China News

update Here are some news stories we have found on other web sites that we think tell you much about what is going on in China. We avoid stories on politics and economics as these are adequately covered on other news web sites. These News stories are available as a news-feed so you can receive notifications of these automatically in your browser. Click on the RSS button to add it to your browser or copy and paste the link.

Wed 16th Jan

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

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

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

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

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Wed 9th Jan

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

frozen child
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Wed 2nd Jan

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

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

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

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

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Fri 21st Dec 2018

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

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

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

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Tue 11th Dec 2018

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

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

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

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Thu 6th Dec 2018

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

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

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Wed 28th Nov 2018

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

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Fri 23rd Nov 2018

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

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

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Thu 22nd Nov 2018

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

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

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Fri 16th Nov 2018

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


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Mon 5th Nov 2018

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

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

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Thu 1st Nov 2018

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

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

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Mon 29th Oct 2018

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

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

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Thu 11th Oct 2018

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

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

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

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Tue 11th Sep 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wed 29th Aug 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Wed 8th Aug 2018

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

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Wed 1st Aug 2018

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

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

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

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

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Thu 12th Jul 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Thu 28th Jun 2018

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

Taiwan flag
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Harbin, Heilongjiang, ice
Pagoda, Ice Sculpture, Harbin, 2009
Image by Farm available under a Creative Commons license

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