Tag Archives: Beijing

Harrowing tale of a jailed reporter assistant

16 Jan

The new year’s first post on this blog is about the imprisonment of a Chinese assistant to a German reporter in Beijing. The reporter wrote a detailed, disturbing account of the events that led up to her assistant Miao’s detention, which shows how arbitrary and unpredictable the mainland’s legal system are. The reporter held off on writing the story for 12 weeks because she thought this would help Miao’s situation such as get her a release. It didn’t as she continues to be held without being given regular access to visitors or a lawyer.
Miao was imprisoned in October after trying to attend an event in Beijing held in support of the Occupy movement in Hong Kong. The reporter and Miao’s family tried to find her but after finding her prison, were refused access to her from the authorities. The authorities then called the reporter in several times to interrogate her about Miao, using intimidation and deception to get her to confess to being a spy. The authorities keep at it, calling her up frequently to come in to talk, shouting, issuing threats, and attempting to get her to sign “agreements” written only in Chinese. Eventually the reporter leaves China deeply worried, while Miao languishes in jail.
This is a striking reminder that press freedom and true rule of law are both weak in China. Miao was actually one of over 100 Chinese rounded up for expressing support for the Occupy movement.

Some very telling quotes from the article:

“”When lawmakers make laws, they do it for their own interests and not because they are concerned about those of the public.”
“Do the security authorities have to announce that they are invoking an exception or get it authorized?”
“No,” Zhou [Miao’s lawyer] responds. In principle, he continues, the security apparatus can find an exception clause for every law.

“The more I think about it, the clearer it is: No one can tell if reporting on it will do any good. This is a state ruled by arbitrariness. The agonizing uncertainty I’m feeling is intentional.”

Now I’m starting to experience firsthand something that I’ve read a lot about: their skill at twisting the meaning of things. They might have enough material on me. They’ve been eavesdropping on me for four year – on my phone, in my apartment.


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.

Water, the looming environmental crisis

1 Aug

It’s no secret that China has serious environmental problems, but usually smoggy and polluted air gets a lot of the attention. However, water should be considered one of the biggest problems, not just because of it is very polluted but because it’s scarce and disappearing. Rapid and mass development and industrialization have caused a lot of China’s water sources to disappear, with 27,000 rivers having vanished since the 1950s, according to the article.

It’s reached the point where China has seven percent of the world’s freshwater resources but 20 percent of the world’s population. And of the existing water, well not surprisingly, China has some of the most heavily polluted water, so bad that the government admitted polluted water may have caused “cancer villages” where a lot of residents developed cancer and died.
Making the water scarcity issue worse is the unequal distribution of the water, with the more arid north having much less but still using more due to its major industries such as steel and iron processing and manufacturing. Beijing itself has major water scarcity problems and already “borrows” water from neighboring Hebei province.

To address this, China did what it seems to do best and unleashed a major infrastructural project in the form of cross-country canals to transport water from the south to the north, of which one has already been built. But even this may not be effective and risks lessening up the water supply for the places where the water comes from. And this will create gripes about the north from the southern provinces.
Another problematic factor is that China’s western regions like Xinjiang and Tibet are vast and sparsely populated, but the government is keen on developing these places, resulting in increasing populations and industrial projects, which will damage ecosystems there, especially the headwaters of major rivers.

The authorities, both central and local, seem to be quite aware of how serious the problem is, and have become more strict about water pollution and other measures to clean up water supplies, with the central government announcing a $320 billion plan to tackle the water problem this February. It’s a huge task nevertheless, and grand infrastructural and engineering projects may not be sufficient, as long as water conservation and de-industrialization measures are not widely implemented as well.

China’s proposed Beijing super-region

31 Jul

One of the bigger plans that President Xi Jinping proposed this year was the integration of Beijing with Tianjin and Hebei province into a more unified region. Beijing and Tianjin are both municipalities, while Hebei is a province that surrounds both cities.

The integration will supposedly help Beijing by reducing its population and air pollution (as well as Tianjing’s), while also helping Hebei develop, by spreading out industries and resources among the three places more efficiently and boosting the region’s prosperity and development.
This would also help Beijing increase its control over surrounding regions like Hebei specifically and reduce the power of local leaders, whose “every region for itself” mentality results in inefficiency, overindustrialization, and local power fiefs. However, besides economics and control, a big goal would be to boost the prosperity of Hebei, which is China’s leading steel producer but still a relatively low-income province (16th in GDP per capita among mainland China’s 31 regions) despite surrounding both Beijing and Tianjin. As a researcher in the article says “That there are so many poverty-stricken people on the outskirts of such big cities is outrageous – the surrounding regions of big cities are normally highly developed,” he said at a conference in the steel-making city of Tangshan last month.”

However, despite the hype about megacities, it will be a huge challenge and there’ll be a lot of things to do. As the researcher in the SCMP article states, “Unlike in the Yangtze River or Pearl River deltas, cross-regional cultural and economic ties in Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin are effectively being created from scratch, Zhang said.” 

While Beijing (21 million) and Tianjin (14.7 million) are major cities with a good level of development, Hebei is a province of over 70 million and largely dependent on iron, steel and manufacturing. It is also one of China’s most polluted regions, which says a lot, with 7 out of China’s 10 most polluted cities. Ironically Beijing is moving several of its capital-intensive and pollution-causing industries and hundreds of firms out to Hebei, thus increasing the pollution in heavily-polluted Hebei, which doesn’t seem so smart. The central government also suggested it would move a few government ministries and state firms to Hebei, specifically the city of Baoding, which resulted in a temporary home-buying boom before eventually calming down.

The integration idea makes sense because Beijing really is too crowded, polluted and inefficient in taking up a lot of social resources, while the economic inequality between it and Hebei is vast. It’s something that should have been implemented in the past, especially as Beijing’s problems didn’t just happen overnight.

Skyscraper boom and a giant rubber toad

27 Jul

China, along with Hong Kong, has about half of the world’s 20 tallest towers but that’s not enough. However, while previously Shanghai and Shengzhen were building ultra-high towers, smaller and less-famous cities like Suzhou and Wuhan are getting into the skyscraper boom now, mainly for prestige over economic benefits.

The mainland may irritate and infuriate, but sometimes it amuses. As a Chinese home-grown spectacle to rival the famous giant rubber duck that drew crowds in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei in Taiwan, a giant toad has been put up in Beijing’s Yuyuantan Park (Old Summer Palace). It’s not exactly as popular or “cute” as the duck, but it seems to be funnier, so much so that it’s been allegedly banned on Chinese news sites.


Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower, flanked by the World Financial Center on the left, and the Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest tower.



World Cup’s China connections, and Beijing Guoan

13 Jun

The World Cup kicked off yesterday and though China is not in it, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good football articles about China around. For instance, feast on this feature story about Beijing Guoan and its rabid fans and culture, with some Chinese social commentary and football history thrown into the mix.
Then, here are 10 ways that China is connected with this year’s World Cup, including making the official ball, fake sick notes, and the president himself, Big X, possibly making an appearance at the final. There will also be 6 players from the top Chinese football league who’ll be at the World Cup representing their respective countries.

Bad environment makes China a hardship post

6 Jun

One of China’s biggest issues is a heavily polluted environment, that doesn’t just mean dirty, smoggy sir, but also polluted groundwater and soil. All of this means the toll on China is worsening and having a big impact on the economy, people’s health and livelihoods, and the nation’s reputation as a whole. For example, Beijing is now considered a hardship post by the Canadian government which means embassy staff get paid a “hardship bonus.” Companies like Panasonic have started to offer employees (those brought in from overseas, not locals) “hardship bonuses” as well. Tourist numbers have also dropped substantially in Beijing too.

China’s number one, or is it?

7 May

China might have already surpassed the US as the world’s largest economy according to a UN effort to calculate spending power in 199 countries. But according to the Atlantic’s James Fallows, that doesn’t mean a thing. And he’s right. All it mainly does is make China number one on paper, but in reality, its GDP per capita remains low, many people earn very little, home prices have surged out of reach for many young people, and it has a range of big problems (regional inequality, rural poverty, and widespread air, ground and water pollution etc) that will cost much to fix. 
As Fallows writes, “But the differences not captured by such figures -freedom to or restrictions on travel within a country, who can and cannot go to school, the still unfolding effects of mass urbanization, the nature and availability of health-care systems, above all the country’s environmental catastrophe- are also part of any serious attempt to understand how “rich” or “poor” China is.”
Besides Fallows, there are other intelligent observers like these people who temper and describe the not-so-impressive ramifications of China’s hypothetical surpassing of the US.

And Fallows is also right when he pours scorn on other media outlets that attempt to hype up China based on this statistical bonanza with headlines proclaiming China’s century has begun. It’s a particular peeve of mine. Over the years, there’ve been all kinds of articles and books that portray China as a superpower and this is China’s time, but a lot of it is empty hype based on enormous statistics.

Younger people in Beijing are relying more on their parents to buy homes. This isn’t surprising, given the high costs of homes, the salaries that most people get, and that young people don’t save much. I’d even be willing to wager that this is true for much of the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Beijing a top 10 city

28 Apr

Beijing, despite its horrendous smog, has become one of the top 10 global cities, moving to no. 8 on a city ranking list done by a consultancy firm. Shanghai is in 18th place while Hong Kong is number 5 (Taipei is no. 40). Beijing’s political clout is obvious, and a growing number of  “international schools, museums, and broadband subscribers” have helped it rise.

Brief glimpse of old Beijing

6 Apr

A man goes back to Beijing after 75 years with his son, stunned by all the changes he sees, while remembering his life in the city when Peking (as it was then called) was still surrounded by an old city wall and was about to be invaded and occupied by the Japanese. It’s an interesting read that provides a picture of what old Beijing was like, albeit from a sheltered Western perspective, and reflects a disappointment and disapproval of the political and social changes in China. It’s not surprising that so much has changed in 75 years, though events like the Cultural Revolution, by literally destroying so much physical aspects of the past, caused a lot of the change.