After the quake: worthy of your attention

Owing to the final stages of my thesis and subsequent travel for the Global Voices Summit, blogging will be intermittent from now until mid-May. Still, there’s no excuse not to point you faithful few in the direction of interesting stories. For now, here are some Qinghai-related updates.

  • In response to Wednesday’s quake, Hu Jintao cut short his trip to South America, while Wen Jiabao arrived in Qinghai on Thursday. Premier Wen told survivors, “right now, our most important task is to save lives. More troops will be deployed. We will spare no effort as long as there is the faintest hope.”
  • As many predicted, the schools that have succumbed to the Qinghai earthquake have received substantial scrutiny. According to the latest figures, 11 have collapsed, while 66 students and 10 teachers have died.
  • Reuters have drawn attention to the “quiet contest for influence between the government and Tibetan Buddhist monks who say they speak for the people of the area” (NB: paywalled).
  • Meanwhile, Austin Ramzy has focused on the intense aid relief efforts that Beijing is pursuing in order to lessen the “political tremors” of the disaster. Tania Branigan has also given us a poignant report of the survivors’ plight.
  • For live tweets from the disaster zone, follow @MalcolmMoore (The Telegraph) and @melissakchan on Twitter.

Other than Google: bankrupt language schools, warplanes to Venezuela and a word on Gao Zhisheng

While the Google/China drama occupies most of the radar, some other great stories have been surfacing over the past few days. Check them below.

  • Tessa Thorniley has investigated the bankruptcies and “suicidal mismanagement” faced by language schools in China and the foreigners that flee from them. Remember Kai En?
  • Making the US a little more uncomfortable is openDemocracy’s news that China has supplied Venezuela with six warplanes. The official line is that these jets will be used for training missions and to target drug traffickers, and President Hugo Chavez said he was forced to turn to China because of US export controls. On a television broadcast he thanked the PRC: “The empire wanted to leave us unarmed. Socialist China, revolutionary China appeared and here are our K-8 planes.”
  • The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts has given us this horrific account of lead poisoning in China. Chinese authorities defended the six-month detention of lead poisoning victims in Hunan who were seeking medical care, saying the punishment was necessary for “public education”. The 53 villagers who were on their way to get health checks were mistakenly believed to be planning a protest. China Digital Times have also linked to an AFP story detailing the closure of a factory in Sichuan after its pollution caused lead poisoning in 100 people, 88 of whom were children.
  • On Tuesday, China’s Vice Premier Li Keqiang called for greater medical reform in the country, the People’s Daily reported. He put great emphasis on working towards establishing a basic health care service system and improving health care services at grassroots level.
  • The New York Times reported that light has finally been shed on the Gao Zhisheng saga. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Mr. Gao had been sentenced to prison for subversion. Yang also denied Gao had ever been tortured. That said, we still don’t know where Gao is or what this sentence refers to.
  • There’s been a lot of coverage of China’s hukou system. Tania Branigan has looked at how migrants’ children are bearing the brunt of the household registration, and provided video footage here. Carl Minzner from the LA Times has also written this op-ed outlining the changes necessary in hukou reform. Finally, yours truly has also looked at what bloggers have to say on Global Voices.
  • Ai Wei Wei is still my ol’ reliable. This time, he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “China’s government has no humanity”, and he has faith that new media can effect change in China. And while we’re on the subject, China Media Project has summarised a talk by popular blogger Yang Hengjun discussing the Internet and social change. Yang said, “I can guarantee that if the Web did not exist I would not find a place to express what I wished to express.”
  • China Digital Times has linked to this piece in the FT summarising the “test of ties” Obama faces with Beijing. Further discussing the currency spat going on between China and the US, this editorial in the New York Times today asks “Will China listen?”
  • On a lighter note, this opinion piece in the Global Times has slammed the 2010 Miss Laowai China beauty pageant. Apparently, it’s female expats’ “inner grace and intelligence that sets them apart from their counterparts back home.” Aw.

Catching up

It’s been a minute, or a month. This post is my attempt to wade through the news I’ve missed (translation: shamefully avoided due to running off to the UK for a week). So, what’s been happening, and where are the stories? The following are a small selection.

  • A lot of talk today has been hovering around ‘Man of the Year’ Bo Xilai, the Chongqing Party chief and potential contender for the Politburo’s Standing Committee during the 2012 leadership transition. Discussions of the future generation of China’s leaders have been taking place behind the scenes at the current annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC). As the Washington Post reported, the charismatic Bo has become the poster boy for a group of emerging Chinese leaders known as ‘princelings’, or descendants of high-ranking party officials. They also claim China’s future lies with its nascent middle class, which would bring about some…interesting results if Bo does rise to power.
  • In addition to his online talks with China’s netizens (which, for blogger Han Song, left many questions unanswered) , Premier Wen preached for two hours in the Great Hall of the People during the NPC’s session. Major themes were tackling corruption and closing the country’s pressing poverty gap. Wen pledged increased social and rural spending, yet his cautious uncertainty over the global economic landscape means this year’s overall spending increase sits at 11.4% (less than half of last year’s 24% rise). Tania Branigan has the details covered here.
  • Earlier this month, thirteen Chinese newspapers surprisingly joined forces in an appeal for social reforms. They attacked the hukou (household registration system), which limits the access of rural migrant workers to basic services in China’s metropolises. The issue was also high on the agenda of the NPC session, with Wen promising change.
  • Also resulting from the session were suggestions for new regulations on China’s Internet cafes. Don Weinland from Global Voices reported that the “People’s Representative Gao Wanneng called for a ‘zero-hour cutoff’ for internet cafes due to ‘long-term Internet addiction’ in the Chinese youth.” Drastic? Yes, according to the netizens featured in Weinland’s piece.
  • The New York Times published a running debate on China’s exodus of graduates facing unemployment. In the past decade, the portion of graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold, but their expectations are outweighing actual careers. And while we’re on the topic of education, the China Law and Policy blog makes no effort to disguise the PRC’s academic misconduct, and the legal system that harbours it.
  • Finally, since International Women’s Day has been upon us, Shanghaiist featured a video report from Al-Jazeera about Wu Qin, a teacher at Beijing’s Rural Women’s Training School who aims to empower such women in China’s male-dominated society. God love her.

And so, for those of you not in GMT + 8 (or similar time zone), Happy International Women’s Day!

Saturday briefing

Would-be contestant at Mr Gay China, courtesy of The Guardian. (C) Dan Chung

This hasn’t been China’s quietest of weeks, so here’s a little cyber digest to round up the deets. Where to begin?

First, of course, has been the will-they-won’t-they state of Google in China. Since news broke over their potential withdrawal from China, developments and debate have gone full steam ahead:

  • Wreaths were laid by a saddened few in both Beijing and Guangzhou, but what about those indoors? Roland Soong over at ESWN has translated some Chinese netizen reactions to Google’s stance, and Tania Branigan has covered Internet experts’ opinion in this video.
  • The US has said it will make a formal protest to China over the cyber attacks Google apparently suffered. Expect demands for an explanation in the coming days.
  • In response to the fiasco, China’s Foreign Ministry said foreign internet firms were welcome to do business in the PRC “according to the law.” The Ministry’s spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, also claimed the Internet in China was “open.” Right. Which is precisely why this particular blog was blocked this week, though WordPress is still good to go. But, as the LA Times reported, the Great Firewall has certainly become a lot less sturdy.

Secondly, ol’ reliable ChinaGeeks pointed us to some notable stories that were hidden by Google’s shadow. For example:

sending just one unlawful text message will result in suspension of the texting service. To get it back, the person would have to submit a written promise to the public security authority not to send unlawful messages again.

This week also saw the potential start of a greater acceptance of China’s gay community:

  • As Shanghaiist told us, Chengdu hosted one of China’s first recorded gay marriage ceremonies last week.
  • On Sunday, Tania Branigan reported that the first Mr Gay China pageant was on its way. This was considered a huge feat for a section of society whose sexual orientation was classified as a ‘mental illness’ until 2001.
  • However, news has recently broken of the pageant being shut down by Beijing police just hours before it was due to begin. Branigan says that officers apparently told the venue’s owners that the pageant was “a sensitive issue”.

Finally, the more sombre news also reached us that human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is ‘missing’, having been seized and detained by authorities last year. He has long been an outspoken critic of the CCP, having had his law license revoked in 2005.

That Gao has been secretly executed certainly seems possible — much more possible than that he escaped or somehow wandered off, as the police have suggested. That no one will tell Gao’s family of his real fate is truly the lowest form of cowardice.

  • For more information on Gao’s activities prior to his detention, such as his representing underground Christian churches and Falun Gong practitioners, check out this NYT report.

Chinese media in 2010

2010 is already off to a chapping start, but things aren’t so icy on the Chinese media front. Tania Branigan has given us this succinct report of how citizen activism, political discussion, tighter censorship and propaganda struggles could well intensify this year. Things have already kicked off, with cyber activism going full steam ahead: recently, netizens have been tweeting away and registering the Internet domain name in support of December’s protests in Tehran.

The kind folk over at China Media Project have translated and served up a guide to this year’s direction of external news and propaganda. According to the country’s State Council Information Office (SCIO), China “must effectively engage the international struggle for public opinion” and “raise our nation’s cultural soft power.”

And, true to form, no time has been wasted in following through. In the past two days, IMDB has been blocked (although access to remains free-flowing), and Tibetan filmmaker Dhongdup Wangchen has been jailed for six years for his documentary, Leaving Fear Behind, which highlighted Tibetan anger with Chinese policies before the 2008 Olympics. In the past week, the New York Times also reported that Liu Xiaobo appealed the 11 year sentence handed to him on Christmas Day, which has 45 days to be considered.

This also may well be a big year for Ai Weiwei (whose 2009 wasn’t exactly quiet, either). Besides setting up the Earthquake Student Names Citizen’s Investigation, which found around 5000 names of children who died during the Sichuan earthquake, the artist has been busy tweeting and speaking out against the CCP’s various moves. Most recently, he has been heralded as the ‘new model for the intellectuals’.

For now, let’s keep a sharp eye on 2010 and see if Ai Weiwei’s following statement (kindly translated by C.Custer over at ChinaGeeks) will be realised through more action, both online and off:

Today, the government is a part of us, and we are a part of the government; society is a part of us, and we are a part of society. Everyone must assume [this responsibility], whether it’s in their consciousness, part of their mentality, or it’s something they do; everyone is expressing how they want society to be.