China News

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.

Wed 20th Feb

The Lantern Festival on 19th February marks the official end of the Spring Festival, although for most people the long holiday has been over for some days now.

As the name suggests many bright, colorful lanterns mark the festival and it is the days when dragon dances are frequently seen.

One particular spectacular event has been 'iron fireworks'. Wang De is one of the last few practitioners of this ancient skill that dates back 500 years. To make his display he hurls molten iron at a wall to form a cloud of sparks. Wang De wears sheepskin for protection and uses a willow spoon to ladle out small amounts of metal. The unusual skill grew up in a community of blacksmiths in Hubei province in the Ming dynasty.

iron fireworks
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Wed 13th Feb

With China in the middle of the Chinese New Year it seems appropriate to report a good news story. In this case it has worldwide benefit, not just to Chinese people.

China has been busy planting trees for decades and the effect is on such a vast scale that it is visible from space. A NASA satellite has found increased vegetation worldwide 2,000,000 sq miles [5,179,976 sq kms] and about 25% of this is in China. The total area added is similar to the size of the Amazon rain forest and so this is very significant change. An early push for reforestation was to help prevent flooding in the Yellow River basin. Intensive farming in the north had removed all the trees that stabilized the friable loess soil. In flash floods the soil easily liquifies and creates dangerous thick mud that easily blocks river channels. Tree planting began back in the 1970s and now heavy rain does not cause as big a problem. Shelter belts have also been planted to try to hold back the sands of the Gobi desert that are often deposited in Beijing in summer.

A good proportion of the greening seen by the NASA satellite is not due to trees but from other vegetation - including crops. Much of this effect was seen in India, this is due to increased plant growth from the use of fertilizers and pesticides. In China it is mainly from forests rather than agriculture. This is partly because in China people continue to move from rural farming into the burgeoning cities. Small scale agriculture has become increasingly uneconomic and plots of land are reverting to patches of woodland.

Although this greening is to be welcomed it is unfortunately not sufficient to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions and reduce climate change significantly, but every little helps. The government is on target to achieve its aim of 23% forest coverage by 2020 -by comparison the UK, widely considered a green and pleasant land, has only 13% forest coverage. March 12th each year is designated the official tree planting day where everyone is encouraged to go out and plant a tree. This was instituted in 1981 and is now showing great benefits.

bamboo, forest
Looking up in a bamboo forest

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Wed 6th Feb

It is little known that for China it was the trade across the Pacific in the 16th and 17th centuries that really opened up international trade and not the Portuguese at Macau. When the pope divided the world between the Spanish and Portuguese the line drawn had wide repercussions. Portugal could trade from Europe via the Cape of Good Hope to the Spice Islands and China while Spain had the control of trade to Mexico ('New Spain') and then over the Pacific to East Asia. The discovery of huge amounts of silver in Mexico and Peru gave the Spanish something with which to buy Chinese luxury goods. The Spanish dollar 'pieces of eight' became the common currency and it was on this coin that the American dollar was based (and later the Hong Kong dollar). Many of the luxury items from China that arrived in Mexico were carried over to the eastern coast and from thence by sea to Europe. It was a very lucrative trade and only ended when Mexico gained independence and the opium trade began. The trade is less well known because the main port was not on the Chinese mainland but at Manilla in the Philippines where a thriving Chinese colony rapidly expanded.

This page on SCMP gives a huge amount of interesting information about this trade route, including the details of how the mighty galleons were built.

spain, boat, galleon, trade, sea
Spanish galleon firing its cannons at other ships. Cornelis Verbeecq, c. 1590. National Gallery of Art, Washington. D.C. Available under a Creative Commons License

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Wed 30th Jan

The Chinese appetite for the sweet and sticky Durian fruit is causing a few issues.

In four years the price has tripled to over $22 a kilo. The tropical fruit is mainly grown in Thailand and Malaysia and the much higher profits are driving farmers to clear ancient, unspoilt forests to expand their orchards. The most sought after variety is Musang King and farmers can make nine times the profit from growing it than producing palm oil. The environmental damage from forest clearance has poisoned the rivers and driven out indigenous tribes. The forest used to be home to wildlife and many rare medicinal plants. The Orang Asli tribe are particularly badly hit and are now trying to block further encroachment. It seems that some pressure from the central Malaysian government may be slowing down the dash to grow more Durian fruit trees.

Durian fruit
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Wed 23rd Jan

In order to carry out rubbish collection on the busy climb up Mount Everest China has restricted the number of permits available. It's sad that a once in a lifetime climb can be somewhat spoiled by seeing heaps of rubbish instead of pristine views of the mountains. Up in the high, frozen mountain paths nothing rots away, and there is no wildlife to help disperse it. So everything from oxygen tanks to human waste will stay there indefinitely. The Chinese are tidying up their side of the mountain, (last year they disposed of 8 tonnes of rubbish) while the Nepalese are also busy on theirs - with the help of the Indian army.

mount everest, everest, himalayas
Mount Everest as seen from the aircraft of Drukair in Bhutan. The aircraft is south of the mountains, facing north. 2006. Image by shrimpo1967 available under a Creative Commons License

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Wed 16th Jan

A literature professor has become a surprising online hit. Dai Jianye of Central China Normal University, Wuhan posts regular videos of readings of ancient poetry which now has over 2,000,000 followers and has also written best-selling poetry books.

Classical poems often a thousand years old seem to be ideal for the short attention span of modern audiences. They are often concise and with only a few characters bring to mind complex notions.

Dai Jianye has been quoted as saying "The Chinese are wise and the language is beautiful. Ancient poetry combines both and should be studied and shared". A recent survey of 100,000 millennials has put classical poetry as their most popular traditional art-form. Chinasage has popular pages introducing poetry and also the Three Character classic.

Tang dynasty, Li bai, calligraphy, poem
A famous Tang Dynasty poem by Li Bai, wishing farewell to a friend in both Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.

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Wed 9th Jan

A year ago we reported the case of a dedicated 8 year old schoolboy who trudged through nearly 3 miles of ice and snow to get school each day. The picture of his ice covered hair 'went viral'. Since that time things have changed. His family have relocated to a house just 10 minutes walk from the school in rural Yunnan. Wang Fuman is one of the millions of 'left-behind' children who live in villages. Both his parents have moved away to work in the cities and so he is looked after by an older sister and his grandmother. Not just the Wang family have benefited from the publicity; the school has been given extra funds for classroom heaters. Other schoolchildren has benefited too as the school has built a dormitory so they no longer need to trek long distances each day. The ice-boy's ambition remains to become a policeman when he grows up.

frozen child
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Wed 2nd Jan

Each year in the depth of winter an Ice Sculpture festival is held in the far north of China. In Harbin, the provincial capital of northernmost province Heilongjiang, the temperature reaches its annual minimum (typically -22 ° F [-30 ° C]).

In this Guardian gallery of really impressive photographs by Kevin Frayer the toil of the local ice sculptors is followed as they prepare for the opening of the sculpture park on 5th January (it lasts until 28th February).

Impressive structures are built out of ice blocks cut from the frozen Songhua River. An incredible 200,000 tons [181,437,000 kgs] of ice are used. Chainsaws cut the blocks into rough shape and finished with hand saws and special chisels. A sculpted tongue and groove allow high walls to be constructed by locking the ice layers together. They are built up into towering skyscrapers, pagodas, minarets and bridges spread over 180 acres [728,434 sq meters]. It is the world's largest ice sculpture fair. Each structure is festooned with thousands of LED lights.

Heilongjiang, ice sculpture, Harbin
Illuminated ice sculptures at Harbin, Heilongjiang Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Fri 21st Dec 2018

With the burgeoning economy and the desire of many to get rich quickly, it is perhaps surprising that the important sites of the emergence of the Communist Party in China are receiving more tourists. It was at Yan'an that Mao Zedong set up base after the famous Long March. The beleaguered survived had to live in caves cut into the loess cliffs to escape bombing raids. Edgar Snow brought the news of the communist resistance to the world in his book 'Red Star over China'. In 1937 there were only 40,000 party members - it was to grow to the world's largest membership organization - 89,000,000 people in 2017.

Figures show a 26% growth in tourist numbers for 2016-7. The town is also popular with foreign delegations wanting to see the important place where Mao developed plans for transforming China. Of most interest to some is how re-education system developed a legion of loyal party activists - the cadres who were the power behind the revolution.

Mao Zedong, Zhe De,  Zhou Enlai,  Bo Gu
Bo Gu, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Northern Shaanxi 1930s. Image available under a Creative Commons License

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Tue 11th Dec 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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 2018

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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Qing dynasty, Beihai Park, Beijing, roof
Beijing park pavilion roof

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