China News

Tang dynasty, Sancai, porcelain
Photo by Rosemania , Palace Museum, Beijing. Sancai horse, Tang Dynasty, 618-907 A.D. Available under a Creative Commons license .

update 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 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.

Tue 11th Dec

China has ambitious plans for Mars exploration. If current plans are followed then an unmanned space probe will be launched in 2020 and then soon followed up with a manned landing.

Researchers who have worked on China's deserts to prevent further spread have developed a process using algae that quite quickly turns loose sand into a soil suitable for plants. Northern China is beset with sandstorms from the Gobi desert and for decades have been made to make shelter belts to reclaim them. Specific algae have been found that will quickly colonize the sand and stabilize it.

The interesting part of this development is that the same technique could probably be used on the 'desert' landscape of Mars. This would make the science fiction Matt Damon movie ‘The Martian’ closer to reality.

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Thu 6th Dec

In a reversal of history Portugal has become the first European nation to sign up to China's Belt and Road Initiative. Portugal was the first and last nation to open a colonial port in China - Macau in 1557 and only left in 1999. China has been investing heavily in Portugal in recent years. The country has had a weak economic performance for some years and have welcomed investment in the country's beleagured energy sector ($10.3 billion). Portugal is in a convenient position to benefit from the huge Belt and Road initiative because it is a place where the China Belt (overland route from Central Asia to Europe) and Road (sea route) meet.

Other European countries are a little concerned with this latest development. Both Spain and Germany have declined to sign up as yet. It is also the sort of deal that the European Union as a whole would be expected to sign rather than individual member states.

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Wed 28th Nov

A Chinese scientist has claimed to have created the first gene edited babies at Shenzhen. Although a great technical achievement it raises a lot of ethical issues. It opens the door to rich people to design their babies - choosing eye, physique and hair color. Most Western countries have strict controls on this sort of research so that it can not lead to live births. The more ethical use of this technology would be to allow the editing out of malfunctioning genes that may prevent parents from risking having a child. There are also concerns over the unforeseen consequences of editing. The edited DNA would ultimately end mixed into the general population with many possible repercussions. The hospital in China and the government have condemned the work as unwise. Other Chinese researchers have also criticized the work as it casts doubt on all the research as ethically sound.

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Fri 23rd Nov

It's not widely known that there are two types of giant panda. In fact it was only declared as a separate subspecies as recently as 2005. The Qinling panda is even rarer than the familiar Giant panda and has brown rather than black coloration. Conservation in southern Shaanxi province have succeeded in growing the population from just a hundred or so up to 345 in 2018.

panda, qinling panda
Qinling "Brown" Panda. 7 Nov 2015. Image by AilieHM available under a Creative Commons License

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Thu 22nd Nov

More details are emerging of the Chinese citizenship scores. If you do minor anti-social activities then points are taking off (crossing the road not at an approved crossing; speeding; dog out of control; posting 'bad' material online). You get points for volunteer work or giving to charity. The score is starting to be used to control access to services. So if you have a low score, you may not get a permit to reside in a city or to keep a dog. This may seem like a Big Brother system but the reasoning in China is that knowing someone's trustworthiness is a good not a bad thing. It can be seen like the approval rating of merchants on eBay or number of social media followers. It helps a consumer to choose who is more reliable. However the system can easily be abused so that opponents can be quickly and effectively shut out of normal life. The system has been made possible by the integration of several large database systems. In the UK moves to introduce ID cards was resisted as it was thought to start infringing rights to privacy, China has already gone a long way beyond this step.

teahouse, people, mahjong
Drinking tea and playing Mahjong in a park Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Fri 16th Nov

There is growing concern about the spread of yet another virus among farm animals. This time it is Asian Swine Fever and it is possible it could wipe out the pig industry. China is heavily dependent on pigs for meat, in fact if you ask for meat you'll be given pork meat. Many pigs are reared as a sideline - in small family farms and these are much harder to keep hygienic and out of contact with the infection. The size of the potential problem can be seen from the fact that China slaughters over 500 million pigs each year - over 66 million pigs in Sichuan province alone. Over 117,000 pigs have been killed to try to prevent the spread but it has been found over 15 provinces and seems to be out of control. The fever has no cure and it is fairly easily transmitted. It's a potentially huge crisis.


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Mon 5th Nov

The use of rhino horn and tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicine has fueled the decline in the numbers of these animals in the wild. With increasing affluence in China the demands have mushroomed so it is strange that the government is relaxing controls. An outright ban is to be replaced with the restriction that the rhinos and tigers must be 'farmed'. This is strange because China has recently banned all ivory because it was clear that the restriction that permitted some ivory imports was being abused. The partial ban on tiger and rhino parts must surely have the same weakness- it is easy to forge papers that claim they come from a legal source.

Of course the efficacy of these products in traditional medicine is totally unproven and so there is no justification for the Chinese government to allow greater supply. Animal bones and hair (the rhino horn is made of keratin like hair not one) are no different between different species and so there can be no scientific basis for wanting to hunt these critically endangered species.

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Thu 1st Nov

Loius Cha died on 30th October aged 94. He was a very influential writer; he used the pen name Jin Yong. He wrote mainly in the ‘wuxia’ genre - martial arts and chivalry. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was one of his many fans. They met in 1981 and shared their experiences of the Cultural Revolution. Even though Cha had escaped to Hong Kong his father was falsely charged and killed. He also met Jiang Zemin and corresponded with Hu Yaobang. He remained in Hong Kong and wrote just 15 books of fiction selling over 100 million copies but also many became popular movies, over 90 films were made including ‘The Swordsman’, ‘Royal Tramp’ and ‘Heroes of Jin Yong’. He received many awards, and in 2010 was awared a Cambridge University, UK for a doctorate on the early Tang dynasty after four years study. The portrayal of morally upright fighters and unrequited love remains a very popular area that led to many successful Hong Kong and now Chinese epic films including ‘Hero’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. They represent a nostalgic look to a more heroic past rather like the Arthurian books in Britain. Loius Cha became involved in the handover of Hong Kong to China in the 1990s.

Jin Yong,  Louis Cha
Books from the novel "The Legend of the Condor Heroes" by Jin Yong (Louis Cha) at the Hong Kong Cheung Chau Public Library. Image by Ieildsoawamod available under a Creative Commons License

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Mon 29th Oct

We included a news item back in April about the bridge that links Macau, Hong Kong and Zhuhai across the Pearl River Estuary in southern China. Despite a few delays the bridge is now open. It is 34 miles [55 kms] long, took eight years to build and cost about $20 billion. It is not a bridge the whole way - a tunnel takes the road underneath the busy shipping lanes that lead to Guangzhou. The first users find the bridge a great benefit - a four hour journey is cut to half an hour. However car permits to use the bridge are expensive and hard to obtain so most people are using coaches. As well as serving an economic purpose, the bridge is also rather political as it brings Hong Kong and Macau, both former colonial possessions, more closely into China's control. Some travelers find the bridge useful but do not think it is particularly remarkable - after the first few miles the bridge gets a little monotonous.

bridge, Pearl
Pearl Estuary bridge by Chen Jimin (China Daily). Available under a Creative Commons License

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Thu 11th Oct

One of the oldest traditional art-forms in China is shadow puppetry. In this form 'flat' and articulated figures are held up against the back of a lighted sheet. From in front the figures can be made to act in natural way. The skill to handle the puppets takes a long time to develop and it is a custom under threat with so much competition from modern alternatives.

In a new twist to the tradition Ding Yongfa has come up with stories about current events rather than age-old historical dramas. As fifth generation puppeteer Ding is a real expert of the techniques and has introduced a puppet show on the current drive to root out corruption. Local administrators welcome the idea as it should help educate a new generation about the evils of graft.

shadow puppet,  traditional art-form, customs
An intricate shadow puppet of a young lady in a house. Available under a Creative Commons License

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Tue 11th Sep

While I normally try to give the positive news about China on this blog and on this web site I feel it necessary to mention the sensitive subject of Xinjiang.

The situation of Xinjiang is much more sensitive to the Chinese government than Tibet. Xinjiang has always been on the frontier of Central Asia and at times like Tibet has been independent of China. As well as an important trade route it is Xinjiang's oil and mineral resources that are of great financial interest.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has studied the plight of the majority Muslims in Xinjiang and have come to a damning assessment. Many policies are making the worship of Islam near impossible for Muslims.

Many Muslims have been detained for long periods without charge on the flimsiest of suspicions that they are somehow 'involved in terrorism'. Huge 'correction' camps of up to one million people have been built to 're-educate' the ethnic Muslim population. While it is true that there have been a few terrorist attacks by Xinjiang separatists the Chinese government should behave on the basis of evidence rather than fueling further ethnic tension.

Perhaps the long arm of history is partly to blame, the Panthay Rebellion (1856-73) cost about 2 million lives. But to modern eyes the widespread suppression of religious practices (shaving beards, clothing, learning local language, Muslim names) is unpleasant to see in an aspiring world superpower.

Xinjiang, Kashgar, muslim, people
Muslim worshipers kneel on prayer carpets outside of Id Kah Mosque at the end of Ramadan. Kashgar, Xinjiang Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Wed 29th Aug

It has been widely reported that China is stopping the import of waste plastic for recycling. It's a commonly held misconception that there is value in this waste while in fact it costs money to recycle it. The main reason that China has stopped processing plastic is that it does not fit well with the status as an upcoming world power rather than a garbage recycler.

The plastic is now going to other countries in the region including Malaysia and leaves China with an increased demand for 'virgin' petro-chemicals to produce plastics.

China is the biggest producer of waste plastic that ends up in the ocean - 63% compared to the U.S. 2% and schemes to ban single-use plastics are only just started working. Improved trash collection at coastline and riverside cities in China would have a bigger impact on sea pollution than trying to restrain demand for plastics.

Our demand for plastics is high and growing. In developing countries where clean water is unavailable there continues to be a legitimate need for plastic containers for bottled water.

It's to be hoped that China will change its views on plastic recycling to leave the world a cleaner place.

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Wed 8th Aug

Shanxi province is rich in coal deposits and for many years has the reputation as the most polluted areas on Earth. Although the government in Beijing has set targets to curb air pollution the problem persisted. The reason has become clear and it is a familiar story. Local officials in Linfen cheated the system so that pollution monitoring systems would give lower readings and so show they were meeting the improvement targets. Sixteen officials have now been tried and found guilty of fabricating data in May this year. There are now moves to get a real grip on this problem. It exemplifies a common weakness of governance in China, particularly on environmental issues, central government may set out bold and ambitious targets but it is down to local officials to make sure they are implemented. At the local level economic growth trumps any wider environmental considerations.

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Wed 1st Aug

China's investment in China is so huge that it is considered by some as a form colonialism. China's Belt and Road Initiative is intended to open up trading routes not just through Central Asia to Europe but also the old sea routes to East Africa.

Bagamoyo in Tanzania is planned to be transformed from a sleepy fishing village to Africa's largest port. The $10 billion investment will handle burgeoning trade from East Africa to China via Sri Lanka and India.

To enable the port to reach into Africa new railways are being built. A 470km railway from Ethiopia to Djibouti is part of the master plan.

However this grandiose project has an unhelpful precedent. In the 1970s Mao Zedong invested in a railway in Tanzania. The 1,100-mile railway now lies in a decayed state with the grand Dar Es Salaam station falling into decay. The larger scale Chinese investment into not just Tanzania but also surrounding countries heralds an ambitious move to open up Africa to trade. Early signs are showing that the investment is welcomed and may well bring much needed prosperity to the whole region.

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Thu 12th Jul

Statistics on China's remarkable development in the last forty years are hard to take in. The GDP was 82.7 trillion yuan (US$12.5 trillion) in 2017 about 200 times that of forty years ago. The billions/trillions and growth rate may impress but do not give much insight on how ordinary lives have been transformed.

The linked article in the Shanghai Daily newspaper looks how individuals at three individual case histories. Xie Mingsheng farmed his small parcel of land in Shanxi by hand, harvesting with a sickle now harvesting, weeding, pest control is now all mechanized and a much larger area can be farmed with the same labor.

Zhao Zhaofeng comes from a coal mining family in Shanxi. His grandfather extracted coal with a pick and shovel and carried out the coal in a bamboo basket. With modern machinery the productivity has gone up forty times in forty years.

Han Yonghui sells street food in Tianjin. To get to his pitch in the city it used to take twenty hours. With new railways and fast trains it now takes him just six hours.

These stories show how modern development has transformed the lives of individuals in China on an unprecedented scale.

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Thu 28th Jun

The Chinese government is ramping up pressure for all nations to consider the island of Taiwan as a province of China. Under the ‘One China’ policy countries have for many years acknowledged the People’s Republic as the only ‘China’. Previously Taiwan was often referred to as ‘Republic of China’ due to the outcome of the Civil war ending in 1949. Now the government is insisting that Taiwan is listed as ‘China - Taiwan’ or ‘China - Taiwan region’ not as if a separate nation. In addition maps of the region should show Taiwan in the same color as mainland China. If airlines do not comply they may face extra tariffs and other sanctions. It represents a toughening up of policy and one more step towards the re-unification long dreamed of in Beijing. The model of two systems for fifty years adopted successfully in Hong Kong may be a preferred solution. This web site continues to treat Taiwan as a separately governed entity to reflect its current status. Should President Trump choose to strongly back Taiwan - as America has done since 1949 - we are all in for interesting times.

Taiwan flag
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Thu 7th Jun

The power of the huge Chinese economy makes itself felt in all sorts of unexpected ways. One area of recent concern is the demand for a French export that is not food or wine but oak timber. China denuded itself of forests over the centuries and there is a severe shortage of quality hardwood. (There is however plenty of softwood (conifer) available from the north-eastern provinces). To allow woods to regenerate there are strong controls on felling and so China imports more timber than any other country. France has a good deal of deciduous woodland that has been carefully managed over hundreds of years so there is a good supply of mature oak which requires 100 years to grow. There is now very strong demand in China for quality wooden oak floors and furniture. Although this may be good for France's balance of payments it is bad news for the saw mills in France as the timber is sent to China unprocessed as it's far cheaper to process it there.

oak leaves
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Fri 1st Jun

The rapid industrial development in the last 30 years has been very bad news for China's rivers. In a new survey 22.1% of all water samples were considered unfit for human contact. This is an overall improvement of a few percent over previous years but in some areas there has been no improvement. Competitive advantage is blamed for some of the pollution, if a company spends extra money to clean up its effluent then its competitors who are not so fussy will gain the advantage. China has always been subject to flood and drought and is concerned that the extra requirements for intensive agriculture and industry will lead to severe shortages.

An example of how work can be done to bring back high water quality is the popular tourist spot of West Lake, Hangzhou. Treatment plants have been added that filter out contaminants and relocating over 7,000 people.

Hangzhou, Zhejiang, west lake
West Lake, Hangzhou. Copyright Richard Wingfield, October 2017.

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Mon 14th May

The devastating earthquake of May 12th 2008 was China's worst natural disaster in recent years. Nearly 90,000 people were killed - a huge number compared to many more high profile disasters (30 times the loss in the 9/11 attacks). It occurred in a rural area north-west of Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu in the afternoon. Among the dead were up to 5,000 students. Many blamed the poor quality of the buildings which had been hastily constructed. Criticism of the government's role was suppressed and some feel that they never received adequate explanations.

China is very prone to earthquakes and holds the dubious honor of the most loss of life anywhere in the world. In 1976 the Tangshan earthquake, Hebei cost 650,000 people's lives but the worst still was 830,000 lives lost in 1556. The country is geologically diverse, made up of a mosaic of small tectonic plates that occasionally slip and slide against each other.

garden, Sichuan
Traditional public garden at Chengdu, Sichuan

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Wed 9th May

Time will tell whether it was Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un's secret visit to China in March that caused the break-through in negotiations or whther it was the game of nuclear brinkmanship with President Trump. Perhaps Trump's aggressive gestures have forced Kim to reluctantly turn to China's for a reluctant, cold embrace. China will not want a re-unified Korea to become close allies of the U.S. so there are many angles to be covered. It is not surprising that a second secret visit has just taken place. We have a guide to the long and complex history to Korean-Chinese relations that show how crucial the relationship has been over at least two thousand years. Both President Xi and Kim must work to cement a new and peaceful relationship.

Jilin, Changbai, lake, view
Crater lake, Tian chi on the border of China and North Korea

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Hubei, Yangzi River, river
Overlooking Fancheng District from Xiangcheng District on the other side of the Han River, which is a tributary of the Yangtze River. October 2011.
Image by Zihanzor available under a Creative Commons license

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