News stories about China

update Here are some news stories we have found 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 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.

Thu 14th Jan

A continuing archeological dig has pushed back the history of Chinese palaces by another 1,000 years. Not so long ago it was considered that a complex settled civilization in China only went back about 3,000 years. The latest discoveries at Shuanghuaishu in Henan province, it is just to the north of Zhengzhou near the Yellow River. The remains found are hard to spot as they are mainly made of rammed earth, any stones would have been taken away and used in later buildings. A courtyard covering 8,611 sq feet [800 sq meters] has been found from over 5,000 years ago. which would have been in front of a royal palace. These remains predate the Xia dynasty (c.2100 - 1600BCE) and even before the birth of the Yellow Emperor (born c. 2718BCE)

Shuanghuaishu Dig
Archeological dig at Shuanghuaishu, Zhengzhou, photo credit China Daily .

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Wed 6th Jan

The scales of the rare armored animal, the pangolin, are highly prized in China for their use in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). The Chinese species is a scaly ant-eater (Manis pentadactyla) somewhat like the American armadillo. The Chinese government is taking strong action against illegal imports. The dried scales were once believed to be effective against fevers and nervous diseases. Yesterday 17 smugglers were sentenced to between 12 an 14 years in jail for trafficking 23 tons of scales into China worth a probable $28 million. The pangolin is very rare in China but a related species (Smutsia gigantea) is more common in West Africa from where these scales were illegally smuggled.

pangolin, wildlife
Photograph of a pangolin. From Lucile and William Mann's participation in the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937. Image by Lucile and William Mann available under a Creative Commons License

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Wed 30th Dec 2020

The famous Shaolin Temple has now launched, jointly with Henan University, degree courses in Chinese Kung Fu. Bachelor, master and doctorate courses are available for international students. Many of the successful students will return home to teach Kung Fu at teaching centers. The Shaolin Quan Wushu technique dates back around 1,500 years. Kung fu Gōng fu can be translated as ‘fighting competition’ which describes the many competitive fights between the contending schools of martial art.

Henan, Shaolin , martial arts
Shaolin martial arts display Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Thu 24th Dec 2020

In recent years the Western celebration of Christmas on 25th December has had increasing observance. This is chiefly an excuse to go out shopping and buy presents for children in the cities - only about 3% of Chinese people are Christians. ‘Shengdan Laoren’ is a transliteration of ‘Santa’ as ‘sheng:’ saintly ‘dan:’ birth followed by ‘laoren:’ old man. As Santa is dressed in lucky red this greatly adds to his appeal. To wish someone ‘Merry Christmas’ you can say shèng dàn kuài lè. It is not a public holiday in China.

Christmas in China
Christmas decorations in China, photo credit University of Maine .

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Thu 17th Dec 2020

On Thursday 17th December the Chang'E 5 completed its mission to bring back samples from the surface of the moon. This makes China only the third nation to achieve this feat. The successful mission, named after 嫦娥 Cháng É the Chinese goddess of the Moon, is one more significant step in the Chinese space missions that should eventually put people on the planet of Mars.

The samples come from an unexplored region of the moon called "Ocean of Storms" and should provide crucial information about how and when it was formed. It's 48 years since the last lunar rock samples were brought back to Earth.

surface of moon
The surface of the moon as photographed by Chang'E 5. Photo courtesy of Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP).

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Wed 9th Dec 2020

China is extending its control of the rain over a huge area of land. It has long been known that you can seed clouds with a type of salt (silver iodide) that causes it to rain or snow. In order to bring rains to drought prone regions China is extending its weather control to 5.5 million sq. kms by 2025 (an area the size of India) on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. The salt is dispensed by either airplanes or anti-aircraft guns.

It's hard to be sure of the effectiveness the seeding of the clouds because if it rains it maybe would have done that regardless.

threatening cloud

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Wed 2nd Dec 2020

Quite a number of artworks that were stolen or looted many years ago are being bought up and returned back to China. The latest example is a bronze horse's head that was looted from the Old Summer Palace, Beijing at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860. A combined Anglo-French looted and burned down the Emperor's great pleasure garden. Many artworks were taken away. A magnificent set of sculptured heads of each of the astrological animals designed by the Jesuit missionaries to China was made into a huge water clock. The horse's head was modeled by Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione . Macau billionaire Stanley Ho (who died in May) bought back the artwork at auction in 2007 and donated it to the Chinese state in 2019. Only seven of the twelve original sculptures have been found and returned.

bronze,horse picframe dload
Bronze horse head. Image credit: China News Service

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Wed 25th Nov 2020

A long time collector of historic photographs of China wants to find a buyer. Stephan Loewentheil has accumulated over 20,000 photographs of China taken between 1850 and 1920 over the last few decades.

It is a unique collection with many very rare images of life in China from this tumultuous period. He is keen to sell it to an institution or individual in China so that the collection at last goes home. There are many images by the largely unknown Chinese pioneers of photography: Lai Fong, Liang Shitai, Pun Lun Studio and Tung Hing Studio.

Guofen launch,satellite
A traditional weaver at work (1870) by William Saunders. Image credit: Stephan Loewentheil Photography of China Collection

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Wed 18th Nov 2020

In these dark days of approaching winter (in the northern hemisphere) now might be a good time to explore one of China's great cultural gems. As travel into China is very restricted at present it is good that it is now possible to make the trip with your computer. At the Mogao caves near Dunhuang, Gansu province there was a treasure trove of ancient paintings and writings preserved in the dry desert for up to 1,600 years. Western explorers in the early 19th century bought up many of these items so about 40,000 items are now spread between more than ten countries including the UK, France, Russia and Japan. The UNESCO world heritage site is located near the junction of the old Silk Road route to China, where traders in exotic goods chose the long desert road either to India or towards the Middle East and Europe. The 'Digital Dunhuang' project aims to reunite these lost items in the virtual world.

You can already visit and appreciate the beauty of the 30 richly decorated caves using the web site Digital Dunhuang and the fascinating artwork within them.

Gansu, Dunhuang, Buddhism
The Mogao Caves with magnificent Buddhist paintings and sculpture at Dunhuang, Gansu

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Thu 5th Nov 2020

The world's biggest shopping spree is timed to fall on China's new 'festival/holiday'. A very recent special day, is ?Single's Day? when young, single people buy themselves presents. The festival started among men at Nanjing University in the 1990s and has caught on very rapidly in cities throughout China and amongst single women too. The choice of date is based on the fact that 11.11 has four single 'ones' in it, representing two 11 couples. It is now a popular day to declare love and propose marriage, a second Chinese Valentine's Day. More importantly it has become the world's busiest shopping day (mostly online but also in shops). Alibaba heavily promotes it as a special occasion to spend money and has already held one special bargain period (Nov. 1st to 3rd)this year.

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Thu 15th Oct 2020

China is continuing to successfully launch satellites at an increasing pace. The Mars probe Tainwen-1 Tiān wén was successfully launched back in July. It will reach the Red planet in February and will aim to land a roving probe on the surface soon after.

Meanwhile on the far side of the Moon the lander and rover of the Chang'e-4 probe are still working fine. Its rover, Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2 Yù tù is still delivering useful data after over 22 months of operation.

The latest set of rocket launches have been to put more monitoring satellites in Earth orbit. The Gaofen-13 satellite launched on the 12th October will monitor the skies in visible as well as infra-red wavelengths at a high resolution ( Gāo fēn means high resolution or high score). As well as giving vital geographic information (growth of crops etc.) it also acts as military defense as it can detect stealth fighter airplanes invisible to radar.

With the end of high tech. co-operation with the U.S. China is building an independent space program. It is now also building a network for global positioning ( Běi dǒu-3 series) so it is no longer reliant on the U.S. controlled GPS system of satellites.

Guofen launch,satellite
Image credit: Xinhua Agency
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Thu 1st Oct 2020

There is good cause for double celebration today because the Mid Autumn festival and National day fall on the same day - the next time this will happen is 2031.

The Autumn Moon Festival takes place at full moon in the 8th lunar month (15th day), it marks the end of harvest. Lanterns are lit and round moon cakes are cooked and consumed in large numbers - these usually are filled with soybean paste, lotus seeds and egg yolk and covered in pastry. As there is a tradition that a rabbit lived on the moon, rabbits are a popular image. Another tradition is to layout peaches, melon or grapes in a circle of thirteen as there are 13 lunar months in a year. It celebrates Chang'e, the goddess of the moon, and particularly the romance with the archer god Houyi. Traditionally, spirits of the dead came forth to feast on the fruits of summer harvest. People would climb hills and mountains to watch the rising of the full moon.

National day marks the founding of the Peoples' Republic on 1st October 1949. There are often three days of public holiday for it normally, and so accounting for the weekend this year the combined celebrations last until 7th October - a whole week's holiday.

Moon festival, food, cake
Moon cake for the Mid Autumn (Moon) Festival

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Wed 23rd Sep 2020

The largest palace complex in the world marks its 600th birthday this year. The Forbidden City (as only the privileged few had any access) took 14 years to build at great expense. The Ming dynasty Emperor Yongle had decided in 1406 hat he must move his capital further north towards the still troubled northern frontier. The Forbidden City is the largest and best preserved collection of ancient buildings in China. 200,000 worked on the immense project including thousands of families who were forcibly uprooted and moved from the former capital of Nanjing, 600 miles away, to build the new capital. The buildings have only a few levels as they are built of wood making them less prone to damage by earthquake. The use of wood has required a continuous cycle of renovation over the intervening centuries. The Forbidden City remained in use up to the forced removal of Emperor Puyi in 1924.

The modern center of Chinese government has not moved far from the Forbidden City - the government buildings of the People's Republic are located immediately to its west at Zhongnanhai. Although completed in 1420, it was officially inaugurated on Chinese New Year 1421 so we can expect many more stories about it before February 12th 1421.

Ming dynasty, Forbidden City, view, Beijing
View of the Forbidden City, Beijing from the peak of Jingshan Hill

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Thu 17th Sep 2020

All nations are looking at ways to make our cities greener, but the experience in Chengdu might give pause for thought.

The vertical style urban jungle has been used on a large scale in the Qiyi City Forest Garden, Chengdu, Sichuan. The eight apartment blocks were built in 2018 and all 826 of them were quickly snapped up when put on the market.

Urban forest,Chengdu
Image credit: European Pressphoto Agency

However the development has hit an unforeseen problem. The new green spaces on every balcony have found insect tenants too, and so the few residents have to fight a battle with clouds of mosquitoes. The planners forgot that jungles are not only full of lush vegetation but a whole range of insect life that is not quite so welcome.

Only ten families have so far braved the insect menace to take up permanent residence.

Another threat that seems inevitable is that over time the plants will become both large and old. So branches and whole plants are at increasing risk of tumbling down from a great height.

You can also watch a short video about this story here.

Video not visible
Vertical urben forest

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Thu 3rd Sep 2020

A new adaptation of the acclaimed sci-fi book by Chinese author Cixin Liu is to be made for Netflix by joint US - China production teams. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss who brought Game of Thrones to our screens will write and produce the epic story in an English adaptation. It is set at the time of the cultural revolution in China (1966-75) and concerns scientists discovering a sophisticated alien menace.

In this time of increased U.S. - China tensions it's heartening to see a new collaboration being forged.

Three body problem book
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Thu 27th Aug 2020

Over the last few years the Chinese government has supported the astonishing growth of Confucius Institutes over the world. By the end of 2019 there were 541 institutes in 162 countries. Their aim is to promote the teaching of the Chinese language and learning about Chinese culture. They arrange classes in Mandarin, Taichi, calligraphy, painting, dance, opera and other cultural pursuits. With the cold war between China and the US under President Trump these have been seen by many as a sinister attempt to foster a pro-Chinese movement - a development of Chinese soft power. To counter this criticism they are now being re-branded as 'Chinese language learning centers'. This is a less contentious title because just learning the language does not imply any loyalty to the country of China; as even hostile news reporters need to learn the language.

The U.S. government has reclassified the institutes as 'foreign missions' and that has led to similar circumspection in other countries include the UK, Australia and India. There is some basis behind these suspicions because each Confucius Institute is controlled by Hanban ( Hàn bàn) in Beijing. This Chinese administrative center chooses who is funded and who is employed as well as the texts used in classes. As a result many academic institutions are reviewing their relationship with Confucian Institutes and many in the U.S. have now shut down. Many students and teachers are lamenting the suppression of interest in foreign cultures. Surely it should be possible to separate learning about another country from supporting a foreign government?

Qufu, Confucius
Statue of Confucius at Qufu, Shandong

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Wed 19th Aug 2020

19th August 2o2o is the first day of the seventh Chinese month. The 7th month of the traditional calendar is associated with ghosts. The Hungry Ghost festival in the middle of the seventh month is the main festival but some people also mark the start of the month - Ghost Gate. This is when the ghosts come back to the world of the living for a month. The ghost month is considered unlucky, spirits wander around for the whole month and so new projects and enterprises should not be started. One superstition of relevance is to avoid sticking chopsticks vertically into the rice bowl as this invites in the ghosts. Other superstitions include not to take pictures at night (the ghosts don't like it) or go to the beach or buy a new house.

ghost,  battle
Section from a 19th century Chinese Hell Scroll showing the ghost of Yue Fei accusing the traitor Qin Hua in the sixth and seventh court of hell. Available under a Creative Commons License

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Tue 11th Aug 2020

There have been some impressive development of Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains in China for some years. A major increase in speed is planned to equal that achieved on Japan's super-fast Maglev trains (600 km/h or 370 miles/h).

The first Maglev train was built in Birmingham, UK 1984 from the pioneering work of Prof. Eric Laithwaite but it was soon abandoned there. Because the trains are pushed up above the train track they can run at much higher speeds than other trains. China opened its first Maglev to link Shanghai airport and the city center in 2003 and has continued to develop the technology. A Maglev link from Beijing to Shanghai would cut travel time to 3.5 hours, other high speed links are planned throughout the country. The photo is of one of the current Shanghai Maglev trains.

MagLev train,Shanghai
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Thu 16th Jul 2020

This year's annual summer floods are turning out to be the worst for over twenty years. Floods on the Yangzi river are now affecting 38 million people from the effects of heavy rains that have continued to plague central China since June. Rainfall figures are the highest in the Yangzi valley since 1961.

Lakes along the Yangzi that act as buffers for flood water are at record high levels.

All this comes at a high cost just as Wuhan, Hubei the center of the Chinese covid19 outbreak was getting back to normal. The economic cost to China is estimated to be at least $12billion.

Yellow river, waterfall, river
Hukou Waterfall on the Yellow River

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Thu 9th Jul 2020

The sale of just a couple of volumes from the great Ming dynasty encyclopedia has cost a thousand times more than the expected sale price at more than $9million.

In 1403 Emperor Yongle ordered a great encyclopedia to be written the Yǒng lè dà diǎn. This was to be an encyclopedia of all known scholarship on all subjects arranged into categories ordered according to its special system of rhyme of category names. It took 2,180 scholars six years to produce an amazing work totaling 11,095 volumes - the Wikipedia of its day. Its content was considered so vital and significant that no foreigner was allowed to view it. Some say that a copy was buried with Emperor Yongle and may still lie there intact. Two copies of the great Yongle Dadian were made of the original at Wenyuan Ge in the Forbidden City. The copying started in 1562 and took five years to complete.

Yongle Dadian, Pascal triangle
Yang Hui (1238-1298) 's work preserved in Yongle Encyclopedia. It shows what is now called a Pascal Triangle discovered by Chinese mathematicans 500 years before Pascal. Image by Yang Hui available under a Creative Commons License

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Changbai, Jilin
Tianchi Lake in Changbai Mountains. October 2009.
Image by Wang65 available under a Creative Commons license