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Updated: 4 hours 14 min ago

The Best and Worst of Times for China’s Film Industry

5 hours 16 min ago

Jury members at the China Film Directors’ Guild Awards this month denied suggestions that their decision to withhold the best picture award was a protest against censors’ interference in the industry. But addressing a panel at the Beijing International Film Festival on Thursday, American director Oliver Stone was unequivocal in blaming censorship and self-censorship for stifling creativity in Chinese cinema, bucking the recent tendency in Hollywood to be carefully non-confrontational towards its biggest potential market. From Gady Epstein at The Economist’s Analects blog:

“You talk about co-productions, but you really don’t want to face the history of China. I tried to make a movie about Mao Zedong. But I was told ‘you will never make a movie about the Cultural Revolution’,” he said in a stage performance witnessed by scribblers from Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles Times. “Mao Zedong has been lionised in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticised. It’s about time. You got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution. You do that, you open up, you stir the waters and you allow true creativity to emerge in this country.”  

[…] Zhang Xun, the moderator of his panel and the president of China Film Co-production Corporation (in other words, a vital figure for Hollywood), tried to rebut Mr Stone. “A script needs to be what this country wants to show,” she said. “It is not that we don’t allow you to make this film, but it is about what we both agree to make.” The director responded dismissively, saying, “You are talking about protecting people from their own history.” Variety reported that the audience applauded his remarks. [Source]

Stone’s comments have since attracted wider praise, but the applause has not been unanimous. His comments included a concession that “you have to protect the country against the separatist movements, against the Uyghurs or the Tibetans, I can understand not doing that subject. But not your history, for Christ’s sake.”

Er, no. Oliver Stone endorses ban on films on Tibetan, Uighur history. Read it. “@beijingcream: Good on Oliver Stone http://t.co/F5kTFNum1p

— Robert Barnett (@RobbieBarnett) April 17, 2014

@RobbieBarnett @beijingcream same as saying US filmmakers mustn't touch torture at Guantanamo, America has declared them as terrorists

— Lhatseri (@Lhatseri) April 17, 2014

As Epstein writes, this is hardly consistent with Stone’s own filmmaking.

Stone had previously urged China’s film industry to keep its national characteristics, according to Clifford Coonan at The Hollywood Reporter:

[…] “I love Chinese movies — Chinese movies shouldn’t always worry about trying to be Hollywood,” Stone told a briefing of local journalists, attended by The Hollywood Reporter. “Sometimes Chinese movies get silly, they put on these big numbers trying to be Hollywood. It’s awful, just like when a Hollywood movie tries to be something that it’s not. We all have to stick to our soul … There is a good place for co-production, where East meets West, whether it’s a love story like Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing or The World Of Suzie Wong.” [Source]

Younger Chinese director Lu Chuan also expressed concern about Chinese movies aping Hollywood, saying that a flood of investment had brought “the best time for the Chinese film industry and […] also the worst time.” From Clifford Coonan at The Hollywood Reporter:

The gold rush has created lots of opportunities for new talent and directors. But it’s led to a narrow focus on rapid box office returns.

“Nobody cares about the content. Everybody wants to make movies quicker and quicker and the producer is going crazy. The market is growing bigger but the content and quality is not better and better — it’s maybe even worse,” said Lu.

“You can’t overuse it. It is like a mine. You just dig and dig. Maybe sometime it will collapse,” he said.

[…] “As a local film maker, we need to make better movies to compete with Hollywood movies. But the negative side is Chinese audiences only like the Hollywood ‘muscle’ movies — big muscle and action,” he said. [Source]

Lu lamented that despite the new abundance of financial resources, not enough is being done to build the human skills necessary to produce a film like Alfonso Cuarón’s award-winning Gravity. But Cuarón himself told Xinhua this week that he had faith in China’s filmmakers:

“I think Chinese directors can also make movies like that. It’s first of all, the curiosity. My curiosity led me to Gravity,” the Mexican filmmaker said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Thursday at the ongoing Beijing International Film Festival.

[…] As for how to achieve a success like Gravity, he replied that the only way a director can win an Oscar is to focus on the integrity of their work.

“I don’t think it’s about words or box office, or that it’s something you can calculate. You have to do the film that you really believe in,” he said.

[…] In his view, the Chinese film industry is strong enough to develop its own models, rather than follow others’ lead. “The paradigm is to cooperate with Hollywood and that will make Chinese movies more global.” [Source]

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This Week on CDT, April 18, 2014

7 hours 29 min ago

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the death of former Communist Party official, Hu Yaobang, and the start of the nationwide, student-led democracy movement, culminating in a military crackdown in Beijing in June. To mark the occasion, CDT is posting a series of original news articles from that year.

Last week, former president Hu Jintao made a low-key visit to Hu Yaobang’s old residence. Censors deemed the visit too sensitive and reporting was restricted.

Censors also stepped in to curtail online discussion about a Uyghur high school student killed by police in Aksu, Xinjiang. Regarding the letter penned by the unregistered Protestant church, Shouwang, censors called on all websites to delete “Three Years of Outside Services: Letter to the Beijing Shouwang Church Congregation.”

A sinister-looking snake as pipe and faucet is CDT cartoonist, Badiucao’s artistic rendition of the news of contaminated tap water in Lanzhou.

Former president Hu Jintao earned the nickname Blackboard Fox during a 2010 visit to the earthquake victims of Yushu County, Qinghai. Read about it in the Name of the Week.

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Photo: Acrobatic School, by Zhou Ding

7 hours 30 min ago

Acrobatic School

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Four New Citizen Activists Sentenced

16 hours 47 min ago

Four members of the New Citizens Movement civil rights and anti-corruption group received prison sentences on Friday, Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee reports:

Ding Jiaxi was sentenced to three-and-a-half years, Zhao Changqing got a two-and-a-half year sentence and Li Wei and Zhang Baocheng got two-year terms, the Haidian court in Beijing said on its microblog. They were charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

But Sui Muqing, a lawyer representing Ding, said the real reason for the convictions was that the activists had pressed for government officials to disclose their assets.

“It’s nothing but an announcement to the world that we can’t mention asset disclosure and that calling on officials to disclose their assets is a crime,” Sui told Reuters by telephone. [Source]

Sui walked out of Ding’s trial last week, calling it “unabashedly illegal.” Also last week, the New Citizens’ cofounder Xu Zhiyong lost an appeal against his own four-year sentence. Despite these blows, many connected with the movement expressed defiant optimism.

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One Blogger Released, Another Sentenced

17 hours 33 min ago

Due to a “serious illness,” outspoken blogger and Chinese-American venture capitalist Charles Xue has been released on bail after almost eight months in prison. From Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee:

 Charles Xue, also known as Xue Manzi, was detained in August on a charge of visiting prostitutes, an accusation that activists said stemmed from China’s efforts to rein in social media.

[…] Xue was released on bail because he was sick, Beijing police said on its official microblog. State television showed Xue on television on Wednesday night confessing to his crime, saying he was extremely sorry to his wife and children.

[…] In a separate case, a court jailed popular microblogger Qin Zhihui for three years on Thursday on charges of defamation and affray after he confessed to spreading rumors about the Chinese government, Xinhua state news agency said. [Source]

See more on Qin’s case via CDT.

The New York Times’ Chris Buckley scrutinized Xue’s transformation from a man who ”once embodied the raucous energies testing Internet censorship in China” to “a contrite prisoner endorsing the government’s determination to cleanse and control the Web”:

“I believe it was entirely appropriate that I was punished by the law,” he said. “I think these events were an agonizing lesson for me, and I hope that Big V’s and little V’s active on Weibo will take this as a warning that with every posting you must consider your responsibility to society.”

Mr. Xue, 61, also said that he had not considered group sex a crime because he “had lived in the United States for 34 years, and had been deeply influenced by Western values,” Xinhua, the state news agency, reported. Mr. Xue grew up in China and migrated to the United States, and he won fame in China as a canny investor in Internet and telecommunications companies.

For now at least, how much of Mr. Xue’s confession was heartfelt can only be guessed at. But the form it took was familiar. Since Mao’s time, extravagant accusations against the party’s ideological adversaries have often been followed by detention and then equally extravagant public confessions and endorsements of the official line. [Source]

More recently caught up in the rumor crackdown is an Urumqi resident detained “after he forwarded an untrue rumor that was created abroad” about the shooting of a young Uyghur by police. Critics of the campaign, meanwhile, argue that the government itself is “the biggest online rumor mill in China.”

The Washington Post’s Simon Denyer explained that the current waxing of the battle against rumors is part of a two-pronged drive, together with a similarly controversial crackdown on online pornography:

The drive, to “sweep out porn, strike at rumors,” will run from mid-April until November, the party’s news portal Seeking Truth declared this week.

[…] Several academics and media insiders declined to comment on the campaign, except to say that strict instructions to back it had come down from the top levels of the party. “I absolutely support this campaign; I’m not supposed to add anything more than that,” said one academic, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of official retribution.

[…] “The dark current of pornographic information is still flowing on the Internet,” the People’s Daily warned in an editorial. It complained about illegal and foreign Web sites, pornographic marketing and obscenity posing as sex education. “Cracking down on Internet pornographic information matters to the physical and mental health of the youth; it matters to promote our core socialist values,” the editorial said.

But the protection of socialist values also apparently involves a clampdown on criticism by journalists and fiction writers. [Source]

Many suggest political motives for the tightening of online controls since Xi Jinping came to power. From The Financial Times’ Charles Clover:

Michael Anti, a Chinese journalist, says that under Hu Jintao, the previous Chinese president, the Communist party tolerated bloggers as long as they confined their wrath to local officials. “It was a way to control the provinces,” he said. But after Mr Xi came to power the mood changed.

“The new attitude is that if you attack any officials you attack the whole Communist party,” Mr Anti said. [Source]

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25 Years Ago: Students March for Democracy

19 hours 48 min ago

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the nationwide, student-led democracy movement in China, and the subsequent military crackdown in Beijing. To mark the occasion, CDT is posting a series of original news articles from that year, beginning with the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15 and continuing through the tumultuous spring. The full series can be read here.

From the April 18, 1989 New York Times:

Several thousand students marched through the capital in predawn hours today, chanting democratic slogans and singing revolutionary songs as they mourned the ousted Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang and called for a more democratic government.

The demonstration was the most significant sign of unrest in China since student demonstrations for democracy were crushed more than two years ago.

One student leader announced to a cheering crowd that the students had three demands: an official reappraisal of Mr. Hu, an apology from the Government for various unspecified mistakes, and a ”collective resignation,” apparently of all the country’s leaders.

Later, other student leaders added further demands, such as democratic elections, the release of China’s political prisoners, and freedom of the press.

[This series was originally posted on CDT in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of June 4th.]

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Crowdfunding Investigative Journalism in China

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 15:21

Beijing has long exercised control over information by directly supervising official media outlets, issuing censorship directives, and creating incentives for independent organizations to self-censor. As technology has allowed a huge increase in the cache of publicly available information over the past decade, the government has adapted its measures to leverage the new media landscape. Over the past year, the Xi administration has made moves to reinforce control of traditional and new media by mandating reporters undergo training in the “Marxist view of journalism,” and cracking down heavily on social media. Amid this diverse atmosphere of official propaganda, The Economist looks at the new methods journalists are adopting to report freely:

LIU JIANFENG began his career as an investigative reporter with noble ideals about serving the public interest. After 20 years in the job, even working for some of China’s more outspoken publications, he felt increasingly manipulated. He also believed the public was hungry for fact-based reporting untainted by the state’s agenda. Casting around for a solution, last summer he announced on his microblog that he was becoming an independent journalist.

Five years ago such a move would have been all but impossible. But now, trading on his reputation as an honest reporter, through his microblog on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, and on Taobao, an e-commerce site, Mr Liu raised 200,000 yuan ($30,000). That helped him produce his first long investigative report about a land dispute between villagers and their local government in Shandong, an eastern province. The report, which is available on Mr Liu’s blog, has not (yet) caused him problems. “Writing at length and in detail is a way to protect myself from accusations of malpractice,” he says.

[...] Since a crackdown on microblogs last year, many users have gravitated to WeChat, a smartphone-messaging application. It has emerged as a relatively unconstrained platform for free-thinking opinion. But in mid-March there was a sudden shutdown of dozens of prominent accounts. The “WeChat massacre”, as it became known, was a fresh warning to free-thinkers, though it has not yet scared users away.

Like other journalists, Song Zhibiao uses his WeChat feed to create what he calls “self-made media”. He posts news and commentary on controversial subjects, such as the mismanagement of official coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Around 13,000 people subscribe to his WeChat feed; some donate up to 500 yuan. Despite some financial success, Mr Song sees two hurdles. Relying on donations from a public used to consuming free media is not sustainable, he thinks. And muckraking in China can be risky. If you are on your way “to seek truth”, he says, you may in the party’s eyes be on the road to commit crimes. [...] [Source]

For more on “self-media” and the recent WeChat crackdown, see prior CDT coverage. Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported at length on Liu Jianfeng and the crowdfunding of independent, investigative journalism in China:

“I would like to be an independent writer and social issue observer. With the help of supporters, I will be able to conduct investigations and to reveal the problems during political reforms, and to tell people’s stories during social changes,” Liu said in his July post.

[...] “I didn’t want to work with my hands tied any more,” he said in a phone interview in early February. “I realized I could work individually and independently, without having to affiliate with any publication.”

[...] Liu set up a store on Taobao, an eBay-like platform, where he offered customers “reading access” to his work for 100 yuan (less than $20). Those who pay get exclusive email access to his stories several days before Liu publishes them on his blog, which is fully accessible in China. [...] [Source]

Also see a video on Liu Jianfeng and his search for a new model of investigative journalism, produced by Jonah Kessel for the Committee to Protect Journalists last year.

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Official Puts Demolition Workers On Pedestal

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 14:29

A district Communist Party secretary’s adulatory tribute to a group of demolition workers last December was “propelled to national levels of scrutiny and ridicule” after the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolitan Daily picked it up on Wednesday. From Austin Ramzy at The New York Times:

Shao Chunjie, a district Communist Party secretary, told a gathering of demolition workers that they were the city’s “kindest, most venerable, most lovable, most capable of moving one to song and tears, most praiseworthy people,” according to a statement posted on an official website.

Mr. Shao’s tribute was fulsome, and all the more striking because the praise was for workers who carry out one of the most controversial policies in China. The removal of residents from their homes to make way for construction projects provides the opportunity for huge returns for developers and local governments, but it also sets off disputes that can turn violent and at times deadly.

[...] “I think the Xinyang secretary’s words are heartfelt,” Yuan Yulai, a lawyer, wrote on his Sina Weibo account. “And that shows the depths to which our society has sunk.” [Source]

Read more about forced demolitions in China via CDT, including a 2012 report on forced evictions by Amnesty International.

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Corruption Purge Clearing Space for Xi Allies

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 13:16

Jiao Yulu (1922-1964) was a local party official who became the posthumous star of a propaganda campaign extolling the virtues of honesty and dedication among cadres. After describing Xi Jinping’s effort to “resurrect an old party icon,” by honoring Jiao during a visit to Henan Province last month, author Murong Xuecun becomes another commentator to draw attention to the politics behind Xi’s ongoing anti-corruption drive. The essay has been translated and published at the New York Times:

[...] If Mr. Xi truly wants to stop corruption, he must establish a transparent government, independent of the party, which puts officials under constant scrutiny. He would have to ensure that law enforcement can conduct independent investigations into corruption cases without being subject to interference from officials. He would have to allow the media to report freely on scandals. He would have to return to Chinese citizens the right to hold officials accountable.

But instead, his government has been locking up advocates of greater transparency.

[...] It’s true that since Mr. Xi took power in late 2012, several high-level officials have been arrested for corruption. But when I see a government that implores officials to emulate the supposed selfless clean living of Jiao Yulu while imprisoning people who urge leaders to reveal their assets, I have to ask: Does the government really intend to weed out corrupt officials or is it just putting on a show? This anticorruption campaign appears to be nothing more than a political purge by another name. [...] [Source]

As Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has gained momentum in implicating party cadres, government and military officials, a report from Reuters cites sources claiming that Xi will be filling positions formerly held by purged officials with his own allies in effort to push his reform agenda:

[...] Xi hopes that removing corrupt officials and those resisting change will allow him to consolidate his grip on power and implement difficult economic, judicial and military reforms that he believes are vital to perpetuate one-party rule, said the sources, who have ties to the leadership.

In the most far-reaching example of his intentions, Xi plans to promote about 200 progressive officials from the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, where he served as party boss from 2002 to 2007, to senior positions across the spectrum in the years ahead, two of them said.

“The anti-corruption (drive) is a means to an end. The goal is to promote his own men and like-minded officials to key positions to push through reforms,” said one source.

[...] Another source who met Xi in private this year quoted him as saying implementing reforms had been “very difficult” due to opposition from state-owned enterprises along with influential party elders and their children, known as “princelings”.

[...] While Xi appears set on driving reform on many fronts, human rights activists have said major political change was not on his agenda. For example, authorities have increased controls over the local media and prominent bloggers in the past year. [...][Source]

Click through for Reuters’ in depth report on the anti-graft crusade and Xi Jinping’s efforts to consolidate power. While cracking down on bloggers and the media, the administration has also been heavily prosecuting anti-corruption activists who called for officials to disclose their assets—a seeming contradiction to Xi’s high-profile anti-corruption campaign.

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China’s Cyberporn Crackdown Not Really About Porn

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 18:22

The National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications, a branch of China’s main media regulator, recently announced a new crackdown on pornographic online content, a measure the Global Times notes is essential for China’s “cyber development”:

Bu Xiting, an official at the Communication University of China, sees the campaign as a sign of the government’s determination to create a healthy cyberspace.

“[It] shows that China is taking an important step toward the rule of law in the virtual world,” Bu said.

He said that as China has built up the biggest population of netizens amid decades of breakneck Internet development, forums, websites and online game ads have wielded bad influences by touting themselves with sexual hype, which is why the government needs to step in.

China launched a sweeping campaign against the spread of online porn on Sunday.

The cyberspace raid, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” will involve thorough checks on websites, search engines and mobile application stores, Internet TV USB sticks, and set-top boxes, the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said in a circular. [Source]

For a full translation of the announcement, see China Law Translate. At Foreign Policy’s Tea Leaf Nation, Zhang Jialong warns that this most recent crackdown has little to do with porn, and much to do with bolstering the party’s new media influence:

Chinese authorities have put would-be free speech advocates on notice: Step away from the computer. As an April 14 article in Communist Party-run news portal Seeking Truth avers, from mid-April until November, government offices nationwide will be striking out at online media in a dedicated campaign called “sweep out porn, strike at rumors.” An April 16 headline on state news service Xinhua declares the move is in response to “calls from people in all walks of life.” But at its core, this is about going after rumors — party parlance for destabilizing falsehoods  – in the name of going after porn. In other words, it’s about ensuring that party organs, and not the Chinese grassroots, have the loudest voice on the country’s Internet.

This latest campaign has been months in the making. On Feb. 5, the Central Propaganda Department (CPD), the party organ tasked with censorship and information dissemination, ordered an investigation of “pornographic and vulgar information” — one whose main target was actually a variety of online columns, infographics, and trending or recommended reading. Interpretation of the actual meaning of “pornographic and vulgar information,” of course, rests entirely with the CPD. [...] [Source]

While pornography sweeps and anti-vulgarity operations are not uncommon in China, this most recent one comes amid an ongoing central government campaign to increase control of the Internet. Over the past year, the Xi administration has done much to rein in online public opinion by launching rules to build a “favorable online environment” and punishing violators, publicly humiliating influential social media users, and creating a legal means to punish broadly defined “rumor-mongers.”

Another post from Tea Leaf Nation notes that the Sina Weibo hashtag #扫黄打非·净网2014# (sweep out yellow, strike at rumors · clean web 2014), created to aid in the crackdown, seems to be backfiring, instead “allowing users to find (blurred) pornography more easily”:

The Chinese government’s latest effort to bring the country’s social web under control appears to be backfiring. A new phase in a government crackdown on undesirable online content announced March 28 — called “sweep out yellow, strike at rumors” (the former referring to pornography, the latter including opinion contrary to the Communist Party line) — has become a hashtag on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, bearing the same name. It appears to be an astroturf campaign: authorities have encouraged the hashtag, even if they did not generate it, by inviting netizens to get in on the anti-porn action through “joint monitoring and reporting.” And join they have, by labeling not-quite-pornographic material with that tag in what looks an awful lot like a bid to taunt censors. [...] [Source]

The newest crackdown has also set its crosshairs on slash fiction. Offbeat China notes that this has angered many of the “rotten women” who often write and read the genre:

Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on the interpersonal attraction and sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex. In China, slash, or dan mei (耽美) in Chinese, goes beyond fan fiction, and is used exclusively to refer to male-male slash. Believe it or not, slash is more popular than one would expect in China, and sex scenes are a big part of Chinese slash stories.

[...] The majority of readers, as well as writers, of slash in China are straight young girls who identify themselves as “rotten women (腐女).” [...]

[...] In their eyes, slash is but a victim of the country’s system-wise discrimination against homosexuality. As one female netizen 咖啡呆丶LM commented: “This is not cleaning the cyberspace. This is pure discrimination. I may never see a rainbow flag fly above China in my life time.” [Source]

After describing the politics behind the campaign and the contrast between China’s official anti-porn stance and the prevalence of black market retailers and sex workers, Lily Kuo also notes that some see this crackdown as a means to discriminate. From Quartz:

[...] Others believe the anti-porn moves are more aimed at sexual minority groups than mainstream porn. In the past. the government has shut down sites offering advice or information to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender people in China as well as sites containing erotic gay fiction. Less ominous is the possibility that Chinese officials simply launch these campaigns with little intention of stamping out the industry. Instead, it provides an occasion for the government to flex its muscles over China’s internet firms and require them to fall in line. [...] [Source]

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Urbanization: Where China’s Future Will Happen

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 16:48

In a special report at The Economist, James Miles examines urbanization in China, described by economist Joseph Stiglitz as one of “‘two keys’ to mankind’s development in the 21st century.” The report’s introduction lays out first the scale—China’s urban population grew by a “United States plus three Britains” in thirty years—and then the tremendous importance of China’s urbanization for the future of the country as a whole:

Getting cities right will help China to keep growing fast for years to come. Getting them wrong would be disastrous, bringing worsening inequality (which the World Bank says has approached “Latin American levels”, although Chinese officials insist it has recently been improving), the spread of slums, the acceleration of global climate change (cities consume three-quarters of China’s energy, which comes mainly from coal) and increasing social unrest.

[…] All the most important reforms that Mr Xi needs to tackle involve the movement to China’s cities. He must give farmers the same property rights as urban residents so they can sell their homes (which is currently all but impossible) and leave the land with cash in hand. He must sort out the mess of local-government finances, which depend heavily on grabbing land from farmers and selling it to developers. He must loosen the grip of state-owned enterprises on the commanding heights of the economy and make them hand over more of their profits to the government. He must move faster to clean up the urban environment, especially its noxious air, and prevent the growth of China’s cities from exacerbating climate change. And he must start giving urban residents a say in how their cities are run. [Source]

A leader accompanying the report offers more specific prescriptions:

The challenge for Xi Jinping, China’s president, and his team is as immense as the cities themselves. But there are two obvious steps for them to take. The first is to give farmers property rights and thus the ability to sell their land. If the market were allowed to operate, prices would be high. Overall, China has less habitable space than America but four times as many people. Much of the country is mountain or desert, unusable for development. High prices, reflecting this shortage, would force urban planners to regard land as a scarce resource and to use it efficiently. That would discourage them from allowing American-style sprawl and encourage them to build dense, energy-efficient European-style cities in which people walk, cycle or take public transport to work.

The second necessary step is to open up decision-making. One reason why so many Chinese cities are grim is that residents have so little say in how they are planned, built and run. If people had the right to elect their mayors and legislators, they would—assuming they behaved like city-dwellers elsewhere in the world—insist on planning controls to constrain development and improve the environment.

The document unveiled in March called the government’s urbanisation plan “people-centred”. If the next stage of China’s phenomenal urban transformation is to bring prosperity and stability rather than conflict and chaos, the party needs to live up to the phrase. [Source]

Other chapters explore issues such as environmental impacts, economic sustainability, and social division at greater length, while China editor Rob Gifford discussed the report with its author in a video conversation:

See more on China’s urbanization via CDT.

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HRW: Allowing Blind Access to Gaokao a Breakthrough

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 16:18

After publishing a report looking at the many educational barriers facing people with disabilities in China last year, Human Rights Watch has praised the Ministry of Education’s recent decision to make braille and electronic college entrance exams available to the blind:

The Chinese Education Ministry’s decision to provide Braille or electronic exams for national university entrance will improve access to higher education for candidates who are blind or have visual impairments, Human Rights Watch said today. Up to now, students who are blind or partially sighted were effectively barred from mainstream higher education because no provision was made to accommodate their disability.

“Making exams accessible to the blind would help to minimize discrimination against and maximize respect for people with disabilities in China,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “This is an important breakthrough after years of advocacy by disability rights advocates in China.”

[...] “Much remains to be done to end the discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities in China,” Richardson said. “Truly implementing this initiative would be an important step toward building a more inclusive society.” [Source]

While highly controversial and sometimes bewildering, China’s gaokao college entrance exam does much to determine the futures of the millions of high school students who take it each year (9 million in 2013).

Also see “What’s it Like to be Disabled in China,” an examination of disabled life and public attitudes, via CDT.

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National Security Commission Meets for First Time

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:56

Following months of speculation since its announcement in last November’s wide-ranging reform blueprint, China’s new National Security Commission met for the first time this week. President Xi Jinping, whose leadership of the body has been read as both evidence of and a boost to his personal political power, said that the commission will provide comprehensive oversight of both foreign and domestic aspects of national security amid an unprecedentedly diverse and complex array of challenges. From Chris Buckley at Sinosphere:

Mr. Xi listed areas that could come under the commission’s oversight: politics, homeland security, military affairs, economic policy, culture, science and technology, information, the environment and natural resources, and nuclear safety. The national security system, he said, must be “centralized and unified, effective and authoritative.”

In theory, then, China’s National Security Commission could be very busy, overseeing issues that the United States National Security Council leaves to others. In practice, there are still many unanswered questions about how the Chinese body will operate, and how it will live alongside the many other party and state agencies and bureaucracies with a stake in security issues. [Source]

Ben Blanchard also reported on the inaugural meeting at Reuters:

While Xi listed areas ranging from economic to nuclear security, he also said the commission had to “take political security as its base” and “seek stability”, references to protecting the ruling Communist Party’s hold on power and dealing with domestic unrest.

“Security is the condition for development. We can only make the country rich by building up military power, and only with military power can we protect the country,” Xi said.

[…] On Monday, Xi urged the air force to adopt an integrated air and space defense capability, in what state media called a response to the increasing military use of space by the United States and others. [Source]

Experts hailed the “authoritative” new body, according to the state-run Global Times:

“Nowadays, national security involves more aspects beside traditional defense,” Yang Weidong, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times.

[…] Experts stressed that comprehensive security threats require combined efforts from national defense, economy, public security and others, while the previous scattered structure proved to be insufficient without unified leadership.

“The national security system will also contribute to more authoritative foreign policies for China since the decisions will be made based on all-sided consideration in the future,” Yang said.

[…] Experts also suggested that the leading figures of the commission, which also include Premier Li Keqiang and top legislator Zhang Dejiang as deputy heads, showed Chinese characteristics through the combination of the Party, government and legislature. [Source]

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Photo: Quiet, by peng luo

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:29
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Name of the Week: Blackboard Fox

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 12:09

Hu Jintao’s writing in Qinghai, 2010. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua)

黑板狐 (Hēibǎn Hú): Blackboard Fox

Hu Jintao, president of the People’s Republic of China 2002-2012. “Fox”(狐 hú) sounds the same as the surname Hu (胡 Hú). Hu Jintao earned this nickname in 2010 while visiting earthquake victims in Yushu County, Qinghai. Hu entered a classroom and wrote on the blackboard, “There will be new schools! There will be new homes!” (新校园,会有的!新家园,会有的!) He then led the students in a recitation of these lines. The blackboard is being preserved in the Qinghai provincial museum.

The  comes from China Digital Space’s Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around  and political correctness.

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Minitrue: Shouwang Church, Three Years On

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:59

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. 

State Council Information Office: All websites are to delete the article “Three Years of Outside Services: Letter to the Beijing Shouwang Church Congregation” and related commentary. (April 16, 2014)

国信办:各网清理删除《户外敬拜三周年之际 北京守望教会 告会众书》一文及相关评论。

Shouwang, an unregistered Protestant church, began holding services in public after it was evicted from the restaurant where it had been meeting. “House churches” are not registered with the government, and as such usually congregate secretly.

Read Shouwang’s letter via CDT Chinese [zh].

Chinese journalists and bloggers often refer to these instructions as “Directives from the Ministry of Truth.”

CDT collects directives from a variety of sources and checks them against official Chinese media reports to confirm their implementation.

Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The original publication date on CDT Chinese is noted after the directives; the date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source.

WAR IS PEACE • FREEDOM IS SLAVERY • IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

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Shanghai’s Older Generation Hark Back to Mao

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:47

At the Guardian, Sue Anne Tay outlines the situation of many aging Shanghai residents who, after missing out on the spoils of the city’s boom years, find their 20th century brick row houses facing the wrecking ball. In her report, she describes how these lifelong residents are invoking Chairman Mao as a protest symbol of their frustration with the city’s widening class divide. From the Guardian:

East Is Red, the anthem of China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution, was being piped out of the second-storey window of an old house located a few streets south of Xintiandi, Shanghai’s affluent downtown shopping district. The house was part of an old neighbourhood that was being demolished to accommodate the next phase of high-end real estate expansion.

But it was the slogans on the two banners hung outside the house which really caught the attention of the crowd gathered across the street. Angry over the pending loss of his home, one resident had scrawled “democracy begins with rights” on one banner – and launched a nostalgic call back to Maoism on the other: “Chairman Mao, the people miss you! Corrupt officials are scared of you!”

[...] To cope with neglect and injustice, some of Shanghai’s older generation are harking back to old symbols of authority to remind people of the party’s once-utopian roots of class equality, social harmony and corruption-free society as championed by the Great Helmsman himself, Mao Zedong. The death and violence caused by the Cultural Revolution is a blind spot; instead, these residents focus on the nostalgia of what they believe to be fairer and better days from socialism’s past.

Caught in the shifting sands of Chinese megacity development, no one, it seems, is speaking out for Shanghai’s urban poor as they are removed from their homes and priced out to distant corners they never imagined visiting, much less living in. Their call for Mao feels not so much like a genuine cry for history, but for the sense of loss of a community lifestyle – and the city they call home. [Source]

Also see the Guardian’s photo gallery of Chinese “nail houses.” For more on forced demolition and China’s class divide, see prior CDT coverage.

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Women Shut Out of Wealth Accumulation

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 18:11

In an interview with Shanghaiist, Leta Hong Fincher discusses the way China’s real estate boom has shortchanged women, the main focus of her Tsinghua PhD dissertation:

[...I]n the interviews that I did with men and women in their twenties and early thirties, I found that gender norms really are evolving. So, the younger generation really does believe in more gender equality. They do have more gender-equalitarian beliefs on the whole. I mean, obviously there are a lot of exceptions, but I would say that the younger generation on the whole is more progressive, especially in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

What I argue, though, particularly in my dissertation where I really focus on residential real estate, [is that] the real estate boom following China’s privatization of housing has led to resurgence of gender inequality and created new forms of really stark gender inequality in wealth, because there’s this inextricable link between marriage and home-buying in China. So, when a young couple decides to get married, the norm is that they’re supposed to buy a home in the private market. And that’s when the older generation’s traditional patriarchal beliefs come into play. Buying a home is an extremely complicated financial transaction. And, because homes are so exorbitant now, it is virtually impossible for a young person to buy a home on their own. They have to rely on the heavy financial input from their parents or elders. And so, basically what happens is that you have to have the pooling of family assets to buy a home, and when you come to these vast quantities of money, where the parents and the elders have been saving and scraping their whole lives, that combines with a whole bunch of different norms. One is the norm that the man is supposed to be the official breadwinner and that the woman doesn’t need to own property.

Another norm is basically a myth that is propagated by the state media in collaboration with the real estate developers and the matchmaking industry. They spread the myth that a man has to own a home in order to attract a bride. Which is why so many parents invest so heavily in buying their sons a home, and then they don’t help their daughter buy a home. In my research, I found just a very consistent, a shockingly consistent pattern, when there’s a son and a daughter, the parents buy a home for the son and they don’t for the daughter. But I also found cases even more disturbing, where the parents don’t even have a son, they have an only daughter and rather than help their daughter buy a home, even though she wants one, they help their nephew buy a home. That is a really big part in the creation of the huge gender wealth gap. [Source]

Leta Hong Fincher is the author of the newly released book Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China.

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In China, a Big Jet Becomes a Status Symbol

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 18:01

Joe Sharkey at The New York Times reports that though there isn’t a solid infrastructure to support their use, business jets in China have become a status symbol among the wealthy:

[...I]n China, where sales of business jets are increasing despite a lack of large scale air-system support and a dearth of airports to handle private flights, attitudes about private jets seem to be different [than the contemptuous ones common in the U.S.]. While forecasters had long assumed midsize and smaller jets would prevail as China’s business aviation market expanded throughout the country, that has not been the case.

Instead, Chinese buyers are enthusiastically opting mostly for so-called heavy metal jets — big, long-range luxury jets that can cost $50 million or more before extras like fancy cabin fixtures. A big jet is considered a big status symbol.

[...] “In China,” Mr. Foley said, “if you’re a successful business person, you generally don’t mind flaunting that and making your compatriots aware that you’re doing well. And one way to do that is to buy the biggest and best business jet, if you have the money to buy it.”

[...] So a well-heeled tycoon might buy a $60 million luxury jet in China but find that using it is more complicated than in many countries. Still, that is where the market preferences lie, and business culture in a rapidly developing economy may explain part of that, Mr. Foley suggested. [Source]

Also see  ”Aviation Giants Target Chinese Growth,” a 2012 round-up of news on the faltering aviation industry placing hope in China, via CDT.

At The Los Angeles Weekly, Claire Spiegel reports on the upwards trend of wealthy Chinese also buying up luxury homes in the United States:

Built in Pasadena in 1915, the stately Tudor mansion had been the setting for debutante teas, and even hosted a bridal garden party for Herbert Hoover’s granddaughter. In its heyday, it was owned by newspaper scion (and staunch anti-Communist) Philip Chandler, who welcomed to his home the founder of the John Birch Society in the 1960s.

Chandler, surely, would have gagged at the property’s December 2012 sale to a real estate tycoon in China. He went to his grave convinced the Communists were coming, and it would almost certainly gall him to see his own 3.5-acre estate as Exhibit A in the invasion.

Yet the Chinese have come not as the “Red Menace” he decried but as savvy entrepreneurs loaded with cash. Huang Kangjing, the son of a poor fisherman who rocketed into the ranks of China’s wealthiest elite, bought the Chandler property sight unseen for his 23-year-old son, a USC student. He paid $5.8 million cash.

Last year, he bought another mansion nearby for $3.7 million cash – interim housing while the Chandler estate receives a multimillion-dollar makeover in preparation for the Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts’ annual fundraiser. [Source]

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