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China tries to stop academics from taking its constitution literally

Economist - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 16:43

A YEAR BEFORE Xi Jinping became China’s leader, a 47-year-old professor at Peking University, Zhang Qianfan, delivered a talk to mark the 100th anniversary of the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty, in 1911, charting the history of efforts since then to instil respect for constitutional principles. Students unable to find seats in the packed lecture theatre stood shoulder-to-shoulder around the walls. They grinned and clapped when he started by saying: “I have written down my true feelings...They may sound fierce. Forgive me if they cause offence.”

The thin, bespectacled academic held his audience spellbound. Those who, unable to find space in the room, had crowded by the doorway, were still there when he finished, almost two hours later. That was fortunate, because his final point was the most powerful in a lecture packed with indictments of China’s failure to implement the guarantees of its constitution, including...

Categories: China News

Xi Jinping thought saves the world

Economist - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 16:43

Armageddon, a topic of mutual concern

EARTH MUST be moved away from the expanding sun, which threatens to engulf it. As it is propelled across the solar system by gargantuan thrusters it gets trapped in Jupiter’s gravitational pull. The apocalypse looms. There is only one hope for the human race: China.

“The Wandering Earth”, China’s first blockbusting sci-fi film, has achieved gravity-defying success with this absurd plot. In its first ten days in cinemas it earned an impressive 3bn yuan ($440m). The film is widely expected to become China’s second highest-grossing, behind “Wolf Warrior 2”, a jingoistic thriller whose lead actor, Wu Jing, also stars in the sci-fi pic. Many Chinese commentators attribute the film’s stellar success to growing pride in the country’s space programme. Last month China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon.

Officials are...

Categories: China News

Why so glum, China?

Economist - Thu, 02/14/2019 - 16:43

IT TOOK 125 years for America’s Declaration of Independence to reach a wide Chinese audience, and when it did, some lofty phrases got lost. The earliest known Chinese translation of the declaration, published in 1901 by young nationalists burning to overthrow the Qing empire, is an impatient, combative text. The document’s name, noted the scholar who rediscovered it, Frank Li of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, became the “American War Proclamation of Independence”. The rights it deemed inalienable—“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—turned into something bleaker: “life, liberty and all interests”.

Happiness remains a thorny subject in China. Since 2012 the UN has sponsored a World Happiness Report, for which residents of about 150 countries are asked how satisfied they are with their lives. China ranked 86th in the latest report, below Russia and even war-torn Libya. Some foreign observers find it easy to explain...

Categories: China News

Does China understand Taiwan?

Economist - Thu, 02/07/2019 - 16:53

IF CHINA’S RULERS ever decide to invade Taiwan—a grim but not impossible prospect—they will need good answers to two questions. First, would the People’s Liberation Army win? The consensus in Taipei is that the PLA is close to that goal but is not “100% sure” of victory. Second, would ordinary Taiwanese submit?

Chinese leaders have limited patience for Taiwanese opinion. Their offer to the democratic island of 23m is ostensibly generous. Under the slogan “One Country, Two Systems”, Taiwan is promised lots of autonomy alongside access to China’s vast market. This is backed by honeyed words about unifying a family sundered for 70 years, since China’s civil war ended with the losing Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT) retreating to what they hoped would be temporary exile on Taiwan. Still, China is committed to using force to block any bid for formal independence.

Chinese optimists call time their ally, as Taiwan’s...

Categories: China News

Once denounced as bourgeois vanity, pets are big business in China

Economist - Thu, 02/07/2019 - 16:53

A shameful bourgeois indulgence

WITH ITS overflowing ball pits, indoor swimming pools and elaborate obstacle course, the Maidao Play Centre offers a fun-packed day out, reviewers gush. “My girl just loves it here—she just leaps into the car when she realises where we’re going and she can’t wait to play with all her friends,” says a woman in her early 30s.

While children would probably love Maidao, it is aimed at dogs. It is just one of hundreds of puppy-grooming parlours, animal hotels and doggy day-care centres that have sprung up across China to cash in on the booming pet industry. The market for food, toys, coats and other products for pets was worth 170bn yuan ($25bn) in 2018, up by more than a quarter from the previous year, reckons Goumin, a pet-services portal. This would make it bigger than China’s tea industry. Goumin says China has 73.5m cat- or dog-owners, a group approaching the size of the...

Categories: China News

The Communist Party capitalises on foreign interest in Chinese culture

Economist - Thu, 02/07/2019 - 16:53

LUO YUQUAN can barely hide his glee. The Chinese new year jamboree thrown by the China Cultural Centre (CCC) in Tokyo, which he heads, has gone swimmingly. Ethnic-Tibetan singers flown in from China enchanted the audience, many of whom danced along to the catchy tunes. Copious Tsingtao beer helped sustain the high spirits. An exhibition in an adjoining room featured paintings with Buddhist themes, also shipped in from China. “We are proud to show off 5,000 years of Chinese civilisation!” beams Mr Luo, “As more Japanese come to appreciate Chinese culture, they will naturally grow to love China.”

Chinese officials often declare that China has a 5,000-year history. In truth, that is overstating things by about 1,000 years. Yet the myth serves a useful purpose for the Communist Party. At home, it is a source of national pride. Abroad, it justifies a sort of Chinese exceptionalism. Xi Jinping, the president, told the visiting Donald...

Categories: China News

Can baijiu, China’s sorghum firewater, go global?

Economist - Thu, 01/31/2019 - 16:43

DISTILLERS AT Kweichow Moutai, the world’s most valuable alcoholic-drinks firm, like to tell an old story about their company’s first big break. It relates how, in 1915, Chinese officials chose to exhibit Moutai’s sorghum-based spirit at an exposition in San Francisco. When the doors opened the snooty American audience sneered at the delegation’s plain earthenware jars. Fearing disaster, or perhaps simply by accident, a Chinese delegate smashed one on the floor, releasing its aroma to the crowd. The scent and the commotion attracted the judges, who eventually awarded it a top prize.

The tale is told with relish to visitors in Maotai, the pretty riverside town in the south-western province of Guizhou that gave the company its name (the spelling of Kweichow Moutai is based on old-style romanisation). The medal the liquor won in San Francisco hangs in a corporate museum, next to a video-wall showing a re-enactment of the incident. That was the day, explains the...

Categories: China News

A swine-fever epidemic like China’s would enrage farmers elsewhere

Economist - Thu, 01/31/2019 - 16:43

UNTIL NOW links between social-realist cinema and “Peppa Pig”, a sweet British-made animated television series for children, have been hard to spot. Then came “What is Peppa?”, a beautifully crafted film about China’s rural-urban divide, family ties and the sadness of old age that has accumulated hundreds of millions of online views over the past few days.

Officially, the six-minute short is an advertising trailer for a children’s feature film made for the China market, “Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year”. It is timed to cash in on the festival: day one of a pig-year in the Chinese zodiac falls on February 5th. Yet many grown-ups felt a pang of recognition as they watched the trailer’s bittersweet, live-action depiction of Li Yubao, a gruff-but-loving Chinese villager striving to please his city-dwelling grandson, notably by puzzling out the toddler’s request for a Peppa-themed gift. Filmed in the village of Waijinggou, in...

Categories: China News

Why China is lavishing money on foreign students

Economist - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 16:46

IN A RESTAURANT in the backstreets of Beijing, 12 Pakistanis and Afghans studying at the China University of Communications tell stories of their arrival in China. No one came to pick them up; none of them spoke a word of Chinese. They have plenty of tales of getting lost, disoriented and ripped off by taxi drivers.

The students, all but two of them ethnic Pushtuns, roar with laughter as they swap yarns and savour the cuisine from Xinjiang, a Chinese region that borders on their home countries and has cultural bonds with them. Any ill feeling about those early days has long since dissipated. They agree that, apart from some taxi drivers, the Chinese are very helpful. Friendly relations between their countries and China mean they are welcomed as brothers. Most important, they are all on full scholarships—free tuition, free accommodation and a stipend of 3,000 yuan ($441) a month, more than three times Pakistan’s GDP per person....

Categories: China News

A celebrity blogger in China shines a light on political intrigue

Economist - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 16:46

Cui’s words have power

IT SEEMS LIKE a story straight out of a legal thriller: powerful figures conniving in the shadows at the highest level of the legal system to tip the scales of justice in a dispute over billions of dollars’ worth of mining riches. Also featured are sabotaged security cameras, missing court documents, the apparent disappearance of a supreme-court judge and the downfall of a provincial Communist Party boss. Twists in the plot are being recorded by China’s state-owned media. But it is a celebrity television-host and blogger, Cui Yongyuan (pictured), whose tweets have been keeping the story moving.

It involves a legal battle waged by a private firm against a state-owned one over rights to a coal mine in the northern province of Shaanxi. The dispute involves a deal worth 100bn yuan ($15bn). In 2017 the Supreme People’s Court ruled in favour of the private company. But in December, in...

Categories: China News

If it is serious about defending the environment, China needs to embrace global norms

Economist - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 16:46

DURING THE last ice age, when glaciers blanketed most of Eurasia, the peaks and plateaus of the Hengduan mountains in south-west China were spared. So many animals, birds and plants found a refuge there that, to this day, a quarter of China’s mammal species live in that remote corner of Yunnan province. Strict laws protect a park created at the heart of the mountain range, embracing many varied habitats, from alpine woods filled with snub-nosed monkeys to the parallel gorges down which thunder the headwaters of three great rivers, the Yangzi, Mekong and Salween.

Chinese officials are justly proud of this lovely place, and are clear that only high-quality administration can keep it safe. No detail was too small when they drew up a master plan for the park, now dubbed, not very poetically, the “Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area”. That plan included airborne and satellite monitoring to enforce rules, caps on tourist...

Categories: China News

Hong Kongers could be jailed for disrespecting China’s anthem

Economist - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 16:52

THE BOOS can be heard around Mong Kok stadium, the home of Hong Kong’s football team. Some young supporters clad in red home jerseys cup their hands around their mouths, amplifying their displeasure. Such scenes are common anywhere when a player is penalised. But the rowdy fans on this brisk October evening at the club’s most recent home match are not angry with the referee. They are trying to drown out China’s national anthem, which is played before every game featuring Hong Kong’s team. At some matches locals have turned their backs or waved banners reading “Hong Kong is not China”.

Embarrassingly for the central government in Beijing, local fans did not boo “God Save the Queen”, Britain’s anthem, when it was played at fixtures before 1997, the year Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty. Why such outrage over China’s song? It stems from the failure of the “Umbrella Movement” of 2014, which, among other things, demanded...

Categories: China News

In China’s feud with Canada, the gloves are off

Economist - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 16:52

Schellenberg, back in court

WHEN EUROPE’S medieval princes met in battle, a grim change could be signalled by raising a red banner, revealing that bellum hostile—during which high-ranking prisoners could expect to be ransomed and returned unharmed—had become guerre mortelle, or a fight to the death. China’s modern-day rulers appeared to send a similar message on January 14th, when a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to die for drug-smuggling after a one-day retrial, organised after Canada arrested a well-connected Chinese executive.

The court in Dalian, a northern port, deliberated for only about an hour before imposing the sentence on Robert Schellenberg, a 36-year-old former oilfield worker who says he was framed. He was convicted of trying to smuggle 222kg of methamphetamine to Australia, hidden in tyres. Mr Schellenberg’s first trial, which saw...

Categories: China News

History shows the folly of China’s paranoia about Islam

Economist - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 16:52

IT IS A shame that so few Chinese remember General Bai Chongxi, a brilliant tactician during the war against Japan in 1937-45. He showed China that it is possible to be at once a patriot and a devoted Muslim. Bai was a complicated figure. A warlord capable of ruthlessness, he was also a reformer who wanted education to free his fellow Chinese Muslims from isolation and poverty. As a commander of Kuomintang (or Nationalist) troops, he was involved in massacres of Communists. Still, when Chaguan this week visited Bai’s home town in Guangxi province, in the south, locals praised his victories over the Japanese. The Bai family mansion is a protected historical site. Austere and grey-walled, it sits amid rice fields and limestone peaks straight from a scroll painting. Its empty interior offers no explanation as to why Bai matters.

He was once one of China’s best-known Muslims. Under the autocratic Nationalist rule of Chiang Kai-shek,...

Categories: China News

Why young Chinese are sporting 1,800-year-old fashions

Economist - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 16:51

LIKE TEENAGERS the world over, Chen Bolin, a Chinese university student, feels a need to belong. Unlike many of his peers, Mr Chen has found a spiritual home: China of the Wei and Jin dynasties, about 1,800 years ago. So deep is this bond that on special occasions he wears flowing, wide-sleeved robes inspired by third-century dress. One moment of connection stood out, when he wore robes to a museum in Shaoxing, the eastern city where he studies. There he found a sculpture depicting sages from the Wei and Jin era. His own clothes were “exactly like theirs”, he recalls happily. He saluted the statues and told them: “Dear ancestors, I’ve heard so much about you. It is my good fortune to see you today.”

The teenager developed his passion at high school in Pingliang, perched in the hills of Gansu, an inland province. Though a rather small, sleepy spot, Pingliang is home to a Han culture association. Such clubs are spreading fast. They...

Categories: China News

Reported cases of HIV in China are rising rapidly

Economist - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 16:51

WANG XIAOSHUAI, a gay man in the central city of Hefei, used to believe that only people who injected drugs could contract HIV. But then a man he had sex with revealed that he had tested HIV-positive. Mr Wang visited a local NGO and took a pinprick test to determine whether he, too, was infected. Happily, he was not. But the experience was terrifying. “It never occurred to me that someone around me could actually get HIV,” he says.

Many others are less fortunate. In November China’s Centre for Disease Control said that 850,000 people were known to be HIV-positive, 12% more than a year earlier and almost three times the number in 2010. An official study found that new cases of HIV among students aged between 15 and 24 rose by more than one-third every year in 2011-15, mostly as a result of gay sex.

The virus may not be spreading as fast as these figures suggest. The rapid increase is largely the result...

Categories: China News

Worries about unemployment mount as China’s economy slows

Economist - Thu, 01/10/2019 - 16:51

THE FACTORY town known as iPhone city used to pulse with life as workers got off their shifts. These days the complex that churns out roughly half of all Apple smartphones is quieter. A staff dormitory just beyond its gates is empty, its entrance sealed with barbed wire. A barbecue restaurant, a noodle shop and, fittingly, a mobile-phone outlet have all closed. At a karaoke bar where workers would croon into the wee hours on rest days, the owner was recently seen packing up his speakers.

The giant complex on the edge of the central city of Zhengzhou is run by Foxconn, Apple’s Taiwanese manufacturing partner. It remains one of the world’s busiest factories. But it is well off its peak, when as many as 350,000 people kept production humming around the clock. Workers say they are down to eight hours a day, five days a week. That means they are not doing the overtime that accounts for much of their pay. “It feels like they’re forcing...

Categories: China News

China plans the biggest garden show ever

Economist - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 17:31

BEYOND THE Great Wall and the chain of rugged hills through which it snakes, workers are putting the finishing touches to a colossal edifice. The beams of its roof are curved, with golden tiles reminiscent of those that adorn the Forbidden City, 70km to the south-east. The building itself curves, too, in a shape that its architects say resembles a ruyi—a traditional Chinese talisman (pictured is an artist’s impression). They say it invokes a longing for fulfilment of the “Chinese dream”. That is a cherished slogan of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, whose wish is that China should emerge as a global giant. As a state news agency puts it, the building conveys the “imposing manner of a great power”.

The China Pavilion, as the structure is called, is for an international flower festival in Yanqing, a satellite town of the capital. The show will open on April 29th and last for more than five months. It...

Categories: China News

China picks the most popular terms of the year

Economist - Tue, 12/18/2018 - 17:11

EVERY DECEMBER millions of Chinese netizens vote for a word and phrase that best capture the spirit of the preceding year in China. The Communist Party’s hand is highly visible. The competition is jointly organised by the website of the People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece; Commercial Press, a state-backed publisher; Tencent, an internet giant; and a think-tank under the education ministry. Internet users are invited to propose candidates. But the shortlists presented to voters comprise terms that the party itself endlessly repeats or that it deems sufficiently anodyne.

In 2017 the winning Chinese character was xiang, which means either to enjoy or to share (the fruits of China’s prosperity, naturally). In 2016 it was gui, meaning rules (the party uses them to strengthen its control). Repeat winners include zhang, meaning grow, which...

Categories: China News

The US and Chinese armies struggle to learn how to talk to each other

Economist - Tue, 12/18/2018 - 17:11

“YOU ARE on dangerous course,” barked a Chinese sailor aboard the Lanzhou, a destroyer, over the ship’s radio on September 30th. “If you don’t change course you will suffer consequences.” The vessel picked up speed and overtook the USS Decatur, an American destroyer, which was conducting a “freedom of navigation operation” (FONOP, in Pentagon jargon) near reefs in the South China Sea that are claimed by China, the Philippines and Vietnam. “We are conducting innocent passage,” insisted the Decatur. She sounded five short blasts with her whistle as the Lanzhou closed in, passing within a hair-raising 41 metres. “They were trying to push us out of the way,” notes an American sailor, narrating a video of the incident. Had the Lanzhou misjudged and smashed into the Decatur, lives might have been lost...

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