The search for ‘Oscar’ continues

12 Sep

One of China’s ways of winning international cultural respect is by having one of its movies win an Oscar but judging from this article it won’t happen anytime soon. It’s not that there are no good movies, but sometimes the good ones are not even allowed to be shown publicly in theaters. Then, official censorship means the movies that do get shown are tamed down and stripped of anything that suggests dissent or disharmony in the nation and with the government. In case you’re wondering, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won it in 2000 but for Taiwan, where director Ang Lee is from. Needless to say, Lee’s other Oscar wins have also caused some embarrassment and mixed feelings in China.


Taiwan’s toilet issue and more

10 Sep

Here’s a very good critique of the issue of toilet paper disposal in Taiwan, that encompasses problems with Taipei’s infrastructure and appearance, and inequalities in resources between Taipei and the rest of Taiwan. In Taiwan, as in parts of East Asia, specifically Hong Kong and mainland China, toilet paper is not flushed down the toilets after usage, but thrown into bins, presumably because plumbing and sewage systems cannot handle the paper. While true for much of mainland China, including Beijing, it may not be so in Taiwan, which is where the writer makes valid points, from wondering why the plumbing infrastructure can’t be upgraded to handle the dastardly toilet paper, to why Taiwanese don’t think about this issue too much. It’s not only about disposing of toilet paper of course, the same critical questions posed could be asked about many aspects of society and behaviors in Taiwan.

Yellow River struggle

7 Sep

The legendary Yellow River is where Chinese civilization started and has sustained much of Northern China for many centuries. But it is facing a major crisis because it is struggling to provide enough water to meet the growing demand along its path. FT has a good report about the threats to the river, which provides water supplies to 11 provinces along its path, all clamoring for their share. Increased urbanization and industrialization have pushed up water consumption and need, threatening cities and communities downstream. Specifically, for instance, the upriver region of Ningxia is trying to boost its coal industry, which means rising water need, and results in less water for agriculture.
In any case, the river is not enough to meet the North’s water needs which has resulted in ambitious infrastructural plans such as canals transporting water from the South and tunnels running several hundred miles to connect tributaries of the Yangtze to the Yellow River in the Tibetan plateau.

China’s injustice after World War I

6 Sep

An interesting but little-known part of modern Chinese history is its connection with World War I. China didn’t participate in the fighting, though fighting took part in China. The Japanese besieged the then-German colony of Qingdao, then managed to capture and hold on to it during tense negotiations with the Allies (Britain, US, France) at the Treaty of Versailles. And this is despite China sending about 140,000 men to help the Allies (as laborers, not soldiers) in Europe during the fighting.

Here’s an interview from Beijing Cream with Paul French, an author of a new book about how China was screwed at Versailles. Among the reasons why China lost out on its valid claim over its own territory is an interesting one – the US, which China appealed to for help, refused because its president, Woodrow Wilson, had a grand project that Japan threatened not to support if they were denied to keep Qingdao. That grand project was the League of Nations, a precursor to the UN, and which Japan countered with a valid argument – how can you create a new world order of nations when you don’t even practice equality in your own society – segregation of blacks from whites. The failure to get the Allies to order Japan to return Qingdao to China led to the May 4th protest movement, which played a role in the formation of what would become the Chinese Communist Party.

Anyways, why would a book about negotiations and politicians arguing be so fascinating, especially about such an obscure (in comparison to other events in the 20th century, especially in China) event? Here’s the stage at which it took place, from the author:

You have two great debaters here, particularly Wellington Koo, the great Chinese diplomat, who was a champion debater at Columbia, very Americanized, very Anglophile. He had been Chinese ambassador to America, very young, was to become during the Second World War Chinese ambassador to Britain, was to be China’s first lead delegate at the League of Nations, and so on. He really was a great debater, and he fought this cause, and it was a passionate cause.

Baron Makino, who was lead negotiator for Japan, was a much more traditional, older character. But he was a great debater as well and a great player of go, Chinese chess. So he knew his strategy very well.

So these two come together in a clash. And of course, like any great courtroom drama, everyone is trying to make sure that the press reports it the way they want it to be reported. All the backchannel stuff is going on and everything; …. And they’re doing all this in front of a table at which is sitting Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and Clemenceau; the Prime Minister of Britain, the President of France, and the President of the United States. This is a pretty serious judging panel that you’ve got in front of you.

Beijing’s growing pains

5 Sep

Beijing is a massive city of over 20 million, the most heavily populated one in the world’s most populated nation, and its population is still growing. Beijing is a magnet for all kinds of people from around the nation, whether it be white-collar professionals, media people, artists or hairdressers. It’s no surprise that this has become a serious headache for city leaders and residents, who have to deal with things like terrible traffic and overcrowded subways and hospitals. In terms of things like air quality, traffic and community life, Beijing can be downright haphazard and life is not easy for a lot of regular people.
That’s why the huge population is also an indictment of the resource inequality in the nation, as Beijing, being the nation’s capital, has education, medical care, transit and other social resources that heavily outweigh those of surrounding provinces especially Hebei.

Beijing’s population issues are also an indication of mismanagement within the city. After all, Tokyo, as the article says, has a larger population but is renowned for its efficiency. Having vibrant satellite towns and districts is a natural aspect of many major cities (Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto, Taipei, and so on), but not so for Beijing. While Beijing covers a huge area, it’s fair to say a large proportion of its people is concentrated in the central areas within the inner ring roads and so are its social resources, companies and government offices. The government is trying to move a few industries to Hebei as well as get some people to move out, but it is hard to tell if this will lead to significant changes since the more attractive resources and businesses will still stay in Beijing.

Hong Kong’s democracy putdown from Beijing

5 Sep

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists suffered a big blow this week when the central government not only refused to grant open candidacies for the 2017 chief executive election, but tightened the nomination process to run, in effect restricting the electoral process rather than granting any freedoms. Now, to run for the chief executive post (HK’s top official), a candidate must obtain approval from half of an electoral committee, which is higher than previous elections, albeit this election will be the first one regular Hong Kongers can vote in.
This has caused leading figures including leaders of Occupy Central, a movement that threatens civil action such as occupying the Central business district, to ponder their next move, such as if they’ll be able to take the next step and really take action. Beijing was rather bold about its uncompromising decision, even making some wacky claims that limiting democracy is essential to protect the wealthy.

Hong Kong now faces some hard questions because Beijing has made its stance clear. Hong Kong has some stark issues, including on the economic end though this might seem very dire – a report that claims Hong Kong might become a “second-tier” city by 2022 as it becomes overtaken by multiple mainland cities in terms of GDP. As it is, there is much, much more to a city than just GDP and that same article lists them- “The city boasts superb infrastructure, a well-established legal system, and a cosmopolitan culture that no mainland city, including Beijing or Shanghai, has yet been able to replicate.

China’s urban planning issues

27 Aug

This Guardian article provides strong critiques of modern Chinese urban planning, which the writer says is heavily based on replicating American cities in the last few decades, which turned out to be a mistake. These include the prioritizing of cars over bicycles, the construction of sprawling suburbs with large homes, and constant construction of business and high-end residential buildings that are not necessarily needed or effective.
There are two separate but related issues here- one is the local middle-class’ desire to live a Western lifestyle, with cars, big standlone houses and lawns, and the other is that local governments, meaning provinces, cities, counties, all depend heavily on selling off land to earn money. As such, there’s a constant cycle of selling land to developers, who then construct waves of apartment and business towers, and then finding more land on the edges of cities and towns, which often requires seizing agricultural land. As the writer says “Local bureaucrats have financed their operations to a large extent by hawking property to developers, who in turn expand the suburbs farther and farther from the urban core. Last year, land sales accounted for 55% of local governments’ revenues, according to China Daily.”

As such, it’s easy to understand the why behind China’s ceaseless and flawed urbanization. There’s nothing careless about the way how urban planning has unfolded; it’s been a deliberate process.


Tragic case of a doctor’s murder by a patient, one of many in China

23 Aug

China’s medical system has serious problems in meeting people’s needs and the most serious symptom is a troubling spate of murders and attacks on doctors and nurses by patients. New Yorker has an indepth look at a particular tragic case where a young doctor was killed in his hospital by a frustrated patient who’d been turned away after repeated visits, something that has happened frequently over the past few years. It’s a good article that gives a profound account of the incident and a clear overview of the China’s health system and its problems, including a spate of attacks on doctors and nurses.

China’s society has become so full of suspicion, anger and frustration that people often resort to violent means to address their problems. It’s no different for shoddy medical treatment, whether real or perceived. Murders of doctors and attacks on hospital staff have become common, but the actual statistics, as mentioned in the New Yorker piece, are still shocking – A survey by the China Hospital Management Association found that violence against medical personnel rose an average of twenty-three per cent each year between 2002 and 2012. By then, Chinese hospitals were reporting an average of twenty-seven attacks a year, per hospital.

Some of the underlying reasons for the murder are common problems that afflict hospitals across the country – inadequate facilities, overworked doctors, inefficient treatment and excessive bureaucracy.
Facilities, staff and resources are unequally distributed, resulting in too few good treatment available to people, resulting in serious overcrowding by patients and overwork for doctors and patients. The medical system is one of China’s most serious social issues that needs to be fixed before China could ever really become a so-called superpower.

The end of the article is telling: I asked Wang Dongqing whom he blamed for his son’s death. “I blame the health-care system,” he said. “Li Mengnan was just a representative of this conflict. Incidents like this have happened many times. How could we just blame Li?

Ugyhur-Hui overview, biking from Xinjiang to Tibet, and a borderlands book

22 Aug

Amid turbulence in Xinjiang, here’s a comparison of China’s two main Muslim groups, the Hui and Uyghurs. There are major factors that show exactly why the two are treated and fare differently in modern Chinese society. It’s not very hard why – the Hui are ethnic Han Chinese and speak Mandarin, meaning they look and speak just like the majority of Chinese. Unlike the Uyghur, they also don’t constitute a single group or culture, though they do have their own autonomous region- Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Even then, they have no separatist or anti-party sentiments, plus Ningxia is tiny.

The Silk Road has gotten a lot of attention recently because it seems China wants a resurgence of this route, or concept, for trade linking China to Central Asia and further afield to Europe. Besides economics, the Silk Road is famous thanks to one intrepid European traveler Marco Polo. Coming to the present, few people have biked along the Silk Road in modern times, but that’s what these folks did, from Xinjiang southwards to Tibet (which is not exactly part of the Silk Road though it is still a vast frontier). It is as hard and desolate as it sounds and more.

The Uyghurs are however, just one of China’s many ethnic minorities who live in places far from the core heavily populated areas. Not by coincidence, these people often live on the borders, far from the center, ranging from southwest Yunnan to northeast China to Xinjiang and Tibet. There’s a new book out which details these peoples and places, called The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.


Animal tales

19 Aug

China is a large country, which albeit heavily populated has a lot of open space and features diverse types of animals including tigers, leopards and elephants, as well as the famous panda. So it’s a little surprising, or maybe not, but definitely unfortunate that there are not many national parks where one can see these animals. Yes, there are zoos and safari parks, some of which are infamous for feeding of live prey to tigers and lions, but there are no natural preserves for tigers. China has three types of tigers – the Siberian, the IndoChina and the Southern tiger, the last two being virtually extinct in the wild in the nation.

To save the latter, there is a project that took some and raised and bred them in a preserve in South Africa. After 10 years, the tigers are expected to be brought back to China and introduced into the wild. This being China, there are some complications with the project, including bureaucratic shortcuts and problems with the charity that organized it, not to mention the breakup of the couple who ran the charity, to the point where some speculate it could be a scam. However, another major problem is that there isn’t any large appropriate reserve or budget to do so, since it is hard to find a large enough area of wilderness in Southern China where tigers and their prey could live naturally.

China also has elephants, but only in southern Yunnan province, which borders Southeast Asia, and only in one main area – Xishuangbanna, in the far south of the province. Interestingly enough, these Asian elephants have increased in numbers as they are well protected, though this does have adverse effects on human residents in nearby areas. For a weird but happy story, see this one about four elephants who were given drugs by traffickers, then rescued and rehabilitated and weaned off of their heroin “addiction.”

There are a few places to see China’s special animals with most being in the Northwest and Southwest regions. And Sichuan is not the only province to see the giant panda, nor is its panda the only kind of giant panda.