China News

canal, Jiangsu, bridge
Canal running through ancient 'water' city of Zhouzhuang, Jiangsu

update http://www.chinasage.info/news.xml Here are some news stories we have found on other web sites that we think tell you much about what is going on in China. We avoid stories on politics and economics as these are now adequately covered on other news web sites. These News stories are available as a news-feed so you can receive notifications of these automatically in your browser. Click on the RSS button to add it to your browser or copy and paste the link.

Mon 20th Nov
A key section of the New Silk Road has been opened. The 8,445km over land route will link Shanghai across Asia all the way to St. Petersburg, Russia. The completed section is on China's border - at Horgos with Kazakhstan. Goods will take 10 days over land rather than 45 days by sea from end to end. The G312 road from Urumqi to Horgos should bring rapid development to this poorer part of China.
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Mon 6th Nov

Shanghai is now considered the city most at risk from rising sea levels. The great metropolis is built on low lying land on either side of the Huangpu River - a minor tributary of the mighty Yangzi. Shanghai does not really have any hills - much is below 30 feet above sea level. A projected 3°C rise of temperature will raise sea level enough to engulf all the 15.5 million inhabitants. Already flood prevention measures are being taken, a 40bn yuan ($6bn) River Flood Discharge project is under way and high walls are being built to encase the rivers.

Shanghai, bridge, road, cityscape
The Nanpu bridge at Shanghai

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Tue 24th Oct

In a bit of a climbdown the Chinese government have relaxed their ban on the import of certain 'moldy' cheeses from E.U. countries. The authorities say they were banned on the basis of a health risk but it may be more to do with protecting Chinese cheese makers. Although these cheeses are usually only seen at foreign-cuisine restaurants the rapid rise in pizza popularity has made mozzarella cheese a valued import.

blue cheese,cheese
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Tue 17th Oct

The BBC web site has published a web page with some interesting statistics about how China is changing.

  1. In the last 3 years marriages have gone down 16% and divorces up by 16%. Divorces are still not very common compared to the U.S. but it may reflect a trend away from loveless marriages 'arranged' by families.
  2. The gender imbalance stands at 114 men for 100 women. This will lead to may be 100 million men with no prospect of a wife. Increasingly desperate measures are being taken to get one including kidnapping and import from elsewhere in S.E. Asia. Now that the One Child Policy has been relaxed to a two Children the ratio should in time come back to normal.
  3. The generation of millennials (born 1982-2004) are twice as likely to own a home than in the U.S.. There has always been a bias to save rather spend in China unlike elsewhere in the world. This is also part of the gender imbalance issue, owning a house is a good way for a man to attract a potential bride.
  4. There are almost as many mobile phones as people in China. 97% of people have a cellular phone subscription. The Facebook equivalent in China is WeChat and it is even more popular there. With over 1,300 million people that is a lot of online traffic.
  5. Studying abroad is seen as a passport to a lucrative career and a good marriage. From 2010 to 2016 the number of students has nearly doubled, now standing at over half a million, that's a large number of students.

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Tue 10th Oct

China boasts many things and having the largest bore is another claim to fame. But the bore in question is a tidal bore that rushes up the Qiantang River estuary is at peak height and strength just after the autumn equinox. The wave surges up the funnel shaped estuary and can be up to 33 feet [10 meters] high. The linked page shows some spectacular photographs of the bore in Zhejiang province in the last couple of days.

It is all to do with the geography, the orientation of the estuary and the moon's orbit. A similar tidal bore of more modest proportions occurs up the River Severn estuary in the U.K. Here there is a tradition of boats and surfers ‘riding the bore’ as it travels slowly upstream.

Qiantang,tidal bore [Image from CCTV]
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Mon 2nd Oct

The second largest get away in China after the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is underway. 1st October marks the foundation of Peoples Republic in 1949. However things have shifted over the years. Gone are the vast military parades in Tiananmen Square and the longer 'national' festivals. As well as Mao Zedong it is perhaps surprising that Sun Yatsen is also honored in the official government parades - his picture is carried to reflect his place as founding father of the then Republic of China. This year the traditional festival of Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival falls on October 4th so the two disparate celebrations have been merged to give a whole week off work for many people. Over recent years the traditional festivals have come back into popularity and the high calorie moon cakes will be eaten by the million.

Moon festival, food, cake
Moon cake for the Mid Autumn (Moon) Festival

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Tue 19th Sep

Many see China as an authoritarian society with the government firmly in control. Sometimes a news story comes along that shows that the government does not always get its own way. In Shanghai a 'nailhouse' has just been demolished that has stood in the way of a main road for fourteen years. A 'nailhouse' is a house where the owners have held out against developers usually in the hope for a better offer of compensation. There are a number of them spread over China. In this particular case the three story house was in the middle of an arterial four lane road in Songjiang district, Shanghai. The family eventually accepted relocation to a new flat, perhaps the noise got too much in the end. It is unclear whether they were given a better deal than they were initially offered.

Nailhouse,Shanghai [Image by Cao Lei for China Daily]
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Tue 12th Sep

Among the most influential inventions of the Chinese has been paper money. While the rest of the world was lugging around silver and gold China had made the break in the Tang dynasty around 800CE. In China the problem was that normal coinage was in standard bronze discs. The coins had a hole in the middle so they could be strung together in groups of 100. A string of cash was a heavy and inaccurate unit of currency (some traders would claim a 'complete' string which would only have 65 coins). How much better to carry around IOUs rather than cash? As long as the IOU was unequivocally signed by a reputable merchant it was just as valuable as thecoins it represented.

The problem of metal coins was particularly acute when the government forced Sichuan province to use iron coins. As soon as the government saw that the system of IOUs was working well they of course stepped in and made it a government monopoly.

At the same time counterfeiters threatened the new currency and for that reason in the reign of Kublai Khan (1279-1294) Marco Polo witnessed the use of money in the form of strips of black mulberry bark which was then marked with the red seal of the Emperor (only the Emperor was allowed to write in vermillion ink). The bark had to be specially processed and so the notes were hard to forge. An even rarer form of currency had been attempted much earlier in the Han dynasty (175 BCE) when Emperor Wudi introduced money made from pieces of hide from rare white stags.

As the issuing of paper money did not have to be backed by actual silver and gold the modern system was born where a government can just print money to get itself out of (or into!) financial difficulties.

money
A note for 1000 cash issued between 1368 and 1399. 34x22.5 cms. Printed in black on paper with red seal impressions for extra security. “By the time this note was issued, seal impressions and printing, once identical, had become as clearly distinguished as our postmark and postage stamp are today.” (Carter) Image by Chris55 available under a Creative Commons license

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Mon 4th Sep

The shadow of the Second World War still looms in China. A new generation are discovering the danger and hardship of many under the Japanese Occupation (1937-45). A new low budget film ‘Twenty two’ has proved a box office hit. It documents the lives of the 22 remaining victims of the ‘comfort women’ used by the Japanese. Japan remains in denial about the execution/torture/rape that was inflicted on many Chinese people. Around 400,000 were used as sex slaves and many died as a result.


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Wed 30th Aug

Arguably Guizhou's most famous export is Maotai liquor. It's a potent distilled spirit made from fermented sorghum and often used for toasts at banquets for visiting dignitaries. It's also very expensive.

Now the central government has put on a ban for Guizhou local government employees from taking a lunchtime tipple. Not just maotai but all alcoholic drinks are banned - unless special dispensation is given. It's part of a government initiative to improve efficiency in local government. It's no longer going to be acceptable to doze through the afternoon in a semi-drunken stupor!

maotai, liquor, alcohol, guizhou
Moutai bottle. Image by Javierpetrucci available under a Creative Commons License

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Thu 24th Aug

We are familiar with China's rapid building program. Huge new tower blocks appearing almost overnight with little apparent city planning.

Yet a long running campaign to remove a chimney that has scarred the Beijing skyline for 40 years is about to bear fruit as the eyesore is soon due to be demolished. It is its proximity to ancient buildings in central Beijing that has fueled the continued moves to get it removed. It is close to the Tianning Pagoda built in the 12th century.

It all goes to show that there remains some respect for old culture, it is not all disappearing under bulldozers to make way for shiny new buildings. However another government policy does come into play that may also explain the success of the campaign. The Beijing authorities are very keen to move all polluting heavy industry and their chimneys away from the center of the city to improve air quality rather than worry about the aesthetics of the skyline.

Beijing, modern housing, Summer Palace
Panoramic view of Beijing skyline, including the Summer Palace

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Thu 3rd Aug

The shadow of the past continues to complicate the often fractious relations between the two most populated countries India and China. The current dispute is over a new highway being built in the 'Chinese' portion of land in the area bordering Nepal, Bhutan and India. The land borders were drawn up by the British and negotiated with the then Republican government in China not the current People's Republic and that is one of the problems; the Chinese perspective is that they never agreed to the line of the current border.

India, it is claimed moved up to 400 armed border forces 100m into Chinese territory at Doklam to obstruct a new road. Latest news suggests India has withdrawn many of these forces but tensions persist.

The current troop movements bring to mind the brief and little known Sino-Indian War in 1962 which had 2,000 casualties. The border dispute was over different territories along the border and China won that war. It all suggests that poor relations between China and India persist, China has always chosen Pakistan as its preferred ally in the region.


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Thu 27th Jul

As Shanghai swelters with a sustained heatwave, Shaanxi north of China has been subject to extreme flooding. The pandas at Shanghai zoo have struggled with temperatures of over 40°C (104°F) and gone into a state of stupor. China has always been subject to extremes of climate: heat, drought, flood and cold and although there has been huge investment in infrastructure, the country struggles to cope at this time of year.

To alleviate drought, China is busy constructing ambitious water transit pathways which will bring vast amounts from the wet south to the dry north. There are three routes. One is in mountainous Qinghai where it will bring waters of the Yangzi to the headwaters of the Yellow river. The second from the Han river in Hubei north to Beijing and the third follows the route of the old Grand Canal. In total 44.8 billion cubic meters of water per year will be diverted. The project is not expected to be completed before 2050.


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Tue 20th Jun

The 1st July 2017 marks twenty years since the U.K. 'gave back' Hong Kong to China. Although Hong Kong is a Special Autonomous Region within China with another 30 years to go before China takes full control, many believe that Beijing is firmly in control. The attempts to install more local democracy have been brutally suppressed. Hong Kong remains a prosperous place despite fears that independence from Britain would put it at a severe disadvantage compared to other cities, especially Shanghai.

Another article from CNN uses declassified documents to the complex maneuverings for hand-over unfolded on both sides. Britain sought to find a way to continue to run Hong Kong as a colony but China blocked that proposal, seeking immediate return to full Chinese control. Legally the core part of the settlement had been signed away as a permanent possession, but the vast bulk of the wider area later had been leased from China and up for legal repossession.

Democracy remains a thorny issue. After a century of denying Hong Kong residents any real say in local government, the British under last Governor Patten started to introduce local elections. Young activists continue to try to resist control from Beijing but as long as Hong Kong remains prosperous there is little appetite for confrontation.

Hong Kong, park, modern housing
A pavilion located at Nan Liang Garden in Hong Kong

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Fri 9th Jun

Like most industrialized countries, China has its problems with waste. A new report reveals that rules requiring waste to be separated out for potential recycling for 17 years. As a vast and rapidly growing city Beijing generates a huge amount of waste, much of which goes to landfill. Beijing is now using incinerators to relieve pressures on a dwindling number of holes in the ground to fill with garbage. New initiatives are starting to enable much more rubbish to be sorted and potentially recycled.

The story is very much in line with environmental initiatives in China, the government continues to talk about the importance of preserving the environment but the implementation is, putting it diplomatically, rather patchy. A recent story in the Guardian gives a distressing tale of how water quality regulations have been widely ignored. In 2015 85% of the water in Shanghai's rivers was undrinkable and 56% was unfit for any purpose. Clearly a lot needs to be done so that the regulations start being more widely obeyed.

garbage
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Wed 17th May

Spending a trillion dollars (yes $1,000 billion) is a serious investment. China’s big idea is to open up the country for much wider trade. The primary focus is to develop stronger links with Central Asian countries on the route of the old Silk Road. However the initiative seems all embracing as even New Zealand, hardly on the Silk Road is keen to be involved. The idea is for both an overland ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (China to Europe) and a ‘21st century Maritime Road’ (China through the Indian Ocean to Africa and then north to Egypt). This has been shortened to ‘One belt one road’ or ‘Belt and Road’ or just ‘OBOR’ for short.

It is hard to work out exactly what the initiative is all about, there seem to be several factors and motives. One is that President Trump has continued to threaten China with extra tariffs to protect U.S. jobs from cheap Chinese imports. If China can open up new markets for her exports she will not be as badly hit by any protectionist measures. The U.S. continues to have a huge balance of payments deficit with China, in March 2017 the U.S. exported $9.6bn but imported $34.2bn. China’s heavy dependence on sales into the U.S. is a problem that needed to be fixed. In 2015 China’s main trade partners were: United States $457bn, Hong Kong $273bn, Japan $152bn, Germany $97.4bn and South Korea $90.1bn. Shifting trade to new countries will strengthen and stabilize China’s economy.

Many analysts also point to the problems of over-capacity in China. Just looking at total imports and exports is too crude a measure, the real problem is that China’s growth rate has slowed and the excess capacity in building related industries (steel, cement, construction) need new markets. If China can kick-start economic development elsewhere in the world she solves two problems at once - over-capacity at home and opening up new markets abroad. The China Communications Construction Group has already agreed deals worth up $40 billion in contracts with ‘Belt and Road’ countries. Sinking so much money in loans that may never be repaid is quite a risk. Venezuela now owes China $65bn and is not in a position to repay. Analysts consider such a huge project will be impossible to manage effectively and huge amounts are likely to be misappropriated.

The initiative comes at a particularly opportune time for the U.K.. Always keen on free trade and instinctively anti-protectionist the U.K. has more to gain than most other countries. With difficult talks ahead on exit of the E.U. trading block the opening up of possible deals with China all over the world is very appealing. U.K. politicians have been very keen to promote the initiative and use its undoubted trading expertise to jointly open up new markets.

The initial proposals centered on the countries of central Asia - along the route of the old Silk Road out of China. The initiative is therefore a way of re-invigorating trading links that were active for a thousand years before trade moved to China’s southern ports. The vast bulk of Chinese development had been along the south and eastern coasts, the poorest inland provinces have been left well behind. Of particular importance is the troubled province of Xinjiang. Positioned on the fringes of China the province is more Central Asian than Chinese with a Muslim majority. With frequent terrorist attacks by separatists in the province, China struggles to keep tight control. Recently China has banned Muslim parents from giving their children Muslim names and is embarking on a system of DNA profiling of every citizen. With the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative deals with neighboring Central Asian states (Takjikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan) the increased economic activity should lessen instability in the region.

The key point is that China is changing from an inward to an outward-looking nation, no longer putting internal development as the top priority. With increased economic involvement comes political power too, and some hawkish observers see this as the first stage in the building of a new Chinese Empire.

silk road, Xian, sculpture
Statue commemorating the Silk Road, Xian

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Thu 4th May

In this article in China Daily the role of Confucian temples is examined. Should the remaining temples be run to draw in tourists or return to be places where Confucian doctrine is studied? Under Mao Zedong, most Confucian temples were torn down and the monks and officials dismissed. Confucius was held up as the epitome of all that was backward and out-dated. Gradually, since about 1990 Confucius has come back into prominence. The Chinese government supports the many Confucius Institutes springing up all over the world to promote Chinese culture and education. He is now seen as an ancient father figure representing the distinctive Chinese culture and philosophy.

A report on the status of the remaining 546 Confucian sites highlights the difficulties in maintaining them. The province of Hunan has the most Confucian academies including Yuelu that has been going for over a thousand years. With massive redevelopment of towns and cities all over China the temple sites are coming under increasing pressure from development.

There are Confucian sites outside China: Vietnam, Japan and Korea and many Asian tourists come to visit the Chinese temples. Of particular interest is the vast temple complex at Confucius' birthplace Qufu which is still inhabited by his descendents.

Qufu, temple, Confucius, Shandong
Lingxing Gate of Qufu Confucian Temple, Qufu, Shandong. January 2009.
Image by Sean Shih available under a Creative Commons license

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Thu 6th Apr

Following up on the previous Giant Panda story the official Chinese news story has announced the formation of huge 10,476 sq miles [27,134 sq kms] nature reserve on the borders of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi making it three times bigger than the U.S.'s Yellowstone Park. The aim is for the wild pandas to be given a contiguous area so they can move freely. But to make this happy outcome possible, 170,000 people need to be relocated. Such a project would be unthinkable elsewhere but with people still keen to move from rural communities to urban centers so this may be a popular move.

Giant Panda, wildlife
Pandas at Beijing Zoo. October 2012. Photo by Keith Roper , available under a Creative Commons license .

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Tue 28th Mar

China has for for many years had strict residence laws. If you want to live in the big cities you have to apply for a permit. An enterprising Shanghai property agent has made use of a loophole that is surely soon to be closed. You can get a residency permit if you marry someone with a permit and then get divorced. A man, we only know by family name Wang, has used this trick four times to sell property to women who would not otherwise be allowed to stay in the city. The woman were willing to pay about $9,000 for the residence permit.

Shanghai, nightscape, cityscape, skyscraper
Shanghai at night

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Wed 15th Mar

Giant Pandas can live to a good age. Shu Lan has spent much of her 23 years in Chengdu. She spent the period 1996-9 in Lanzhou, Gansu and she went back there a year ago. However the climate and zoo conditions at Lanzhou zoo have not suited an elderly panda and she is now going back to Sichuan. Although North-Western Sichuan is the main center for pandas in China they are also known in Henan, Southernmost Gansu and Shaanxi. They can tolerate cold conditions of high mountains and live on a diet of bamboo. It is suggested that the bamboo and housing provided for Shu Lan in Lanzhou was of poor quality.

In the early days of looking after pandas (1930s) they did not survive well in zoos, many that were sent to foreign zoos died soon after arrival. Even though the captive breeding programme for pandas is going well there are still only 1,864 living in the wild and 375 in zoos scattered around China and the world.


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Beijing, Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. December 2008. Image by Philip Larson available under a Creative Commons License
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