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Mo Zhixu, December 14, 2017       In the evening of November 18, 2017, a fire broke out in the Jufuyuan Apartments (聚福缘公寓) in Beijing’s Daxing District (大兴区), prompting authorities across the city to begin “clearing out illegal apartments.” In an abrupt and sweeping action, tens of thousands of people were commanded to collect their belongings and vacate their homes onto the cold and windy streets of China’s capital. It was heart wrenching to watch. The incident raised much online discussion. The drive to remove the so-called “low-end population” (低端人口) of Beijing harks back to the “shitizen” (屁民) phenomenon that arose a decade earlier in Shenzhen. For many, it is a blatant reminder that in China, a veil of prosperity and affluence conceals the […]


Hu Ping, December 5, 2017     The World’s Political Parties Dialogue held by the Communist Party of China in Beijing closed on December 3, 2017. According to the Global Times, representatives who attended the meeting include Burmese leader and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, President of the Cambodian People’s Party and Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen, President Choo Mi-ae of South Korea’s Democratic United Party, representatives of parties from traditionally friendly countries such as the United Russia Party and Communist Party of Vietnam, and representatives from G7 countries including the U.S. Republican Party, Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, the Conservative Party (UK), the Republican Party (France), and the Liberal Party of Canada.” After the meeting the Xinhua News Agency published a document titled […]


Wu Qiang, December 3, 2017     On November 18, a fire killed 19 people in Jiugong township, in the Daxing District of Beijing. A few days later, the city government launched a mass clearance operation of “low-end people” around the city’s suburban belt. Within a week, probably more than 200,000 of the “migrant low-end population living in Beijing” was evicted from their rental homes or workplaces. Videos uploaded to social media, and reports by both citizen and mainstream media journalists, show that people living in the migrant worker “shantytowns” — village enclaves within urban areas — have been told that they have only two or three days to disband. The restaurants and factories in these shantytowns face marauding thugs who roam around smashing doors […]


China Change, November 29, 2017     On November 18, 2017, a huge fire broke out in Xinjian Village, Daxing County, in the Beijing suburbs, killing 19 people. Subsequently the Beijing municipal government launched a large-scale campaign known as “big investigation, big clean-up, and big rectification of hidden safety trouble,” issuing eviction orders that forced thousands of migrant workers to leave their residences in the freezing night. In official documents, they are referred to as the “low-end population.” While the exact number is hard to estimate at this point, the eviction map suggests that the number is likely to be in tens of thousands. Men, women, old and young migrant workers left Beijing in haste, dragging as many of their belongings as they could out […]


Yaxue Cao, November 27, 2016     Ms. Liu Huizhen (刘惠珍) is a villager in the District of Fangshan (房山区), on the southwestern outskirts of Beijing. She’s a victim of forced demolition who fought hard to preserve her property but lost it anyway. This year, she is one of the 70 or so Beijing residents who organized to compete for seats as district People’s Representatives. China held its once-every-five-year grassroots elections for county-district level People’s Representatives on November 15. In a joint statement, Ms. Liu and other independent candidates promised that “they will make sure every voter knows who they are and how to reach them with their problems, and as their representatives, will monitor the government and its functions.” Financial Times, Washington Post, and […]


China Change, October 22, 2016 “Participation is the simplest, most direct, most realistic, and most effective political action.” — Yao Lifa, 2016 “Actually, the result is not what is most important. What’s most important is to take part. I hope that my participation will tell everyone: Believe in our laws, believe in the progress of this era. Please believe that we have a genuine right to vote.” — Xu Zhiyong, 2003   Update on November 17: 5-minute BBC video tells everything you need to know about Chinese elections.   This year, 2016, is an election year in China: every five years, Chinese citizens elect their people’s representatives (PR), and the vote is on November 15. In Beijing, over 70 people have declared that they are taking […]


By Xu Zhiyong, Xiao Shu, Teng Biao, et al. April 18, 2013 As of noon today (April 18, Beijing Time), at least seven citizens in Beijing have been criminally detained for demanding asset disclosure by government officials. Around noon today, the family of Mr. Zhao Changqing (赵常青) received a notice that he had been criminally detained. Around eight o’clock last night, lawyer Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) was taken away for a criminal summons on allegations of “illegal gathering.” Also last night, Mr. Sun Hanhui (孙含会) was criminally detained. And before him, on the evening of April 15, Mr. Wang Yonghong (王永红) was criminally detained, both on allegations of “illegal gathering.” Earlier on March 31, four citizens—Yuan Dong (袁冬), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), Hou Xin (侯欣) and Ma […]


Simply put, Teng Biao (滕彪) is one of the best known human rights lawyers and legal scholars in China. This is his preface to a memoir entitled “A Worthwhile Trip—A Documentation of Beijing Reeducation-through-Labor Dispatch Center”, in which he looks deep into what these camps do to inmates as human beings. It’s much worse than just turning them into cheap labor making Christmas gifts for the American market.  I It’s inconceivable, in a modern society, to detain a citizen for up to three, even four, years based merely on police decisions without going through any proper judiciary procedure. But in present-day China, it is a vivid reality, and hundreds and thousands of Chinese citizens have fallen victims to it. That is since China’s re-education-through-labor system […]


A few weeks ago I witnessed something that warmed the cockles of my typically icy heart. In China, when one pictures a middle school student, they picture a small child diligently studying behind a great wall of books. Outside of the classroom they are spotted in their uniforms around 5pm being brought back from school for several more hours of homework. These few minutes on the bus in Nanjing were almost always filled with a few rounds of Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds on their smart phones. In rural China, the students were boarded, and so had no chance of furtive gaming between school and study. In my two years at the hospital, I sat through dozens of chats between co-workers that focused on their children’s […]


Picking up from where Hannah left off yesterday, I want to look at a couple ideas from Ai Weiwei’s essays that jumped out at me. Chinese Contemporary in Dilemma and Transition Ai’s essays provide a great reminder of why Ai was so popular in China before the West took an interest in him – he isn’t speaking to a western audience and he is directly challenging Chinese culture. In fact much of his essay on Chinese art is in direct opposition to how the gov’t tried to paint him after his arrest; Ai is in no way infatuated with Western ideology, as he wants to see a strong and prosperous Chinese art scene, and by extension China. That Chinese artists should resist western influence, and […]


I know I should have written about this a few days ago, but I find taking a few days to reflect usually leads to a more interesting post. The Beijing Olympic opening ceremony was unimaginable. I think most would describe it as an awesome showing of man power, precision, and beauty. It employed thousands of drummers, dancers, and proudly displayed Chinese history and culture without touching anything from the last century or two. It was a celebration of perfection and Han identity (with a few token minorities in traditional dress). This year’s London Olympics knew that it would be unable to match China point for point in the ceremony, and I think succeeded in demonstrating the kind of culture that flows effortlessly from a mature […]


Seeing photos of the terrible flooding in Beijing, I can’t help but feel for the families affected by the devastation (video). As is usual with disasters, netizens have begun to blame the gov’t for the outcome of what would likely have been tragic in many parts of the world. Hannah, the newest addition to our team, described it as “apocalyptic,” and noted that Saturday’s forecast had only called for a 60% chance of rain. While it is important to note the level of dissatisfaction with the gov’t, it is difficult to know to what extent infrastructure could have mitigated the floods. As saddening as the loss of life is, it is important to note that natural disasters are bound to happen and then the emphasis should shift […]


As I prepare to head back to the US, I want to share a few of my favorite memories from my five years in China. Late 2007 was a fantastic time to arrive in China. It was the perfect chance to get wrapped up in all of the Olympic hype, and even in the remote county of Longzhou the students could hardly contain their excitement. In October I was asked to fill out a survey from the provincial gov’t to gauge my enthusiasm, and while it seemed odd to ask someone who couldn’t have ended up much further from Beijing, I was pretty excited too. As the Olympics grew closer China’s gov’t faced two huge challenges, the widespread Tibetan uprising, and the devastating Wenchuan Earthquake. […]


I recently read Dambisa Moyo’s NYT op-ed “Beijing, a Boon for Africa.” After wrestling with a few questions that came up for me in the piece, I realized that this was a topic far beyond me and decided to ask my African friends here in China what they thought. The three men I chatted with come from Zambia (the same as Moyo), Zimbabwe, and Ghana. Even though they are not scholars like Moyo, their opinions reflect another valid view of how China is being perceived in their countries. Since they currently live in China, they prefered to remain anonymous. Do Africans really like China more than the U.S.? This question was met with chuckles from my Zambian and Zimbabwean friend (I didn’t get an answer […]


As the U.S. continues to grapple with what the Supreme Court decision last week will mean for their health care coverage, China has begun to experiment with their own reforms. In the U.S. our policies left millions without health insurance, and individuals struggled with bankruptcy and chronic illnesses. In China, the situation has deteriorated to a point where patients stab their doctors, hospitals have police stations, and demonstrations are held several times a month in front of the public hospital where I work. I’ve written about China’s hospitals before in Storming the hospital and Chinese doctors speak out about China’s health The reforms being tried in all of Shenzhen’s public hospitals and one of Beijing’s look to address one of the key underlying issues – over prescription. When […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: June 29, 2012   The Shengs were a prominent family in Ningpo. There were the old Shengs and the new Shengs; Mr. Sheng’s family was the old Shengs, landowners for generations. The family residence consisted of ten adjoining quadrangles, the innermost being the ancestor hall where memorial tablets and portraits of ancestors were displayed. I loved to play there the best, said Mr. Sheng, on my family’s visits when I was a little boy, because it was as big as a basketball court and I could run amok there, whereas my older sisters were scared and wouldn’t dare to go. Mr. Sheng’s mother was also from Ningpo, the daughter of a brewery owner. Mr. Sheng’s eldest sister and Sheng Shuren, his […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: June 27, 2012   On the morning of Christmas Eve as my family and I were getting ready to go to North Carolina to visit my parents-in-law, I received an email from Mr. Sheng Liren whose information I had found on the same school alumni page. He is Sheng Shuren’s brother, seventeen years his junior, a retired professor of mathematics. Before I accidentally heard Sheng Shuren’s story from Erjia, he seemed to be the only person I could potentially find, so I wrote him a letter and sent it to the School of Mathematical Sciences of Anhui University where he had taught before retiring. I did this just to give a try without really expecting too much—perhaps he had moved; even […]


By Xu Zhiyong Dr. Xu Zhiyong is a lecturer of law at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and one of the founders of Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) that offers legal assistance to petitioners and rights defenders, and has been repeatedly harassed, shut down and persecuted. In 2010 it changed its name to simply “Citizen”. Just weeks ago in May 29, Dr. Xu posted a blog post titled China’s New Civil Movement to renew his call for a “new civic movement are a free China with democracy and the rule of law, a civil society of justice and happiness, and a new national spirit of freedom, fairness and love.” The post has since been deleted by the authorities, and he himself was taken away by […]


Today, Jonathan Watts of the Guardian filed his last article from Beijing entitled, “China: Witnessing the birth of a superpower.” While I will sorely miss his reporting, his lengthy 4,000 word post neatly encapsulates the decade long rule of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao who came to power just months before Jonathan’s arrival. It is absolutely worth reading in its entirety, but I created this handy chronological cheat sheet to the pieces linked to in it (his article cleverly clumps them by topics). 2003 John Gittings: Goodbye to China Nervous Beijing orders TV blackout as Chinese astronauts reach for the stars After the flood 2004 10,000 animals to be culled as SARS returns to China Taiwan president shot in election attack 2005 A bloody revolt […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: June 1, 2012   When I last visited China in 2004, I did what a visiting overseas Chinese typically does: spending time with family and friends, sightseeing, and enjoying the food. In Beijing I felt like a time traveler arriving at a future time from a quiet, immobile past. I hardly recognized the city at all. When my brother drove me from Beijing to Shanxi on sparkling highways that stretched down the endless great middle plain and then through the mountains of Taihang (太行山), tunnel after tunnel, I had to remind myself that these were the same mountains I used to gaze at from the train and observe a rock or a hut basking in the lazy afternoon light. In my […]


For the last few weeks, the expat community in China has been abuzz with talk about Beijing’s crackdown on foreigners who are here illegally, and the growing anti-foreign sentiment that seems to be stoked by state media (Beijing Cream’s summary of what sparked it all and the fiery post that almost got China Geeks sued). So far the crackdown has already spread to Yanbian and Chengdu is preparing to announce similar measures, a nationwide campaign in the next few months would not be surprising. If we’re completely honest though, I think most of us would agree with the importance of enforcing visa policies, but dislike the tone of the rhetoric and the nationalism it encourages. I think we should also admit that most of us know people […]


Over the past few days, I’ve mentioned the village on the cliff several times, but haven’t yet discussed one of the biggest questions I had on my mind during my time there, Why didn’t the gov’t build this village a road? Why is it being left to charities to do the gov’t’s work? I should say that we aren’t just talking about a single road, the majority of the projects we visited were infrastructure projects. One involved repairing an irrigation system, another was to fix a broken water pump, and the third was to build a water pump. Throughout China this charity is also involved in rebuilding schools, roads, bridges and village clinics. This ties back into an important argument made by economists who say […]


I had the chance last night to record a podcast with Mike from the new website ChinaBlogcast.com. We talked a bit about my last few posts on life in rural China, and I shared a few other thoughts and anecdotes. You can download it or listen online here. Secondly, I’d just like to encourage you to check out Mike’s other episode and add China Blogcast to your podcast subscriptions (this is week 2, so it won’t take long to catch up). At the moment there is a real shortage of China related podcasts, and this is a very good addition to the others that already exist. Mike is planning on releasing a new ~30 minute episode every Thursday featuring chats with other China bloggers.


For seven years Chen Guangcheng has been silenced in China for his role in opposing illegal forced abortions in Shandong province, that ended today with his arrival in the US. Even after his escape from thugs in Linyi, the gov’t in Beijing kept him in a tightly guarded hospital room. Finally, he will have a chance to talk openly about his experiences and the situation facing hundreds of other activists in China. I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the power of that image – a man once tortured and imprisoned, now is able to stand in front of the world. I wanted to say that he was no longer afraid of the Chinese gov’t and their reprisals, but much of Chen’s […]


Yesterday we looked at a few of the pros and cons of rural life, today we’ll be looking at the development plan for this region. “China is a large country with a large population,” seemed to be the catch-all excuse for much of the poverty we saw as we traveled through rural parts of a central Chinese province.* While I generally find it an unconvincing dodge, the remoteness of this region lead me to contemplate how it could ever be prosperous. Many of China’s remote regions were settled exactly because they were so difficult to reach, offering minority groups and small clans protection from outsiders. But now that trade and manufacturing are the base of China’s growth, these rural places have been left behind. One […]


I received this as an email today and was asked to share it with you all. I am writing this in great fear. Let me explain- All of the things happening with the drama of Chen and Bo haven’t even phased people here as they are still more concerned with surviving in their daily lives. But then today that changed. My boyfriend (a Chinese professor of English) received a strange text message. He sent it to me and was very concerned because we are planning on getting married and moving to the US as soon as possible. The text was in Chinese and my Chinese was too poor to understand all of it so he translated it. It read: an announcement received today from concerned authorities that all leaders and professors […]


I arrived in Beijing late on the high speed train from Nanjing a few days ago. In Nanjing we were whisked to the South train station on a relatively new subway, walked into the massive new transportation hub (it brought back memories of the Three Gorges Dam), and arrived roughly a thousand miles away in just 3 and half hours*. It was everything that China appears to be in Thomas Friedman’s accounts, and even as skeptical as I can be at times about China’s progress, it was hard to contain my sense of awe. For a moment I forgot about the pollution that had limited my view the entire journey and the massive cost of the projects and enjoyed China’s glorious achievements (but just for […]


Last week Chen Guangcheng entered a US embassy for the protection that the Chinese gov’t had failed to provide the innocent man. According to Chen’s friends, it was a step that Chen did not want to take. Today we will be looking at three lessons Chen’s case teaches us about China’s legal system. Chen Guangcheng would never call himself a dissident; he might hesitate to even describe himself as an activist. The incredible thing that we should keep in mind as representatives from the US and China decide Chen’s fate, is that he is a man who simply thought that the laws on paper should be enforced. Chen’s initial fame came from his efforts to protect the rights of the disabled and he fell afoul […]


By Yaxue Cao Earlier last week, I was on the phone with an artist friend of mine in Beijing. We talked about the documentary he was making, my ideas about a story, and we chitchatted a little about our children. He too has two children and the older girl was a fourth grader, a couple of years younger than my daughter. The next day I received the following email from W: “I attended the Reading Festival performance of my daughter’s school this morning. I sat through the hour-long event horrified. The entire show had nothing to do with kids or reading, nor did the children look innocent and lovely. Instead, I watched Party’s propaganda, shrill patriotism, and twisted rendition of history. The fawning on teachers gave me goose […]


Last night the Central Gov’t confirmed that rumors of Bo Xilai’s involvement in the death of a British national were true. The Party claims this as a victory that shows China as a country “ruled by law (and here),” even though information about this case began to surface months ago with Wang Lijun fleeing to the U.S. Embassy in Chengdu. Bo’s sacking along with the revelation that he may have been an accomplice in a murder is also unusual in that high-level officials are usually dismissed without much clarification. In the last big case, with Railway minister Liu Zhijun supposedly embezzling 800 million RMB, it was only stated in the Chinese press that he was suspected for graft without a specific amount (even though he was blamed […]


We’re often presented with images of Beijing and Shanghai’s glittering skylines and are inundated with stories of economic success. We know that China has succeeded in bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and that life in the countryside has never been better. But what does life actually look like in rural China for the nearly 700 million people that call it home? What kind of life does roughly $2.50 per day buy (this is the average rural income)? Today I’ll be sharing some of the best photos from People’s Daily as well as from my own travels. These images would be familiar to most Chinese people. In the countryside your school looks like this (more) Your parents are most likely farmers (more) Or work […]


By Hu Ping Mr. Hu Ping (胡平) was a graduate student of philosophy at Peking University in 1980. On campus that fall there was a lively student campaign, and then election, for People’s Representatives of Haidian District in Beijing, an event that has not been seen since. Mr. Hu was one of the candidates. I remember all of a sudden the campus was filled with milling crowds reading posters by the candidates sharing their ideas. Public debates were held, followed by endless chattering around meal times and in the evening hours. After ten bleak years of the Cultural Revolution, the energy was palpable, raw and eruptive. As a freshman still just finding my ways in college life, I understood little of what was going on, […]


Last week Weibo was swept up in rumors of a completely imagined coup in Beijing (Yaxue covered the extent of the madness excellently). It seems that this week is bringing yet another wave of crazed speculation, again involving former star Bo Xilai, as well as an international man of mystery, and most of Bo’s family (NYT coverage or the more entertaining and similarly accurate movie version). For me the question has nothing to do with whether or not these rumors bare any resemblance to what has actually happened (they probably don’t), the big question is why aren’t these rumors being squashed like a bug? There are several possibilities. While nobody really knows the answer, my Chinese friends have assured me that “this is absolutely not normal”. Weibo has come off […]


By Yaxue Cao Mystery abounds. Suspense builds. Millions in China, as someone on Twitter puts it, have been immersed lately in writing “movie scripts” of court intrigues in Zhongnanhai (中南海, gov’t headquarters in Beijing). Under normal circumstances, they can’t even get within 30 feet of its shining red gate guarded by soldiers with truncheons but, all of a sudden, it seems that scores, if not armies, of people live right under the beds of China’s supreme leaders, and are eavesdropping on all of their nightly whispers! CCTV can’t be any happier. Its 7pm newscast sees a wobbling hike in viewership because its script, for once, becomes the most sought-after. Appearances are analyzed and then overanalyzed. Words are turned, over and over again, for hidden clues. […]


A recurring topic on the blog is that in China many things are sensitive, but nobody is actually certain what is on that list (as we saw yesterday). For instance, due to a strange turn of events, “Ferrari” was blocked on Weibo, while rumors of a coup in Beijing remained intact. This lack of clarity on what can and can’t be discussed not only impedes the free flow of information and discourages efficiency, but also has very real costs for individuals and organizations. I know a Chinese Christian charity who would benefit greatly from greater exposure overseas. A number of scandals in other Chinese charities this year and continued concerns about the global economy have reduced contributions to them. So when I heard about a journalist doing […]


By Yaxue Cao The Chinese microblogs are in an uproar about amendments to the country’s Criminal Procedure Law, already passed Sunday afternoon by the 170-member presidium of the National People’s Congress with only one objection and one abstention. It will be voted on by the 3,000 NPC representatives on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. The wide contention focuses on two proposed revisions which allow secret detention and disappearance. They are article 73 and 83. Article 83 provides, in part, that “Upon detaining a suspect, relatives of the detainee shall be notified within 24 hours unless the suspect is allegedly involved in crimes of harming state security, crimes of terrorism, and notifying family may impede investigation. Or when there is no means to notify relatives.” Article 73 […]


Around 1 p.m. this afternoon People’s Daily reported that a 300 meter section of high-speed railway collapsed in Hubei province, possibly because of heavy rains. As far as I can tell from the media reports, no one was injured or killed (although it does not say so explicitly). The strange part about this report though, is that the collapse happened Friday afternoon. Why was there a delay? Odds are that this was caused by the ongoing meetings in Beijing that typically prefer only positive news during their sessions. The same day as the collapse, officials assured the public that China would be pushing forward with it’s planned high-speed rails despite “some mistakes.” Even though there was no loss of life in this collapse, tragedy seems to have […]


Liao Yiwu’s book, God Is Red, is one of the best I have ever read. Liao Yiwu’s work concerning Tian’anmen Square cost him 4-years in prison. His work with the currently imprisoned Nobel prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, caused further restrictions on his freedom in China and led to regular visits from the police. He was told that the publishing of God is Red would be considered a criminal offense. On July 2nd, 2011, he crossed the border into Vietnam, knowing that he would have to sacrifice his connection with his homeland in order to tell the stories of the people who lived there. It started a few years earlier while Liao was working on other projects. He met a number of Chinese Christians and became interested in their […]


Last night a new arrival to the middle kingdom asked me whether or not the water was safe to drink. “It’s safe as long as I boil it, right?” she said with a worrying tone. The answer is yes, for the short term. A thorough boiling of water is enough to kill the things that cause unpleasant stomach situations. For as long as Chinese people can remember, water has been boiled and served hot. There are a number of Traditional Chinese Medicine beliefs about the benefits of warm/hot water, including digestive aid and the curing of common ailments. In fact there are even accounts from the late 1800’s about how miserably sick the Irish were while building the railroads in the US due to drinking untreated water […]


I came across a blog post yesterday that compares Weibo and Twitter, and the conclusion is that Weibo is not international and its power to promote change is limited. To that I will add that Weibo is really a glass house where it feels like you are free but you keep hitting the walls all the time. It is also becoming a mirror of the twisted world that China is, because, for example, while posts about what’s going on in the Tibetan area of Sichuan can result in a night visit by police (an artist friend of mine in Beijing emailed me on the 9th about being visited by four policemen the night before and taken to a station and warned of his posts about […]


By Yaxue Cao   Xi Jinping (习近平), the vice president of China and heir-apparent of the Communist regime, was in town to visit on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day. Protesters gathered in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. I went too, with a Chen Guangcheng sign I had made the night before. Of the diverse groups there, the Tibetans were the largest. Before I walked into the park, I had already seen a jungle of snow lion flags and heard shouts of slogans. A lot of Falun Gong practitioners were there too. Some held banners calling for “Stop Persecuting Falun Gong”, but more were meditating on their mats over the east lawn of the park. I don’t think I heard them shouting any slogans. […]


As my wife, whom I love very much, reminds me from time to time, I assume too often that the readers of the blog actually know me. I hope this post helps you better understand where I am coming from as you read about the China that I know. From time to time readers of the blog ask whether or not I even like living in China. They say things like, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you just go home?” In no time the comment section fills up with reasons why I should stay in China to continue my work, whatever that might be. The truth is though, I love China. Since high school I’ve been fascinated by everything about the country, and […]


Over the past few days I’ve received emails from long-time readers of the blog telling me to “stay safe” after publishing Ge Xun’s account of his detention. In the past I would have said that for the most part, China deports troublesome foreigners and is content with keeping them outside of its borders and labeling them as “hostile foreign forces” (this is not the case with drug charges, China routinely executes foreign “smugglers”). Now though, it seems that the Party is expanding its search for activists that it deems a threat to stability, even if they have been living outside of China for 25 years, and is willing to subject them to violence and intimidation. We published Yaxue’s translation of Ge Xun’s account, not only […]


By Ge Xun, translated by Yaxue Cao This is the continuation of Ge Xun’s account of his ordeal in Beijing that happened just one week ago. – Part One They asked what prompted me to “come back (to activism)” in 2009. I told them because the human rights situation in China was deteriorating badly, and I wanted to do something to be useful. They asked me what other organization(s) I had joined apart from IFCSS. Any organization having to do with Tibetans overseas? I realized they were asking about the Bay Area Chinese and Tibetan Friendship (BACTF). I joined in 2010. It’s a young organization for mutual understanding and friendship between Chinese and Tibetans in the bay area. I was elected Secretary. “Why did you […]


By Ge Xun, published: February 8, 2012 A Chinese-American activist’s kidnap.    I came to the United States to study physics in 1986 and stayed and became an American citizen. I believe in universal values such as freedom and basic human rights. I admire the best of humans wherever I see it, and I do what I do openly with nothing to hide. My mother died at 83 on January 24, 2012, in Beijing. I flew back on the 28th for her funeral. By the 31st my siblings and I had taken care of everything and made arrangements to put my parents’ remains together. For the rest of my stay I planned to meet a few people, among them, Ding Zilin (丁子霖), or the “Tian’anmen Mother” […]


I recently finished a book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” that focuses on intrinsic motivation, how it can be bolstered or buffeted by workplace policies, and how it effects our overall happiness (I enjoyed the book, even if it was a little short). Like most things these days, there were several parts that reminded me of China (we’ll be looking at a second aspect in a later post). If-Then rewards cause a search for loopholes China’s government since reform and opening up has functioned more as a corporation than as a country. Within each level of government there is fierce competition for promotions that come with clear perks and benefits (and some that aren’t made quite so public). As Daniel Pink […]


The year of the dragon began with the news that armed police were firing on protesters in Tibetan areas in Northern Sichuan. On Weibo, a netizen said he spotted a sniper on the roof of Jokhang Monastery (大昭寺) in Lhasa, Tibet; another expressed surprise at seeing “so many armed police” on streets of the same city who demanded her to delete pictures she took of them; and many more described seeing military vehicles full of soldiers moving on highways in Western and Northern Sichuan. Otherwise, there isn’t much talk about Tibetans, either the self-immolations or the violence, on Weibo due to censorship. On Twitter however, the news as well as the talks came in steadily from all directions. In this issue, I have several items on […]


This great guest post comes from a friend. Over the next few days she’ll be introducing her research on the Misty Poets. If you are a grad student working on a China related topic please contact Tom about the possibility of introducing here. “Misty”is the title conferred upon a group of poets known during the Democracy Movement (1976-1980)for their unique style. Some, such as Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei’s father, called their work “obscure” (古怪), even poisonous.[1] At the very least, it was certainly daring. So daring, in fact, that three of the leading Misty poets were exiled for inspiring the Tiananmen youth. Misty poet Bei Dao was not even in China when the demonstrations occurred, but he was nonetheless not allowed back for twenty years, […]


The following is a guest post from my friend Hannah on the latest story buzzing around the Chinese internet. Twenty-four-year-old Liu Lili recently appeared on a Chinese job-hunting TV show. She was halfway through saying, “I was in New Zealand for three years. After those three years, I came back home, and realized, ‘Wow, China’s been through a lot of changes!’ Now if it had been New Zealand—”, when the host, Zhang Shaogang,  scolded her for using the word “China” rather than “my country” (我国) or “my ancestral homeland” (祖国). He said that using the word “China” did not convey the warm-hearted feeling that two Chinese people should share when talking about the motherland. Liu Lili probably did not realize what she was going up […]


In this article, Jonathan Poston finishes the story he started last time about how his kung fu film project collapsed without him ever seeing it coming… …the lead student (and there is almost always one in every group—the outspoken, respected one) came to my office to let me know that the students felt uncomfortable with the contracts they had signed. Granted they were pages long, covering everything that the attorney said they should for me to feel comfortable that I owned all rights. I told the lead student (whom I’ll call film supervisor) that was managing the other students and coordinating the film team, to just find some other students who were interested, and let anyone go who was disagreeable to the terms of the […]


Guest post from Jonathan Poston M.E. Up until now, this story has never been told in print, only lamented in subsequent international business courses I taught, and reminisced about in random “China-talk.” It was a year of peaks and valleys like life tends to serve up, but at the start of 2008, I was surfing at the height of a 100 ft. wave. I had just moved to China to teach business communications at an American university’s international business school. I probably should have stopped there to simply enjoy the teaching experience and the rich culture forever modulating around me. But I didn’t. I started taking kung fu (gong fu-功夫) from an amazing martial arts master, and just as I was getting into it, I was […]


Just letting you all know that I am taking off with my wife for a few weeks to enjoy Spring Festival somewhere a little warmer (Malaysia). As I travel I’ll make sure to take copious notes, and will seek out conversations that broaden my vista. But don’t worry, I have done my best to make sure that there will be fresh content waiting for you while I’m away, although there will be fewer posts than normal. We have some great guest posts lined up for you, as well as posts from the whole Seeing Red in China team. I hope all of you have a very 热闹 (renao-hot noisy/lively) Spring Festival and do your best to bring in the Year of the Dragon with your […]


China’s tomb raiders laying waste to thousands of years of history, by Tania Branigan. Soaring prices offered by collectors and lax monitoring of China’s thousands of historical sites have led to grave robbing on a massive scale. One researcher estimates that 95% of Chinese tombs have been plundered, and that without sufficient protection it could all be lost in the next 10 years. Chinese authorities and villagers clash over mosque – From around mid-December there have been a number of crackdowns on religious groups in China, with Buddhist, Muslisms and Christians all being effected. This time the clash happened in a Hui region, which is unusual, since Hui have traditionally been tolerated. The children left behind by China’s migrant workers – great photos and an […]


As we saw yesterday, China is a diverse country with hundreds of distinct dialects/languages that are closely connected with local culture. However, for the past 100 years, the government has been encouraging the adoption of a single national dialect based on the Beijing accent. Originally, the language we know as Mandarin, was only spoken by officials and the people who lived near the capital (the language shifted with the capital as it moved from Nanjing to Beijing). It was a necessity due to the fact that officials came from all corners of China, and would be otherwise unable to communicate orally. Near the end of the Qing Dynasty, it was decided that this language of officials should become the national dialect, known as Guoyu (国语 […]


When many westerners arrive in Beijing or Shanghai, their suspicion that all Chinese really are the same is quickly confirmed. The fact that 92% of China’s population identify themselves as Han, almost seems like an underestimate at first glance in the subway station as the homogeneous mass of tanned skin and black hair surge onto the train. Today I want to challenge this misconception. Despite first impressions, there are huge regional differences in China. As with all ethnic groups, the idea of a single common “Han” people is a social construction, not scientific one. Throughout history the definition of “Han” has been murky. Note: I’m using “Han” here, but it is not clear whether or not a concept exactly like ethnicity existed in ancient China. For the most […]


With the holidays I know that many of you have taken a break from the internet to spend time with your families, but the Chinese gov’t realizes this too, slipping 3 State subversion trials of dissidents into the final week of the year in the hopes that foreign media will miss the story (and one very mysterious broken probation). Due to the number of links this week, I’ve only added a few comments. China jails dissident 10 years for subversive essays Why isn’t the West reacting to China’s crackdown Draft law prohibits citizens who may endanger national interests from leaving country – This story has not been widely reported on outside of People’s Daily, but would essentially allow China to keep any dissidents from speaking out […]


The battle of Wukan, and Christian Bale’s trip to visit Chen Guangcheng dominated China related headlines recently, but several other important stories emerged this week: Beijing real-name registration rules for bloggers, bad news for Sina, from the Wall Street Journal, shows that new policies are being set in place that will mark the end of Sina’s reign as the top source of scandals. This is a very worrying turn for freedom of speech in China. China officials shut down outdoor Christmas party, from the Associated Press, shows that Chinese officials have been working overtime to make it on to Santa’s naughty list. This kind of clamp down is common around religious holidays. Gao Zhisheng, missing Chinese lawyer, get new prison term, New York Times, looks […]


This week, all eyes are on Wukan as the world awaits to see how the unprecedented struggle of one Chinese village develops. If Christian Bale didn’t get to see his personal hero on Thursday, he more than succeeded in throwing a hand grenade at the feet of the Party while lighting a firestorm—a joyful one—among Chinese netizens. Friday, we finally heard words from the authorities about Gao Zhisheng after he had gone missing for more than a year and a half. Also in this issue are items taken from Weibo before Yaxue’s account was obliterated earlier this week (possibly for helping spread information about Wukan). Click on date below item for link to the original. I have had a growing dread all week and it […]


As a China blogger, it’s a pretty big week, open rebellion in Wukan has attracted a flock of journalist, and then Hollywood star Christian Bale/Batman attempted to visit blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng. The big question floating around at the moment is does foreign pressure mean anything to China? Before I address that question I would first like to point out that Christian Bale has created one heck of a dilemma for China’s censors. The media gears have been spinning wildly to promote his new film, The Flowers of War, which opens today in China. I passed Mr. Bale’s image at least 4-5 times just on my way to work this morning. How are they going to block discussion of his trip to Linyi without limiting the […]


This is a developing story, and while I usually don’t comment on “sensitive” events as they happen, the stakes seem to be much higher this time. In a small village in Guangdong, the villagers have staged a revolt. All government officials and police have fled the village after months of demonstrations sparked by land grabs and public funds that seem to have gone missing. Now the village, and its thousands of inhabitants, are encircled by armed police who are demanding they give up their cause and return to normal life. The villagers however are insisting that the local gov’t apologize for the violence they have used against the people (including the death of an organizer while he was in police custody), as well as be […]


This week has seen renewed effort by netizens to visit Linyi, on what they call “group dating”, and instead of Dong Shi Gu, the destination was the People’s Square downtown. Three visitors were charged of “illegal gathering” and detained; a few more have been reported missing. And more are going. As for this week’s Weibo translation, we offer items about the citizen humanitarian effort in Beijing, the still unseen report about the high-speed train collision, what judiciary with Chinese character is like, Taiwan’s presidential debate, and more. Links to a couple of the items have been severed since I culled them, and you can join me to wonder why, but otherwise, click on date below item for link to the original. 翁涛yt:/Weng Tao/(investment executive associated […]


When it comes to China’s environmental progress, it can be hard to find much of a silver lining. The front page of the newspaper in the office today showed Beijing choked with pollution, as over 200 flights had to be canceled. New data also came out that showed the increase in CO2 emissions in 2010 was the largest since the industrial revolution, and China’s lead as worst polluter continues to grow at an astonishing pace. Yet today, I’m feeling slightly optimistic about the future of the air quality as co-workers and friends more frequently discuss the urgency of this issue. The other day I had the chance to help a person prepare a presentation about the energy saving measures taken in one of Nanjing’s largest […]


I’ve already received a handful of emails from blog readers asking for advice on finding work in China, and my wife received 2 from friends just in the last week. As teaching in China becomes more popular, so does tricking foreigners into working at awful schools. Today I’d like to give job hunters a few tips for finding a reputable school in China. Why do you want to teach? Before we get started in finding a school, it’s important that you have a clear reason for wanting to teach in China. In my experience, the people who most enjoy their work here are the ones who specifically set out to teach English in China, while the least satisfied say “It’s an easy job,” or “I wanted to […]


Last year I detailed just how miserable winters can be in China (here). Windows are left open or don’t even close to begin with, buildings lack any kind of insulation, and space heaters are required just to keep your tea from freezing. The problem is that China’s people are now actually expecting to be comfortable at home and work (I don’t blame them), but the amount of energy required to accomplish that is going to be astronomical given the lack of energy efficient buildings. In fact, just the other day a senior gov’t planner described 95% of China’s new buildings as “energy-guzzling,” and that China is building  2 billion square meters of this type of building each year (that doesn’t account for old buildings which […]


Ai Weiwei speaks out on his detention, appeared online for Newsweek and covers both the artist’s arrest and his ongoing campaign to pay a 2 million dollar tax bill. Ai’s description of his arrest is troubling, as well as Beijing’s attempts to silence him of which he said, “If you play a chess game, and play two or three moves, they throw the board away.” Shortly after paying part of the tax bill, the gov’t brought charges of pornography against him. Chinese executioner says job not complicated, appeared this week in Reuters. It gives a glimpse into one of China’s best kept state secrets: how many people are executed each year? It’s a little grisly, but it’s important to keep a focus on these issues. […]


A few months ago Yaxue wrote a great post looking at how many Chinese view Americans as too trusting and naive; in their words we were “Dumb Americans.” Today I want to look a little at Ugly Americans, and how easy it can be to reinforce stereotypes. The main thing I want you to keep in mind is that of China’s 1.4 billion people, only .05% are foreigners. Of this .05% a large percentage are Japanese and Korean. That means in many parts of China when a non-Asian is eating in a new restaurant, stopping by a store for the first time, or just taking a new route to work, they are likely to interact with someone who has never before dealt with a person […]


By Yaxue Cao …Continued from earlier posts, this is part 3. Part 1, Part 2 From a Small Prison to a Big One Chen Guangcheng was released on September 9, 2010, and has been under illegal house arrest since then. His home is monitored by multiple cameras, floodlit 24 hours a day, and all communications with the outside world are severed. Close to a hundred men guard his home and are present on every road leading to his village, intercepting, beating, robbing, and humiliating visitors. After a video of him was smuggled out and shown to the world, he and his family were beaten. In a letter smuggled out later to seek help, his wife described how Zhang Jian (张建), the Deputy Party Secretary of […]


By Yaxue Cao …Continued from yesterday Forced Abortion and Sterilization In July 2004, the People’s Government of Linyi issued a directive to step up population control efforts. Unsatisfied with the results, Linyi government issued a more forceful directive in February 2005, marking the beginning of a vicious campaign in the 9 counties and 3 districts under its jurisdiction. The measures included: Raids—In the middle of the night when villagers were sound asleep, family control officials and their hired thugs would kick people’s doors open or enter their property by jumping over the enclosing walls, pulling everyone in the house away regardless of age, as long as someone in their family was hiding to avoid abortion or sterilization. Resisters were beaten on the spot. One house […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: November 12, 2011   To say life didn’t start promisingly for him is a vast understatement. He was born on November 12, 1971, in the impoverished village Dong Shi Gu (东师古) in Yinan County, Shandong province, the youngest of five boys. He lost his vision to high fever when he was around one year old. He didn’t go to school until 18 years old. In the Chinese countryside, where living is at its barest, expectations are a rare commodity to begin with, and for the disabled, there are none. For most of the part, they are seen and treated as a family scourge that must be borne. A Naughty Boy Despite blindness, he told friends he had a happy childhood. His […]


When I first arrived in China in 2007, the attitude of many of my Chinese friends was that the system was broken, but there was absolutely nothing they could do to fix it. I clearly remember chatting with a professor in Longzhou. He said, “They talk a lot about a ‘harmonious society’ but what the hell does that mean? The price of everything is going up and things are getting worse. I don’t care about ‘harmony’ I care about actually having a good life.” At that time I was surprised to hear people openly complain about their situation, and was bothered by their sense of hopelessness. Now though people are far more willing to vent their frustration, not only with foreigners (who are seen as a safe […]


When I hosted a group of European visitors the other day, one of them asked a question that I think many of you might have been wondering about, “What happened to China’s historical buildings?” Considering the historical centers of many European cities, it’s an understandable question. Note: Some of China’s best known cities like Xi’an and Beijing have a number of ancient buildings given that they are historic capitals, but throughout the country they are considerably harder to find. The Communists destroyed it The Party is often the scapegoat when it comes to explaining many of the choices made in modern China. In this case, not entirely without reason, Chinese temples and artifacts were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but other works were well preserved. However, […]


Dear Readers, I just wanted to let you know that I am starting work on a book. At the moment it is in the very early stages, and I am writing this open letter partially to put pressure on myself to complete it. The book will be similar to the blog in some ways, as I will discuss a variety of topics that have already been mentioned briefly here including: education, rural life, issues facing migrant workers, the environment, and also a touch of politics, history and economics. I am also planning on a few topics that I have a closer connection with, like the difficulties facing disabled people in China and the Rape of Nanking. These topics will be presented in more depth than on the blog, […]


By Yaxue Cao A few days ago, I watched a video clip of the 6th plenary session of the Chinese communist party’s 17th Central Committee. I didn’t pay attention to what they were talking about. Instead I was interested by the stony faces of China’s highest-ranking officials when the camera rolled over them one after another: except for Hu Jintao who was giving a speech, each had the same frozen, expressionless face with no discernible muscle movement whatsoever, while it is hard to catch the focus of their eyes. A Weibo commentator said all of them suffered from “facial paralysis.” I probably shouldn’t be promoting physiognomy here, but in China, officials do tend to have highly uniformed facial display. In front of superiors, they pile […]


When I first visited China in 2006, my parents and I did a whirlwind tour of the major sites in a few weeks before I began my summer course at Beijing Language Culture University. I remember one sweltering morning in Suzhou, we were approached by two child beggars, they were caked in mud and wearing torn clothing. Without a moment of hesitation my mother reached into her purse, and dropped a few coins into their cup. For a moment we felt we had fulfilled our Christian duty, and could feel less guilty knowing that at least for today these children would eat. Our satisfaction didn’t last long, as the children dutifully scampered back to their parent who was lounging in the shade of a tree. […]


From time to time people disagree with some of my thoughts on China. I welcome thoughtful comments, and one of my major motivations in starting this blog was seeing to what degree people agreed with my thoughts on the middle kingdom. That being said, there are a few excuses that I’m tired of hearing. We’ll be looking at a few of these over the next few days. The West doesn’t understand China It seems that you can’t read an opinion piece in the People’s Daily without bumping into phrases like “the West”, “Hegemony” and the idea that westerners just don’t get China. This feeling comes out of a sense of superiority/insecurity within China’s nationalist groups. When it comes to democracy and other topics that worry China’s […]


By Yaxue Cao …Continued from yesterday I have been wanting to write about my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Huang, who died more than a decade ago. He was the best chemistry teacher in my school, but he was a wreck! Although extremely near-sighted, he didn’t wear glasses and had to hold things up close to his eyes to see, whether it was his book or notes or test tubes. In winter, he wore a ragged, dirty cotton-padded coat with a thick rope tied around the waist to keep warm. Outside the classroom, he hardly ever spoke to anyone. When we saw him on campus, we often didn’t know what to do. Sometimes we pretended not to see him; when we did say hello to […]


By Yaxue Cao, published: October 15, 2011   Earlier this year, I interviewed two people in China and wrote the story of a man called Sheng Shuren (盛树人). He studied journalism in St. John University in Shanghai around 1940, and worked for English publications and then for the British Consulate. After 1949, he moved to Beijing to work for the Xinhua News Agency. His trouble began almost immediately and, by the end of the 1950s, he was a prisoner at a labor camp. Later he was sent back to Shanghai, his hometown, where he was denied residence registration, divorced by his wife, had no job, and lived with his aging mother. He taught English stealthily to support himself and died in 1976 at fifty-six years old. […]


It’s no secret that journalists working for Xinhua, Global Times, and People’s Daily, are part of an effort to distribute messages from the Party. I read these sources daily, and have built up a degree of tolerance to articles about how America wants to separate Taiwan from the mainland (example), that China’s presence in Africa is always beneficial to Africans (examples 1, 2, 3), and the seemingly weekly calls for the Party to serve the people (Example). Let’s just say that my expectations for Chinese journalists in these publications is pretty darn low, yet from time to time, they still manage to surprise me with their total lack of concern when it comes to exposing the truth. Yesterday’s post is a prime example. Not only did these officials take […]


I’d like to apologize for the large number of links today, but when it comes to sensitive topics it’s best to be prepared. The other day I quietly asked my co-workers where exactly Dr. Sun Yat-sen (or Sun Zhongshan in pinyin) was during the Xinhai revolution, when Imperial China was overthrown. The intern quickly replied “Nanjing” which was a good choice, since that is where his mausoleum is, and where Sun set up the Republican gov’t (his presidency lasted 3 months). My other co-worker guessed “Beijing” then switched to “Beiping”, the name used during the republican era, just in case it was a trick question. Their mouths fell open when I told them he was in the far away city of Denver, a fact that […]


Every weekend, Yaxue will present a column called “China is talking” in which she will translate some items she finds online that has interest her. By doing so, we hope to give you a small taste of some of the things that are making the rounds in Chinese cyberspace. Feng  Xiaogang (冯小刚, Chinese movie director): The price you pay for saying a bit of truth is very steep. First of all, my wife wouldn’t let me sleep, begging me plaintively: Could you please not speak your mind for the sake of the children and me? Then, there are good friends who scoffed me: Will you die if you don’t speak honestly? What Daoming (陈道明, Chinese actor) said stung me in particular. He said: “It won’t […]


A few months ago I wrote a post titled “There’s no bureaucracy like Chinese bureaucracy” that highlighted a few of the crazier experiences I’ve had with China’s love of hierarchy. Today though I wanted to look at one of the bigger problems with bureaucracy, not that it simply wastes time, but that having millions (literally) of officials with a little bit of status and a small amount of power can be an incredibly dangerous thing. A recent study came to a rather unsurprising result, when people have power and a low status in the overall hierarchy, they tend to abuse it. For those of us living in China we see this daily in the way the chengguan beat street merchants, the way local gov’t officials […]


On my way to the supermarket I pass a man fixing bicycles, a place that can repair virtually any article of clothing and at least three shops that can solve any problem on almost any cell phone. This culture of fixing things instead of throwing them away is something I deeply admire. In Longzhou I had a flat tire, so I went to the repairman who worked behind a newspaper stand just off campus. His body was a rich brown, and he hardly had any hair left on his head, just a few wisps combed over. He only spoke the local dialect, and I could only speak Mandarin, but he knew what I wanted when he saw the sorry shape of my bicycle. He pulled […]


By Yaxue Cao On the heel of the 2008 Olympic spectacle that awed much of the world, China celebrated its 60th anniversary of the communist rule on Oct. 1, 2009. In the ancient Chinese calendar system where 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches are combined to designate the sequence of years, the 60th year marks the completion of a cycle, and after that the years start all over again. By the old concept, 60-years is a lifetime. 10,000 military members goose stepped in formation, each consisting of marchers who looked like replicas of each other with the same height, the same built, the same weight, the same haircut and the same expression. After the soldiers, 100,000 civilians paraded in nearly the same sameness along […]


It seems that few people manage to escape China without a tale of being conned out of at least a couple dollars. Whether it’s buying goods in Beijing’s silk market at prices 1000% higher than locals would pay, getting tricked into paying additional “fees” at hotels, or having a cabbie take you the long way back to the train station. Today we’re going to be exploring why scamming isn’t seen as an ethical problem in China. While many people think that these scams are simply a result of increased tourism (which is definitely a factor), this does not completely explain its prevalence in the middle kingdom. After all, foreigners aren’t the only ones getting tricked, it may actually be more closely tied to the idea […]


One of my first posts on this blog focused on the idea of being a waiguoren (外国人), an “outside country person”, and the fact that a foreigner can never be fully accepted in China. Today though, we’ll be looking at the idea of a waicunren (外村人), an “outside village person”, and how it presents new challenges in an increasingly mobile China. Along with your name and age, a person’s hometown is considered an important part of their identity. This comes out of the fact that for thousands of years a person’s village in many cases mostly consisted of their extended family members. In a traditional village one would expect to find only a few family names with lineages tracing their history in a single place back hundreds […]


This first section is a collection of jokes poking fun at the party after a Chinese journalist asked Gary Locke, ““I hear you flew here coach. Is that a reminder that U.S. owes China money?” Netizens took Locke’s frugality as a sign of respecting state funds, instead of wasting the money on lavish treatment for himself. They chose to mock the journalist, and the current state of gov’t corruption, with questions that show the same kind of faulty assumptions. -Translated by Yaxue. You have brought your wife with you to Beijing, don’t you know officials in China like to keep mistresses? Officials in your country don’t keep mistresses, is that because they are not virile enough? You have so few corrupt officials in the US, is […]


In the run up to the Party’s 90th anniversary the People’s Daily said that history “is the precious wealth of the party”, which we saw yesterday when we looked at the Party’s narrative of history. Today I thought we should take another look, and consider the implications of a slightly different perspective (links in the post refer to current events, not sources). A New History In the 1700’s China had managed to export millions of pounds of silver worth of silk, tea, and porcelain. The Qing dynasty had managed to convince the Chinese people that the west had little of interest, and China was becoming incredibly wealthy. By 1730 the British East India Company was desperately trying to find a way to get the flow of wealth […]


Over the past few days I’ve pointed out some of the major issues revolving around the hukou system. So I thought it was important to establish why it is that the hukou system won’t be changing anytime soon, despite the ongoing discussions of how to change it. Surprisingly the hukou system is not something that was dreamed up by the communist party as a way to control the masses (which is how it sounds to most Americans I’ve talked with), it is actually a modified version of household registration that has been a part of China for thousands of years. The original system was also used to restrict the movement of people, and to remove “troublemakers”. The modern system in the 1950’s was used as […]


For the past few days we’ve been looking at migrant workers, and issues surrounding the hukou system, including left behind children, and forgotten grandparents and wives. In China’s medical system there are a number of drugs that treat chronic conditions (like TB and AIDs), that are given out to sick patients at little or no cost. While this in itself should be applauded, this program is unfortunately tied to one’s hukou and therefore restricts the person’s movement. If the person leaves their village, it will be incredibly difficult for them to receive their much needed medications. I believe that this policy was created with the intention of controlling the spread of diseases (which is a good intention), but that this has had some very troubling results. In the past this system […]


By Yaxue Cao Yaxue Cao is short story writer who grew up in Northern China during the cultural revolution.  I met a young man a few years ago while working with a law firm on a case involving China. We were among a few Chinese who had been hired to translate documents. All of us were working more or less honestly in our respective capacities, but every day he sat in front of his computer, chatted with anyone who would answer him, or mostly got online to do whatever he was doing. Now and then, he would say to the rest of us, “Why rush? Slow down so we will log more hours!” Or, twirling in his office chair, “The Americans are dumb! They don’t […]


One of the most concerning stories this week was a proposed legal change that would make secret detentions legal. This would be a huge step backwards for human rights in China, and would provide a shield for the gov’t when they are criticized by citizen groups and foreign leaders. Perhaps the best known case of secret detention came earlier this year with the arrest of Ai Weiwei. He was held for nearly 90 days in a secret location for “economic crimes”. It was never made clear why he was not held in a normal prison. Ai Weiwei reflected on the nature of Beijing’s oppressive gov’t this week in a piece for Newsweek that is well worth reading. This reflection by Ai Weiwei came at a […]


It’s no secret that China is a massive country that is changing at incredible speeds, and so it seems that even 5 days a week isn’t enough to cover everything that is happening in the middle kingdom. So I am very pleased to announce the launch SeeingRedInChina.com’s weekend section. It will have posts focusing on (mis)adventures in China, a brief round-up of the week’s news stories with a brief explanation of why they matter, as well as opinion pieces, guest posts, and hopefully some interviews. My good friend Casey will be kicking things off on Saturday as he starts to tell the story of his first trip to China, and his time spent working in what has to be the absolute worst school in China. […]


Yesterday we looked briefly at the life of a typical migrant worker, today we will be exploring the limits of the hukou system. It is impossible to discuss the issue of migrant workers without understand what exactly a hukou (户口) is. At the most basic level, a hukou is a legal document that specifies which village/town/city you are a resident of. So when I use the term “migrant worker” I am meaning a person who works in a place outside of what their hukou specifies, and is coming from a less developed region to a more prosperous one to look for work. What is a Hukou? A hukou for one of China’s eastern cities can be an incredibly valuable thing, since your residency determines which schools you […]


Continued from yesterday  When life satisfaction disconnects from GDP growth, it has to be met in other ways to ensure the Party’s rule, and I believe we are approaching that moment. Today we will be looking at some of those options. Note: while I do not have access to a crystal ball, I’m putting time frames on these issues to emphasize that these are not things that will be changed instantly, and to clarify the order in which they may happen. Lowering Costs (The Present) The Party knows that even though many Chinese people are far richer than their parents, many of them still cannot afford many of the basic appliances that can improve living standards. This is why the gov’t offers generous subsidies to […]


Wednesday we looked at part of the reason why Chinese officials like massive projects, and today we’ll be looking at the another major reason: corruption. This factor helps to explain why local governments are so eager to build infrastructure, but struggle to find money for schools, and why the National government continues to favor single major projects. It’s no secret that China has thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of officials who use their positions for extra gains. Starting at 1:58 (What do you want to be when you grow up?) Boy: I want to be an official Interviewer: What kind of official? Boy: A corrupt official, because they have many things. This endemic corruption is essential for understanding not only infrastructure projects, but China as […]


Some of you may have missed that China completed two major projects just in time for the Party’s 90th birthday. These now stand like trophies along with the Three Gorges Dam and dozens of other massive works. These projects often come at massive prices, and require moving thousands of people (sometimes millions). The Three Gorges Dam is one of the largest projects ever completed by man, with enough steel to construct 63 Eiffel towers. It along with many of China’s other dams were inspired by Mao Zedong, and were partially constructed simply to fulfill his dream (many have argued that several smaller dams would be more efficient, and cause fewer environmental problems). Currently the dam is the center of a lot of debate in China, […]


For the past few days we’ve been exploring a few of the myths the Party sees as central to their rule (here and here). Today and tomorrow we’ll be taking on the the most controversial one, that Chairman Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong. If you haven’t lived in China, you are probably wondering how anyone ever came up with such a precise statistic. One of my American friends liked to joke with his students (not sure if they realized he was joking) that perhaps the Chairman was only 65% right or that it included his primary school test scores, generally, the students didn’t want to discuss these things. The Chairman is still very much officially revered in China; his face is on every […]


This is a question I have been struggling with these past few months. I don’t mean to say that China’s economy is headed for a bust (although many are afraid it is), but will the rest of the world ever like China as much as it did during the Beijing Olympics? It was a moment when China’s human rights issues seemed to be improving, Wikipedia had been unblocked, journalists were given greater freedoms than before, and China had spared no effort in responding to the Sichuan Earthquake. Heck, Beijing even had blue skies for several days in a row! The stadiums and infrastructure had all been built in record time, and the opening ceremony was awe-inspiring. It seemed there was nothing that China couldn’t do. The […]


It’s very tempting at this moment to celebrate the release of Ai Weiwei, but the current situation is a painful reminder of just how far China has left to go before it actually respects Human Rights. The lead story today is that Ai Weiwei was released from prison on bail after confessing to his economic crimes (tax evasion). He has agreed to pay his fines, and is out because of good behavior in confessing and because of a chronic illness. Other sources add that this is partially in response to international calls for his release. Today, we’ll be picking this apart. It is wrong to say that Ai Weiwei is free. In the next few months there is a good chance that he will be […]


I just finished reading The Millionaire Next Door, and even though it’s about how America’s wealthy become wealthy, I started to notice just how many of the mistakes mentioned in the book described the new rich in China. In contrast to what we have heard about the Chinese savings rate (around 30% for households), it seems that many of those struggling to reach the middle class are spending massive amounts of money on luxury goods to appear rich (or here). One of the ideas in the book is that there is a difference between being rich (usually a high salary) and wealth (the accumulation of investments above what would be typical for the salary). An example of this would be that a person making $70,000 […]


Yesterday I answered some of the questions I get most often about Christianity in China (if you have more please post them below). Today we’ll be looking mostly at the differences between a registered and unregistered church. Registered Church/Official Church Chinese protestant churches must be registered with two groups in order to be considered legal; these groups are the China Christian Council (CCC), and the Three-self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). These two groups work so closely together that at this level of understanding, it is not so important to differentiate. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement was formed in 1951 as a way of placating the new Communist gov’t that there would be no direct foreign involvement in the Chinese church. The ideals highlighted by this movement though […]


In the mid 1800’s China faced a growing debt with England as a result of opium addiction. Officially opium had been banned by the emperor but corrupt officials continued to allow the drug into the country for the right price. The problem was not only destroying the fabric of Chinese society, but the empire itself. Finally in 1838 a man with an impeccable reputation for being impervious to bribes was sent to deal with the illegal imports, his name was Lin Zexu. Not only was he effective in limiting the amount that entered the country, but was also adept at seizing it from warehouses. In 1839 he managed to destroy more than 2.5 million tons of opium, and wrote a letter to the Queen of […]


Tim and Yan Jiang were married this weekend. A few weeks ago Yan Jiang took the time to write out the story of how they met, and I think it is a wonderful way to begin our look at inter-cultural marriages. I picked this story because too often people assume that these marriages are not based on true love, and I think this is a good reminder that this is not always the case. You can read more about them at TimCorbin.com My soon-to-be husband, Tim, and I met in October, 2008 in the college that I attended and he taught at. Before that, I wasn’t sure I would ever have any foreign friends, so dating a foreigner was never even a thought. Tim is […]


Yesterday we started to look very generally at China’s efficiency problems. Today I would like to introduce you to a few of the most pointless jobs in China that highlight the practices inspired by low wages. Bus Line Monitor I see these people standing at each of the bus stops on my way to work each morning. They stand around with their yellow or red arm bands and watch the masses cram in to buses. While their title might imply that these people are in some way responsible for making sure getting on the bus is an orderly process, I have yet to see them do anything to improve the situation. Receipt Stamper A common sight throughout China, the receipt stamper is the bored looking […]


Du Haibin’s film “1428” captures a variety of scenes from post earthquake Beichuan in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Even though I was in China at that time, and remember checking the news hourly for days, there was still very little I knew about the conditions in Sichuan at that time. All of the images were being very carefully selected before they were shown on TV, but this film manages to capture everything that was left unseen. The documentary begins just 10 days after the earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people, and shows how chaotic life can be as people struggle to know what steps to take next. Many people spent their days trying to scavenge scrap metal from collapsed buildings to […]


My Chinese friend Grace is about the last person you would picture when you think about dissidents. She’s happily married to a doctor who doesn’t drink or smoke. She is pregnant with her second healthy (and perfectly legal) baby. She has a college education and a good job by Chinese standards. Grace doesn’t like reading the news, and refers to the Cultural Revolution as “some unpleasant times that aren’t good to talk about.” Her family is firmly part of China’s new middle class. She isn’t an artist or a lawyer, she doesn’t know how to get past the great firewall (even though she wants to), and she definitely wouldn’t be considered an intellectual (she’s not stupid, but she avoids reading and writing at pretty much […]


Eating dogs is something we joke about when we think of Chinese food, and then we are often scolded by those who are more “politically correct” than us. However, throughout much of China dog meat is a fairly common delicacy. Lately there has been some discussion as to whether or not eating dogs and cats should be banned, but that discussion became a nationwide argument this week after volunteers rescued/stole 500 dogs (ministry of tofu covered this store in more depth). I am heartened by the news that an increase in pet ownership in China has spurred on more animal rights activists, since human rights are more or less taboo. I’m somewhere in between on the issue. After all meat is meat, and it all […]


Over the past few months I’ve showed that several of China’s environmental achievements have been little more than smoke and mirrors. So I’m very pleased to announce that Beijing is finally getting it right by creating the right incentives along with policies that are easy to enforce and hard to cheat. Their goal is 100,000 electric cars in the next 5 years, and that makes it our news story of the week. Electric cars will not be subject to any of the traffic limits Beijing has been putting in place, which means for hundreds of thousands of consumers, these cars will be their only option. This in turn will start to create a critical mass of consumers demanding electric cars which will push development of […]


Today we’ll be looking at how China’s influence is growing in Africa, and what might be a few of the positives coming from this relationship. This will be followed up tomorrow with the downsides (the bad), and the next day with the ugly. Brief history The most important thing to remember in China’s current African Empire, and yes I mean it with all of the colonial baggage, is that it is not a recent development. China has been cultivating it’s presence there since the 1960’s when it started bringing aid projects to Africa when it was courting rulers for UN votes to oust Taiwan from its seat. Zhou Enlai, China’s Premier at the time, declared that these aid projects should have no strings attached to […]


Now I hope you’ll read past the headline before leaving angry comments.  You’ll see that my reasons have nothing to do with genetics or race and everything to do with culture. After all, driving is so dangerous/crazy/nerve rattling that Beijing has come out with a 5-year plan to improve “driving manners.” This list x 1.3 billion people = huge crazy mess I have a few theories as to why these problems flourish in China, and I think there is some truth in each of them. But first let’s just clear up any doubt that drivers in China are awful. 1.   Driving is relatively new My first theory is that most of the drivers on the road are new drivers. In 2010 China sold 13 million […]


Two concepts that foreigners are always told about are “Face” and “Guanxi”. “Face” is usually explained as not embarrassing people. It seems that every business book about China makes a point of explaining that you cannot point out workers mistakes, because it will cause them to “lose face,” which would be a great embarrassment. “Losing face” can be getting angry in public, making a mistake, or just not knowing an answer. This is a good start for understanding face but really the concept runs so much deeper than that, and causes problems for expats who have lived in China for years. From my experience it’s not actually making a mistake that causes the loss of face, it’s someone discovering that you made a mistake. So […]


February 3rd marks the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit, and for many of you that might be the extent of your knowledge of Chinese New Year (or as we call it in China, Spring Festival). So today we’ll look at how Spring Festival is celebrated. For most Chinese, it means returning to their hometown. Almost half of China’s population no longer lives in the same town as they were born, which leads to the largest annual human migration. The whole country is moving the few weeks before and after the holiday. The typical family will celebrate by coming together for the biggest meal they can afford, and will watch the special Spring Festival tv program, or play mahjong; many will light off a […]


Pollution is something that has really become a concern for me here in Nanjing. The main reason for this is that I have had a sore throat and cough for about 3 months, and after x-rays and blood tests I have been declared healthy, even though I feel far from that. I blame pollution for this, since that seems to make more sense than the ideas my co-workers have come up with. One thought it was because I work in a hospital, which isn’t the worst idea, except that I am not even in the same building as patients. Another thought was that I don’t wash my hands enough, which simply isn’t true, thoroughly washing my hands like a surgeon while wearing my doctor’s coat […]


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