they are today. For example, environmental pollution was not such an urgent issue.” Liu said sci-fi authors’ pre-2000 market awareness was not as strong as it is today; now, in order to write an interesting, marketable book, authors tend to set their stories in a bleak future. “It’s pretty easy to see that if you choose a glorious future that sings the praises of scientific progress, your story will lack drama,” he added. Canadian Hugo Award-winner Robert J. Sawyer, who visited China in 2014, said he thinks the reason Chinese authors depict a dark and grim apocalypse has to do with what China and its people suffered throughout history. Yet to Liu, science fiction as a genre is actually more closely related to a society’s development and its progress in the fields of science and technology. For example, sci-fi novels first debuted in the UK during the Industrial Revolution. The golden age of science fiction in the US was from 1930-60, correlating with the country’s ascension to its current role as a world superpower. “Nowadays, some Chinese sci-fi novels have pocketed awards and received attention in the US partly because of China’s rise in power,” Liu told NewsChina. “It is an underlying reason.” NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Fighting Fans Photo by IC
The Internet age has transformed the relationship between artists and their fans. In China, this trend is encapsulated in the rise of teen pop icons TFBoys By Gao Min
Fans celebrate TFBoys member Wang Yuankai’s 15th birthday, Chongqing, September 2014
he term “fresh meat” or “xiaoxianrou,” describing fresh-faced young male celebrities, has come to define a new wave of interest in teen pop idols in China. Like it or not, these breakout celebrities are becoming hard to ignore. The Fighting Boys, abbreviated as TFBoys, a definitive example of the trend, seemingly appeared out of nowhere. A boy band consisting of 16-year-old Wang Junkai and 15-year-olds Wang Yuan and Yi Yangqianxi, TFBoys have ridden a wave of demand for “fresh meat” idols, demand fueled by the connectivity and mass market reach offered by social media. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
When TFBoys released their debut album in 2013, the three band members were 13 or 14 years old. Two years later, these upstarts are already out-selling well-established A-list pop stars. An enormous fanbase has formed around the group, meaning a single word from one of them on social media will likely echo throughout China’s media and the Internet. TFBoys frequently appear on TV variety shows, reality shows, awards ceremonies and in tabloid headlines. They have even had cameos in TV series and movies. All three have millions of followers on Chinese Twitter-equivalent Weibo – 10.5 million for
Wang Junkai, 10 million for Wang Yuan and 8.7 million for Yi Yangqianxi. Even the most casual posts from these boys receive hundreds of thousands of comments and retweets. While their relative level of talent, at least in relation to their prominence, might be open to question, the trend of so-called “Internet Plus” has helped incubate massively powerful fan “legions” behind groups like TFBoys. However, online ubiquity is a twoedged sword, and the group has been singled out for attack almost as much as praise.
In mid-July, Yu Mao flew to Nanjing from
Shanghai to photograph Wang Yuan on a movie set. Yu is one of TFBoys’ “frontline” volunteers. He follows the band members wherever they go in the hope of snapping a perfect image to market to their hungry fan following. A postgraduate student in Hong Kong, Yu frequently crosses China in pursuit of his targets, making him no stranger to new places or to energy supplements. He is in constant competition with “cannon girls,” female fans-turned-photographers nicknamed for their hefty telephoto lenses. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a 19-year-old Beijing college student and self-confessed fan of TFBoys “since 2014,” told NewsChina that she was the youngest cannon girl she knew. “Usually these people have money and flexible schedules,” she said. According to Chinese media surveys, most TFBoys fans are female and aged between 10 and 30. Most are well-educated, with older fans typically being college graduates. Most live in developed regions of eastern and central China. While they are in their “most active age,” they also have the “highest desire for consumption.” Each time he travels to shoot TFBoys, Yu Mao spends hundreds of US dollars. Other fans spend even more. In July, four collegeaged fans pooled their resources to rent four illuminated billboards in the Chongqing city subway in celebration of (Chongqing-born) Wang Junkai and Wang Yuan’s “coming out” on China’s pop scene. The advertisements cost them more than 100,000 yuan (US$15,600). Similar billboards at 50 bus
TFBoys appear at the 22nd ERS Chinese Top Ten Awards, Shanghai, March 2015
stations city-wide were rented by other fans at the same time.
Some have speculated that TFBoys differ from China’s traditional manufactured boy bands in the sense that their fans tend to have a bigger impact on changes in image and musical style than their management or record label. They are also unusual in attracting a “maternal” fanbase much older than the performers themselves (most fans are in their early 20s). Forums and social media groups reveal that TFBoys fans often refer to themselves as “strange aunties” who enjoy “watching and accompanying the boys as they grow.” This desire has in fact been carefully cul-
tivated by TFBoys’ management. Early promotional campaigns emphasized their “potential” and “positive energy,” keeping costume and makeup to a minimum in order to give the three boys a wholesome demeanor. By allowing the participation of fans in determining the band’s direction, encouraging older women to “watch the teen idols grow” and to help them “pursue their dream,” audiences gained a strong sense of pride in the band’s achievements. The Internet provided the perfect incubator for TFBoys, building a support network that was later used to propel them to mainstream stardom. In 2011 and 2012, some of Wang Junkai and Wang Yuan’s homemade covers of pop songs were uploaded online by their management. Pushed to multiple platNEWSCHINA I November 2015
Photo by IC
forms, these videos attracted a considerable number of “seed fans,” which allowed the group, with the addition of Yi Yangqianxi, to launch in 2013. Only one year later, TFBoys fought off Kpop megastars SJM, represented by Korean label SM Entertainment, in an industry poll, gaining recognition from music lovers and China’s entertainment industry. However, the leader of a TFBoys overseas fan community, speaking anonymously, told NewsChina that fans needed to buy votes in the poll, which resulted in tens of thousands of US dollars being spent to guarantee TFBoys the top spot.“It’s an honor to contribute to their growing up,” the fan club leader said. “We are really delighted.” Indeed, TFBoys’ fans do much of their NEWSCHINA I November 2015
promotional work for them. To ensure pride of place in the headlines, TFBoys fans have opened multiple Weibo accounts in order to forward and update news about the group. Fans have even purchased search engine rankings, IM promotions, VPN (Virtual Private Network) services and satellite broadcasts to promote their idols.
Out of Control
However, TFBoys’ runaway success has left the band with many critics. Their relatively amateurish performance skills and their immaturity have been described as out of proportion with the hype surrounding them. The maniacal enthusiasm of their fans is often difficult for outsiders to digest, with some calling the die-hard enthusiasm of their
legion of older female fans nothing short of creepy. Today, TFBoys fans are becoming as likely as the group itself to make the headlines. News concerning some widely circulated video clips in which some TFBoys fans attacked K-pop group EXO resulted in a flame war with EXO fans. The obscene language that came to characterize the dispute led some to dub the incident “an elementary schoolyard brawl.” Even TFBoys’ fans have begun to attack one another, with disputes arising between factions preferring one performer or another, while others are infuriated that their teen trio are being set at odds with one another. A splinter group, which some fans have claimed are stalking the band, have been accused of harassing and spying on the young performers when following them on tour. Fans who heap praise on one member of the group while blasting the other two are also given short shrift. Yu Mao, the volunteer fan-photographer, told NewsChina he had also been attacked by his fellow fans. “They used really violent and foul language,” he said. “I also received harassment calls after my cell number was posted online.” The media frenzy around the band, which blends into infighting between fans and trolling from those who’d rather see less of TFBoys, has led to something of a perfect storm of controversy which many now hope will die down. “We [fans] actually loathe such behavior more than anyone else,” said Yu Mao. “Because it’s our idols who are harmed.”
Director Without Fear
Director Cao Baoping’s approach to filmmaking differs from most of his peers’; he integrates commercial appeal with an emotional fearlessness to create a kind of movie rarely seen in Chinese cinema By Wan Jaihuan and Yuan Ye
one family, orphaning a baby girl whom they raise in remorse as they run from the law. With visceral shots that don’t shy away from bloody violence, murder, explicit sex and executions, many marvel at the tension and boldness of the movie while wondering how on earth it slipped past China’s censors. Cao loves tense conflicts and struggles constantly to push emotional boundaries, even if this causes political problems. Dealing with these issues and striving to meet his own high artistic standards makes Cao just like the characters in his movies, constantly filled with worry and unease.
A Different Approach
Photo by Dong Jiexu
n director Cao Baoping’s movies, the characters tend to be constantly pushing the extremities of human emotion. They are anxious, fearful, grief-stricken and at times simply falling apart. Cao often presents them in tense, fierce ways. His latest film, The Dead End, reinforced this as his signature style and won over the market when it premiered in late August 2015. The movie grossed 127 million yuan (US$20m) at the box office in its first week. For the most part, reviews have been favorable. On douban.com, one of China’s most popular social networking sites with a focus on the arts, users gave the movie an impressive average score of 8.1 out of 10. The movie’s three leading actors shared the award for Best Actor at the 18th Shanghai International Film Festival held this past June, and Cao won the festival’s award for Best Director. Adapted from the novel Sunspot by Xu Yigua, The Dead End asks whether or not sinners can truly be redeemed. It tells the story of three men who killed nearly all the members of
Crime is a marginalized theme in Chinese literature, just as criminals are marginalized in society. But Cao is drawn to these marginalized figures. “Ordinary people are actually more difficult to depict,” said Cao. “They’re too normal.” Sunspot had the “fierce” elements Cao often finds most attractive. To him, such fierceness means “better commercial potential.” Ever since he entered the industry, he has sought stories with profound emotions embedded in strong, intense conflict. In 1985, 23-year-old Cao Baoping started college at Beijing Film Academy’s (BFA) department of literature. Many of his schoolmates who entered school roughly around the same time became China’s “sixth generation” directors who later became famous mainly through semi-autobiographical, literary films. Cao remembers clearly how most of his classmates scorned commercial hits like First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone, a movie which was very popular at the time. But Cao had a different approach to filmmaking. “It’s not my style to make movies about someone’s personal state of affairs, trifling emotions, unimportant art, or smallscale struggle against society, like the ‘sixth generation’ directors did,” Cao told NewsChina. Most importantly, he feels those movNEWSCHINA I November 2015
Scenes from The Dead End
ies were “not enjoyable” and “had a narrow audience.” “From the very beginning, I rejected the ‘independent,’ French New Wave filmmaking method, choosing a comparatively dramatic and commercial approach,” he said. Having a “commercial mindset” separated Cao from his peers. After he graduated from the BFA, Cao first became a screenwriter. Most of the characters in his scripts were completely fictional. His preference for tension and conflicts naturally led him to themes of criminality. He wrote screenplays with titles like Lawyer and Prisoner and Premeditated Robbery. He later borrowed some of these two stories’ plot points for a film he directed called The Equation of Love and Death, which told the stories of five strangers whose lives intertwined in bizarre and unpredictable ways. He won the New Directors Award for the film at the 56th San Sebastian Festival in 2008. Earlier, in 2004, Cao Baoping completed his feature movie debut Trouble Makers. This black comedy tells the story of rural villagers attempting to rise up against the gangsters that run their town with simple storylines and suspenseful pacing. It explores the at times helpless and tragic nature of the fight against oppressors.
As his characters are typically caught up in unusual situations, Cao knows quality acting is critical to the success of his projects. Actors know him as an extremely demanding director who places intense requirements on their performances to ensure the complicated inner world of their characters come through the camera. Duan Yihong, one of the leading actors in The Dead End, said he finally saw for himself how Cao “tortures” his cast when he was on set. Sometimes it took a whole day to shoot just two scenes, and the whole team had to
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sweat through four or five hours of takes while the burning sun beat down on them, repeating the scenes until Cao was satisfied. At times, the movie set felt more like a battlefield, with the director and actors on opposing sides of a war. “It was like mutually inflicted torture... It was very painful,” Duan said. But he still admires Cao’s films. “They are powerful and meaningful,” he added. To Cao, drawing emotions out of his cast and weaving them into plotlines are some of the basic skills that a director must master. He accomplishes this by first talking to the actors about the nuances in their characters’ complicated mindsets in a given scene, then later judging whether or not they made it believable. “For almost all of my projects, acting is the key to their success or failure,” Cao told NewsChina. He calls himself a “perfectionist.” “I often ask for things to be done perfectly, which puts a huge amount of pressure on the cast.” When shooting The Equation of Love and Death, lead actress Zhou Xun experienced this “pressure” firsthand. In one scene, Zhou runs onto an open-air pedestrian bridge, sobbing and screaming. Due to weather issues and Cao’s strict standards, this single shot ended up taking several days to shoot. Zhou spent those days running, weeping and yelling, and by the end she was so frustrated she crouched in a corner of the bridge, banging her head against the guardrail. “I just wanted to blow up the bridge every time I saw it,” she said.
Though Cao’s films maintain strong commercial appeal, he is no stranger to controversy. After The Equation of Love and Death, Cao planned to shoot a movie set during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). He spent a year writing the script, which, unlike typical Chinese movies or TV shows that depict the war, tells the story of a complex romance be-
tween a Japanese officer and a Chinese landlord’s daughter in a village that the Japanese army has just seized. The story follows both sides as they deal with the resulting conflict and brutality. “The story touches on the nature of killing and the motivation behind it. It has little connection with the traditional narratives of Japan’s invasion and massacre,” Cao said. Yet shortly after Cao’s team started pre-production, censors called a halt to production due to its sensitive subject matter. “It was very difficult for such a story to pass [the censors]. Sino-Japanese relations are too sensitive,” Cao said. He was confident that if the movie was made it would have successfully subverted some of the audience’s preconceived notions and ideas. “But it was too hard,” he said. His feature movie debut Trouble Makers had faced a similar predicament. The script, adapted from a novel, was finished in 1999. However, as it discussed vicious social conflict in China’s rural areas, censors required revisions over and over again until, several years later, it finally passed inspection. While violence was the main issue in Trouble Makers, love was the sticking point in The Equation of Love and Death. Censors questioned Cao’s choice of depicting a romance between an innocent girl and a drug dealer. “Sometimes I felt frustrated and exhausted, even desperate,” Cao said of these battles with censorship. However, he added that the only way he knew to solve these problems was to solve them. When The Dead End was censored in 2012, the authorities suggested revising the execution scene showing a lethal injection because it was “too authentic.” In the end, Cao had to cut the three-minute-long take into smaller pieces. “We can’t solve [the censor’s] problems perfectly, but we can at least solve them in part. Even if we fail, it’s not like we’ll die,” he said with a smile.
Pika-boo! Chinese scientist and conservationist Li Weidong first discovered the Ili pika (Ochotona iliensis), which he named for his hometown, on a 1983 expedition to the Tianshan mountain range in northwest China’s Xinjiang region. For the past three decades, he has devoted himself to the research and protection of this extremely rare species. He gradually noticed that Ili pika populations were falling behind even those of the critically endangered giant panda, with fewer than 1,000 still living in the wild, so he spearheaded calls for official protection of the species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the Ili pika as “vulnerable,”while the Chinese authorities class the species as officially endangered. In March 2015, when cute images of these fluffy critters were first published in National Geographic, the Ili pika enjoyed a huge PR boost. Without official support for the protection of the species, Li started his own private campaign, calling for public donations through various forums. This summer, with privately raised funds, Li led a group of volunteers to collect information from infrared cameras and set up new equipment to record the activities of wild pikas. Grazing pressure from livestock and the threat of climate change, which has already caused the snowline to rise in the Tianshan mountains, have both caused massive habitat loss, accelerating the decline of pika populations. According to Li, numbers have fallen by almost 70 percent since 1983.
The photograph that made the Ili pika world famous when it was published in National Geographic
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Far left: The first shot of a subadult Ili Pika in the wild, taken in 1987 by Li Weidong Left: Pika droppings are used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Right: Ili pika subsist by foraging at high altitudes
Left: Second only to sheepdogs, ferrets are one of the pika’s major predators
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Photo by IC
Far right: the “Number One” Glacier on Tianshan Mountain, where an Ili pika was spotted in 1988, has been in full retreat in recent years
Above: Ili pika footprints in the snow
Above: Since 2014, trap cameras purchased with privately raised funds have been placed in pika habitats Left: The original habitat where Li Weidong first spotted an Ili pika in 1983, which has seen few wild animals since 2002
Right: Volunteers attempt to educate locals about the pika
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Left: Local tribespeople gather precious medicinal herbs to sell to tourists Below: Thick paws and long claws enable the pika to climb the areaâ€™s rocky terrain
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OUTSIDEIN perspectives from within China
The best shopping China’s capital has to offer isn’t in designer-drenched Wangfujing or its many kaleidoscopic malls; for the true Beijing experience, bring your best bargaining face to the city’s massive markets By Brittney Wong
Photo by IC
Beyond Silk and Pearls
A customer scans icons and ornaments on sale at Panjiayuan Flea Market, Beijing
It was a brothel!” exclaimed photographer Kang Xuesong with a smile that took up half his face. “A famous brothel; even Lu Xun used to go there.” I had just asked him about one of the hundreds of black-and-white photographs for sale at his studio in Beijing’s Panjiayuan Flea Market; it showed the inner courtyard of a rare two-story hutong home that had apparently once entertained China’s most important modern author. Any time customers inquire about an image, it only takes Kang a split second to re-immerse himself in the moment when he took that picture. When the bald Beijinger isn’t minding his store, he traverses the country, snapping shots of men hunched around a game of elephant chess or old Tibetan women puffing on footlong pipes. “You must take that one,” he whispers to me behind the back of another potential customer, pointing to the hutong photo. “It’s my last print, and that building doesn’t even exist anymore. It’s been torn down.” I’m sold. He gives it to me for 100 yuan instead of his usual 150, because I’d come to his store before. Kang’s studio is the perfect example of what Beijing’s markets truly offer if you venture beyond the Silk and Pearl. The city’s numerous markets are all about bargaining, ogling quirky products, questioning Silver Fox Cave
said products’ authenticity and seeing an aspect of local life that you would have otherwise never experienced. Beijing’s shopping scene extends way beyond tailored qipao dresses and knockoff Coach clutches. Even if you’d rather your wallet stay shut, exploring the capital’s markets is an essential part of fully understanding the city.
Panjiayuan Flea Market
Vendors hawking plastic beaded bracelets, rare walnuts and taxidermic animals flank the market entrance, calling out to you before you can even step foot in the massive maze of bric-a-brac that is Panjiayuan. Come on a weekend to be the most overwhelmed by the sheer number of curios; that’s when the most vendors set up shop. Take an immediate left to peruse the rows of stalls lined with art for sale. Artists play Bejeweled on their phones or tease each other for gaining weight while you take in their traditional Chinese landscapes, calligraphy, oil paintings of Beijing doorways and random nudes. Beyond the art stalls are lines of merchants specializing in different stones, beads, glass “jade,” wooden carvings and tea sets. Clothing vendors make up the next few columns. As they beckon for you to NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Pretend you’re indifferent – You’ve just found the perfect souvenir for that impossible-to-shop-for relative, and you know it. That’s great! Just don’t let the vendor know it too. Even if you know you’re going to buy something, pretend you’re impartial so the vendor feels like he has to lower the price in order to get you to open your wallet.
try on an ethnic minority’s traditional dress or offer you a discount on cloth bags, make a beeline for the lone dishware salesman among them. If he’s having a bad sales day, he’ll give you a beautiful bowl made of semi-translucent Gansu jade for 70 yuan, even though he swears they go for 200 yuan in Beijing’s brick-and-mortar stores. Towering over the books and wares on the other side of the market are pairs of stone guardian lions, some standing as high as 15 feet tall. Chain-smoking vendors who specialize in stonework including elaborately carved benches and half-size terracotta warriors, walk around their wares protectively, promising potential customers safe shipping anywhere in the world.
Maliandao Tea Market
Good luck trying to find a bite to eat on Maliandao Road outside of the colossal Carrefour or the KFC tucked inside it; apart from this anomaly, the entire street is lined with tea houses. For the most variety under one roof, skip the small stores and head directly to the multistory emporium Maliandao Tea City. The instant you step through its doors, the deep, slightly sweet aroma of tea envelopes you. The first floor is made up of separate stores and the third floor only sells highend teas, so for the best chance of a bargain try the grid of stalls on the second story. Tea novices and experts alike will gape at the variety of leaves and accessories. Apart from the teas – green, white, oolong, black and pu’er, in every variation – there are tea picks, tea tongs, tea pots, tea cups and large tea platters, made of either treated wood or milky green stone, on which you pour the tea. The shop Zi Yi in the back even sells small clay figurines of tigers or little old men to decorate the trays. Their function is actually part of the ceremonial process of drinking tea. Experiencing the ritual for yourself is the best part about a trip to Maliandao. Choose a stall and ask for a sample — for delicious, but pricey white tea, try stall No. 3 in area 5 and talk to Ms Pan. She won’t pressure you to buy at all while she sits behind the tea table and washes the tea, letting the excess spill over the earthenware frog perched on the tray. She then pours the sweet tea into the tiny cups balanced on the platter’s edge, inviting you to smell and sip before she pours again. If you do decide to buy, she may even throw a few single-serving rounds of their Yunnan pu’er or Anhui green tea into your bag.
New Guanyuan Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market
Although the New Guanyuan pet market is underground, it’s not hard to find — life-sized statues of people holding bird cages or playing with dogs literally point the way to the market entrance under the Purple Bamboo Bridge on the Third Ring Road. Once inside, chirping and squawking from the first store’s wall of lovebirds and parrots greets you, as does an open box by their side filled with crawling, translucent insect larvae ready for their consumption. The entire
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Speak a different language – Beijing’s vendors, in general, speak English at the very least. Once, at the tourist-trap Silk Market, a friend from Denmark walked past a clothing vendor who took one look at him and started yelling “pants!” in Danish. If you want to tell a traveling companion you love a product and aren’t leaving without it, speak a more obscure language if you can, or make up a code. Know the real price – As the Chinese saying goes, compare three stores’ prices before you buy. A friend once bought a small glass clock at Panjiayuan for a whopping 250 yuan (about US$40) because he had just entered the market and didn’t realize the same clock was available at a dozen other stalls. Apart from comparing prices at different shops, know that the number vendors give tourists is typically two to 10 times the price they will actually be willing to sell it for. Walk away – Bargaining is all about the drama. The merchant will act insulted if you counter his price with too low a figure, but it’s just part of the game. If you have been haggling for a while, walk away. Slowly. Four times out of five, the vendor will run after you, begrudgingly agreeing to your price or offering a further compromise.
market is a labyrinth of individual shops. Curve through its hallways to discover stores specializing in adorable rabbits, statuesque cats, colorful fish and more. One storeowner selling hamsters and mice inexplicably showcases a hyperactive squirrel in the middle of her shop. Another deals only in reptiles, displaying snakes and iguanas in illuminated cages that add a bit of spookiness to a particularly dark corner of the basement. On top of a small half-staircase sits a pyramid of fighting crickets, hopping around in individual cages like wrestlers pumping themselves up before a match. Their owner sells their special fighting containers, too. Pass around the corner to find the market’s real prize. At Shop 217, Chinchilla Beijing Specialty Shop, balls of fluff with squirrel tails and Mickey Mouse ears cozy up together in spacious cages or play with brightly colored toys. And they’re not shy. If you ask one of the attendants dressed in green polo shirts about the length of the chinchilla’s claws, she’ll eagerly flop one into your arms to prove how soft and playful they are. Even if you don’t feel like spending US$100-
1,000 on a new be-whiskered friend, the free, furry embrace is well worth the trip. This is the perfect introductory Chinese wet market for tourists — it still has the guts and gore, but with foreigner-friendly vendors and a linear layout that makes it impossible to lose your way. Sanyuanli is split into sections, much like a typical supermarket. Fruit vendors selling everything from grapes and oranges to dragonfruit and custard apples line both sides of the aisle at the market’s entrance, offering free samples and slices to hesitant potential customers. Your nose will know the meat section is next even before you see it. The raw smell of hanging cuts of lamb and naked chickens hits you hard. Step further into the market for the briny, salty scent of the seafood section. Here, live crabs crawl out of green mesh bags and a woman wielding a large knife effortlessly scales fresh fish. Pick up a pound of shrimp and the attendant will peel them for you, just make sure to step around the blue plastic bag that’s still flopping at your feet. The market finishes off at the vegetable section, with stalls lined with 5-yuan sandwich bags of aromatic herbs and piled up with royal purple eggplant and
Photo by IC
The New Guanyuan pet market is a menagerie of birds, cats, lizards and chinchillas
round, ripe tomatoes. Munch on a roubing, a fried meat pastry sold at a mid-market booth, while the vendor at stand 98 croons about his impressive selection of mushrooms and rare truffles.
In August, The Three-Body Problem author Liu Cixin became the first Asian writer to win science fiction’s highest honor, the Hugo Award. Ever since, more and more people have gravitated toward the book, which media have described as “naodong dakai,” meaning “showing vivid imagination.” “Nao” means “brain” and “dong” means “hole,” making naodong itself an imaginative word which likens one’s imagination to a hole in the brain in which one fills whatever one has conceptualized. Naodong dakai (“open the brain hole wide”), describes someone with a powerful, creative imagination, such as author Liu Cixin. Naodong actually originated from another new term, “naobu,” with “bu” meaning
“to supplement,” It is used when someone makes up imaginary plot lines for a story or a picture that add on to, or supplement, the image’s original content. For example, when looking at a picture of a girl crying on the side of the road, different people might naobu different explanations behind why she’s crying, such as a difficult breakup, failing a final or even time-traveling to the wrong century. If the supplementary “plot” is so vivid that it extends beyond the average realm of imagination, that story line “naodong dakai.” In many cases, naodong is closely related to creativity, as people believe that a creative person definitely has “boundless imagination.” The term naodong often appears in job
descriptions for designers who need to have a high capacity for innovation, or in advertisements for what is being promoted as a fresh, novel product. For example, a well-known Chinese game developer recently launched a new smart phone game called Naodong Three Kingdoms, playing off the legendary wars of the Three Kingdoms (220-280). By introducing many modern and even fictitious weapons into the game, the developer shows that “naodong” is one of their major selling points. Similar to many other online terms, naodong can have a negative connotation, too, used mostly when flights of fancy have caused people to delude themselves into denying reality. Some people even use the term naodong dakai to describe a symptom of delusional disorders. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
flavor of the month
Off With Their Heads! By Sean Silbert
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Photo by IC
urn the wrong corner on a Chengdu street and you’ll come across a gruesome sight: a platter of heads – rabbit heads – with their skin removed to leave their glistening white front teeth locked in a gruesome rictus. It’s a terrifying image, but these heads aren’t for scaring children. They’re for eating. While they might seemingly attract only more adventurous eaters, rabbit heads are a common snack in Sichuan. Sichuanese love rabbits – particularly their heads. Braised and doused with chili oil, these grisly snacks are sold street-side or served in restaurants as an appetizer. Even beyond the grim appearance, these are not easy to eat. There’s a tried-and-true method to stripping all the meat off a bunny’s face, which is guaranteed to unleash your inner savage. Ready? First, rip off the jaw. You nibble off the tender cheeks, before splitting the jaw in two to get access to the chewy tongue. Finally, bite the back of the skull to break it open, peel back the membranes, and suck out the creamy brain. If you like, you can fish out the eyes with your chopsticks as well – they’re regarded as a treat. Do Chinese consider this disgusting? Outside of Chengdu, it’s certainly not a common comestible. But the growing range of appetites around the country means that street eats like rabbit head are becoming more and more accessible, and enjoyed by a wider range of people than ever before. According to China Radio International, in Beijing, a city where just about every province and ethnic group (as well as a wide number of foreign nations) have their cuisines represented, over 80 restaurants offered this dish on menus last month. In fact, so many people are going out for rabbit head that nearly all the rabbits bred in China are sent to Sichuan to be eaten. But despite the furious rate at which these creatures multiply – they indeed breed, well, like rabbits – so many people are dining on rabbit heads that supply can’t keep up with demand. Last year, Germany’s Rheinische Post reported that France exported 74 tons of rabbit heads to Hong Kong – a huge increase from the 4 tons they sent in 2012. A huge majority of these would be destined for Sichuan, to be devoured with delight. Nor does this growth mean that Chinese are leaving the rest of the body to waste. Rabbit dishes are a mainstay of menus throughout the country, from stewed rabbit meat to barbecued bunny. Yet Sichuanese diners in particular are hopping mad for rabbit dishes, which comprise a major portion of the regional cookbook. While rabbit heads’ historical origin as a foodstuff is difficult to fully confirm, the anecdotal story on their more recent popularity traces it back to a Mrs Chen, in the 1990s. Chen, a factory worker who lived in Shuangliu, a suburb of Chengdu, opened a hotpot restaurant to
make some extra cash. After accidentally dropping a platter of rabbit heads into the spicy hotpot broth, her son loved them so much she added the dish to the menu. Their explosive popularity soon led to her renaming her restaurant Grandma’s Rabbit Head, and copycat restaurants spread like wildfire. At the Beijing branch of Shuangliu Grandma’s Rabbit Head, heads come in two flavors: well-seasoned five spices and melt-your-face spicy mala. One head costs pocket change: 8 yuan, or about US$1.25. The restaurant provides you with a pair of gloves to eat the heads with, as the potent sauce can easily stain your fingers with spice for days afterwards. Dozens of apron-clad diners can be seen waiting to get a table nearly every night of the week. In 2013, the Chinese ate over 500 million rabbit heads; Beijing Shuangliu Grandma can serve up to 2,000 rabbit heads per day, a store manager told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. Eating less conventional animal parts is more than some passing fad. Many animal heads were first eaten in China first out of simple necessity, when food was scarce and every part of the carcass needed to be eaten. Pig and goat heads are ubiquitous banquet dishes, particularly in the north. Fish heads, fleshy front-ends of carp that offer enough meat for two people, are eaten just about everywhere. Duck heads served blisteringly spicy are a common specialty of Wuhan, and can be found on roadside stalls, to be washed down with beer, as well as in white-linen banquet halls. Back in Sichuan, however, rabbit heads have even leaped into the local lingo. The complicated act of eating one – the rotating the head, sucking off the meat, the slow-burning spicy aftertaste that follows – reads conspicuously like a make-out session. As such, the phrase for eating rabbit heads, ken tu tou, has taken on an alternate meaning in the local Sichuanese dialect – it means “to kiss.”
Cream of the Crop By Kenneth Kagan
And then, behind the rack for the nudie mags and candy bars, there he was! Brother Cream, reclining serenely behind the cash register
Illustration by Liu Xiaochao
I spent my last few hours in Hong Kong looking for a cat. Let me explain: this wasn’t any ordinary lost kitty. The hunt was on for Tsim Tung Brother Cream, a cream-and-brown British shorthair that can rightfully be called Hong Kong’s most famous cat. The story begins when Brother Cream disappeared one night in July 2012. His owner, Ko Chee-shing, put out the word on social media that there might have been a cat-napper on the loose. The entire city was soon on the lookout for the missing cat, so much so that when the fugitive feline was found in a nearby alley 26 days later it made front-page headlines. The ordeal made Ko’s store – and more notably, Brother Cream himself – a bigtime Hong Kong celebrity. Even now, Brother Cream (and his substantially less popular black-and-white Scottish Fold partner Mui Mui) receives more daily visitors than his owner can count. In an interview with HK Magazine, his owner credited his “attractive appearance” for Cream’s persistent fame. At the time of writing, Brother Cream had over 23,000 Instagram followers and 180,000 Facebook fans, not counting copycat profiles. These pages regularly feature photos of fuzzy Brother Cream sporting dapper bow ties or top hats, not to mention a good number of shots of him, well, just being a cat. Sickeningly cute comments on these social media accounts, such as one follower wishing him a “happy meow-day,” will be sure to melt your heart. Brother Cream’s popularity level went from local curiosity to territorial mascot when he landed some big-name marketing opportunities. His image has been pasted on the sides of local buses and he’s been a guest on Hong Kong television shows. His furry face can be seen on his own-label handbags and stickers, and he has even landed two contracts to appear in advertisements for Canon and Wing On Travel, for which he (or, more precisely, his representation) was paid thousands of dollars. Indeed, the first time I had
heard of Brother Cream, I was looking at a colossal three-meter poster of “Cream Bro,” as he is also known. This enterprising beastie has even put his paws to writing a book: a short tome featuring inspirational stories, essays and, of course, cute photos. The first edition sold out in only a couple of days. The release was mobbed by hundreds of fans aching for a glimpse of Brother Cream, where he was able to “autograph” a few copies: Brother Cream’s paws were scanned and the image converted into a stamp, allowing him to give “signatures” to his adoring public. To his credit, Brother Cream’s owner uses his cat’s Internet fame for good. Ko donates a portion of all the proceeds made from his pet’s unexpected social status towards chari-
ties that help stray cats and dogs. He also does his best to protect the cat’s well-being from aggressive pet paparazzi: There’s a “rest time” mid-afternoon where Brother Cream is not available for viewing, and he can hide in the back of the store whenever he wants. He’s also watched constantly to make sure unruly fans don’t poke and pester him. I had no idea if I would be able to even catch a glimpse of such a valuable animal. I wandered around Cream’s neighborhood for hours, double-checking cross streets and ducking into convenience stores for directions. But suddenly, there he was: a cardboard cutout advertising a display of Brother Cream merchandise. Despite his astronomical success, he’s avoided the blatant commercialism of Internet celebrity Grumpy Cat, but there is a wide variety of jewelry, picture books and even cat food for sale. And then, behind the rack for the nudie mags and candy bars, there he was! Brother Cream, reclining serenely behind the cash register. I was star-struck. Grabbing a box of yuenyang, a Hong Kong tea-and-coffee mixture, I asked if I could take a few snapshots – the owners didn’t mind. But imagine how difficult it is to take just one photo of that adorable face! It’s shocking, honestly, that even with Brother Cream’s towering level of fame that I, a mere passerby, could walk up to give him a scratch behind the ears. The store has certainly taken notice of the cat’s popularity: There’s an astonishing variety of Brother Cream goods for sale. A huge portion of this tiny corner store’s goods was dedicated to the little cat, with everything from postcards to my own Cream Bro – the stuffed animal version, of course. As I left, the owner handed me the cat’s business card, and a paper invitation. The next week Brother Cream was having a big birthday blowout, with cake, a magician and plenty of adoring fans. An invite to a celebrity birthday party, for me? I had to head back to Beijing, but at least I had seen China’s most famous feline in the flesh. NEWSCHINA I November 2015
Mountain Mayhem By Abigail Thomson
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Being of a parsimonious bent, we decided to take two single mattresses between the four of us. Haggling does not work in hostels
Illustration by Liu Xiaochao
As a student studying in the UK, I was under the impression that I had most grown-up responsibilities sussed out: working a train timetable, booking hotels and so on. However, throw me into a foreign setting and adulthood becomes a completely new ball game. Traveling in China is always an experience, and things don’t always turn out as expected. Having been granted an international holiday just one week into my first semester studying in Beijing, some friends and I seized the opportunity to take a trip to Huang Shan, the Yellow Mountain. This marked the beginning of many adventures, and certainly more of a white-knuckle experience than we had first anticipated. Departure day began badly – nearly missing our 7 AM bus – a journey which we soon began to wish we had missed, as our trigger-happy bus driver proceeded to play a continuous game of musical horns with every car within a 5-meter radius. Four hours later we parted company with him, and spent our lunch break fighting off various touts trying to convince us that we wanted to go exactly where we didn’t want to go. The only escape route was the trail to the top of the mountain. The stunning scenery which awaited us made the morning’s journey well worth the while. Soaring mountain peaks, hair-raising drops and vertical staircases carved into the mountainside were awe-inspiring. Night fell with astonishingly photogenic timing – we summited just in time to watch the sunset. Of course, things could only go downhill from there. As daylight faded, we began the search for our hostel. We quickly adopted a tried-and-tested tactic – find a crowd, and follow it. Unfortunately, said crowd was not in fact headed for the final destination we had in mind. Making an about turn, we puffed our way back up the hill we had just descended and continued our quest – alone in the failing light. Several peaks later, we arrived at the hostel. Our brief feeling of victory did not last long however. It appeared that it was a requirement to phone the hostel two days in
advance to confirm that you were still coming, hence, our room had been rented out to someone else – which was, of course, entirely our fault. Fortunately, there was another option. Not so fortunately, this involved paying three times the original room rate to sleep on a mattress in the hostel corridor. Being of a parsimonious bent, we decided to take two single mattresses between the four of us. Haggling does not work in hostels, even in China. Take it from me. After a failed expedition in search of a nutritious meal, we retired to our mattresses where we made some new Chinese friends over a salubrious supper of beer and chocolate. You can always rely on an interested Chinese person to strike up a conversation and lift the mood. At 11 o’clock, a head-totoe sleeping arrangement was established and
we took some well earned kip in preparation for an early start to see the sunrise. Half past four in the morning hit, and our peaceful corridor abruptly filled with effervescent tourists, all wrapped in identical rain ponchos. Not wanting to miss the event of the year, we dragged ourselves from our mattresses, stumbled outside and waited in the dark for the daylight to appear. And when it did, the view was… well… clouds. The wind tried its best to shift the stubborn mass and allow the sun a sneak appearance, but the results were fairly unimpressive. The eager crowd was not to be put off, however. No sunrise? No problem. Photos must be taken, regardless. Hence, with each gust of wind, the crowd flocked toward the supposedly next best viewing spot, accompanied each time by a chorus of oohs and aahs. Following this display, we returned to our corridor expecting to catch some more sleep. Wrong again. Our mattresses had disappeared. We thus set up camp on the sofas scattered around the lobby. Looking extremely sorry for yourself can often lead to unexpected acts of kindness. The desk staff took pity on us and brought out breakfast (rice gruel) free of charge. And so, with spirits lifted, we set off back down the mountain. Expecting a quick descent, we were soon confronted with the discovery that traveling in a group which includes two blondes and one redhead automatically gains you celebrity status. At each turn in the path we were mobbed by Chinese tourists requesting group selfies. If you ever feel in need of an ego boost, then China is the place to go. It goes without saying that the best experiences are the most memorable ones, and Huang Shan was certainly that. Stunning sights were seen, new friends were made and important lessons were learned. When traveling in China, one expects the unexpected, but there will always be surprises. My advice would be: Don’t allow the knocks and bumps to get in your way – they often make for the best adventures.
Cultural listings Cinema
Artistic Kung Fu Adapted from a short story by Tang Dynasty (618–907) writer Pei Xing, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s latest work, The Assassin, was released in late August 2015. Pei was an influential writer at a time when the central government and local warlords were embroiled in a centuries-long conflict and fight. The Assassin tells a story of that era, in which a beautiful female swordswoman assassinates a powerful warlord who is actually a cousin with whom she grew up. Hou, 68, is known for his restrained artistic style. Unlike most other kung-fu movies, The Assassin has a slower pace. It is infused with long takes, literary dialog and metaphors that link the film’s story with today’s world. Although Hou’s work received praise from a number of critics, it wasn’t as well received by ordinary movie-goers, many of whom criticized the movie as utilizing a style that contrasts too strongly with the story itself.
The Power of the Internet Through crowdfunding, Haomeimei, a relatively unknown folk-pop duo, successfully landed their first large-scale gig in mid-September at Beijing Workers’ Stadium, one of the city’s biggest venues for sports and concerts, with nearly 40,000 people purchasing their 99-yuan (US$15.50) tickets. The event became a hot topic on China’s social media sites, rousing debate and analysis among industry insiders who previously assumed a concert of this size could only be supported by A-list artists. Though some believe the event might actually have been a marketing stunt held by the crowdfunding site, many others argue that the success of Haomeimei, who has yet to release a single hit, proved the power of the masses on the Internet as well as the strong demand for fresh entertainment with cheaper price tags in China’s first-tier cities.
Gathering Honey on Earth By Li Yinhe
Ancient Art The national treasures on display at Beijing’s Palace Museum are so popular that on some days visitors have to stand in line for six hours before they can get through the doors. To celebrate the museum’s 90th anniversary, 238 ancient, incredibly rare works of art from the Forbidden City’s collections were placed on public display. Titled “The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat,” the anniversary exhibit will run from September 5 to November 4. Paintings on display include “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), “Stroll About in Spring” from the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and a calligraphy piece titled “A Letter to Boyuan” that dates back to the Jin Dynasty (265-420). Many of these pieces of art are so seldom showcased to the public that its rumored the next chance to see them will not be for another decade.
In early August 2015, an autobiography titled Gathering Honey on Earth was released by the famous 63-year-old sexologist Li Yinhe. Though she was first known to the public as the widow of Wang Xiaobo, one of China’s most renowned contemporary writers, Li devoted her life to sexology after Wang died in 1997 and became a prominent, yet very controversial academic for her high-profile advocacy for sexual liberalism and gay rights. Earlier this year, Li made public that her partner of 17 years was a transgender man, which stirred up even more controversy. Yet in the face of constant attacks, Li responded that “the world is like a shrub of flowers; I just gather a little bit of its best parts and care little about other things... Live a free, bold and unrestrained life. Follow your heart.” NEWSCHINA I November 2015
China needs to solve its debt problem Deleveraging debts is key for China’s economic future By Yang Yingjie
ecently, in a September 10 speech at the annual World Eco- to a certain extent, similar to those the US adopted during the global nomic Forum meeting known as the Summer Davos, Chi- financial crisis. To stabilize the market, the US used quantitative easing nese Premier Li Keqiang said that China was responsible for and allowed troubled financial institutions to offload their toxic assets. around 30 percent of global economic growth in the first half of 2015, Similarly, China’s central government has offered to take over the debts stressing that the Chinese economy will not suffer a “hard landing.” from local governments by offering them low-interest bonds, transDespite Li’s confidence, China’s local govferring the risk from the local government ernments’ debts, which are a major threat to to the central government which has more the country’s financial stability, appear to be resources to deal with the issue. The existence of swelling. According to data recently released However, given the size of the existing huge local debts will by the government, China’s local governdebt, low-interest bonds from the central continue to present a ments owed a total of 15.4 trillion yuan government will not be adequate to solve major threat to China’s the problem. With a volatile stock mar(US$2.42tn) at the end of 2014, an increase financial and economic ket and an overheated real estate market, of 41 percent compared to the figure from well-being for quite a 18 months before. Experts believe that the China must find alternative ways to inject increase is largely due to the fact that local more funds into the economy. long time governments have stopped trying to hide Firstly, China needs to push forward redebts from the central government, as the forms regarding its State-owned enterprises latter recently offered to swap some of the (SOEs), which are directly related to the former’s existing high-interest debts for low-cost bonds. country’s debt problems. The reforms should not be about acquisition Even so, the existence of huge local debts will continue to pres- and expansion, like what happened in previous reforms, but about ent a major threat to China’s financial and economic well-being for allowing private capital to invest in the industries monopolized by quite a long time. The Chinese government must find a solution SOEs. to gradually deleverage its existing debts so that a potential bomb Secondly, China should expand the application of the model of within the Chinese economy can be defused. public-private partnerships (PPP) to increase the efficiency of the The importance of deleveraging debts becomes clear through use of funds at the local level. However, in doing so, the government situations faced by the US and the European Union. During the should be careful to make sure projects are completed without addglobal financial crisis that hit in 2008, the US government launched ing to the already sizable amount of local government debt. monetary quantitative easing and purchased a huge amount of Finally, China should address various problems that concern pritoxic assets from troubled financial institutions, which effectively vate investors, such as the government’s at times unpredictable and lowered the leverage ratio in the financial sector. Partially due to arbitrary attitude toward PPP endeavors and the transparency of the deleveraging, the US economy gradually recovered from the projects’ legal status, to truly allow the market to play the dominant financial crisis. role and establish the oft-cited “rule of law” in the business world. By contrast, the EU refused to take drastic measures to deal with Only in this way can China effectively deleverage its debts in the its recent debt problems, which only prolonged the issue, leading to context of a weakening economy and secure its long-term economthe Greek debt crisis. Eventually, the EU also decided to resort to ic prospects. quantitative easing to deleverage debt. To alleviate its growing debt, China has adopted measures that are, The author is an associate professor at the Central Party School.
NEWSCHINA I November 2015