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.

Wed 23rd Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Fri 26th Jun

The Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty were not content with just the Summer Palace and Forbidden City in the capital Beijing they also built an even larger extensive pleasure park at Chengde 150 miles further north-east. Here they could escape the summer heat and practice horsemanship out in the hills and mountains. The resort is dotted with impressive replicas of buildings elsewhere in China including the Potala Palace, Lhasa. It was here that the Emperor would hold audience and where on 4th September 1793 Englishman the Earl MacCartney representing the English East India Company had a famous meeting with Emperor Qianlong.

Hebei, Chengde, Qing dynasty, temple
Chengde, Hebei has many palaces built as replicas of buildings in China. This palace is a recreation of the Potala Palace Tibet Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Thu 18th Jun

June 21st will be marked by an annular eclipse with 40% of the sun obscured over much of China. It will be annular rather than total eclipse because the moon is slightly further away from the Earth than average and does not quite cover the whole solar disc. It will reach 90% coverage in southern China - from Tibet through to Fujian.

It happens to coincide with the Summer Solstice when the days in the northern hemisphere are at their longest. The Summer solstice is xià zhì in Chinese meaning ‘Summer limit’.

The Chinese for a solar eclipse is rì shí meaning literally ‘Sun eat’ following the ancient tradition that the moon or a celestial dragon (or dog) eats up the sun. The first record of an eclipse in China dates back to at least 1217BCE. China has kept an unbroken set of astronomical observations longer than any other civilizations. The prediction of eclipses became a very important study as the ominous diminution of the sun’s power could be seen as Heaven’s displeasure at the Emperor’s rule. People came out of their houses and stopped work while temples banged gongs and rang bells to scare away the dragon eating the sun.

Annular eclipse
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Fri 12th Jun

A new discovery of a small carving (only 0.76 inches [19.2 mms] long and 0.49 inches [12.5 mms] high) has excited an international team of archeologists at a site near Xuchang, Henan province. Professor Li Zhanyang of Shandong University is the lead writer of the report of what was found at the paleolithic site at Lingjing. It is far earlier than any previous bird sculpture to be found in China at 13,500 years old and is carved by hand from a single mammalian bone. The bird is carved so it has a base so it could stand up and be admired.

ancient bird sculpture,Henan
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Wed 13th May

In recent years a new 'festival' has been added to the calendar. This is on 20th May each year and is the day when young unmarried couples indulge in a little romance. It is all because the number 520 in Chinese ( wǔ èr líng) can sound vaguely like 我爱伱 wǒ ài nǐ 'I love you'. So far this has only really caught on in cities where stores have made it another trading bonanza.

With China just emerged from lock-down, when some couples have been forced to keep apart, it has taken on more importance. Another reason for 2020 being special is that the year expressed as 二零二零 èr líng èr líng sounds a bit like 爱你爱妳ài nǐ ài nǐ 'Love you, love you' particularly on a muffled mobile phone. In Shanghai all available marriage services on this auspicious day have already been snapped up.

Chinese couple

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Thu 30th Apr

With the lock-down easing some tourist attractions are now opening in China. At Shanghai zoo the 8 month old orangutan baby is a star attraction. She is named Hei Niu and is the offspring of Xiao Hei from Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo and Lu Lu from Shanghai Zoo. The orangutans are critically endangered due to loss of forest habitat in Borneo, Malaysia and Sumatra.

This follows on from a good news stories about giant pandas. Two weeks ago a couple of Hong Kong's Ocean Park zoo mated for the first time and this has been attributed to the lack of nosy visitors - the pandas are secretive animals and enjoy the peace and quiet at the moment.


An orangutan mother and baby, but not actually Hei Niu and Lu Lu.

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Wed 15th Apr

With less road traffic streets that are lined with cherry tree blossom can be fully appreciated this year. In particular fallen blossom are carpeting Jiangwancheng Road in Yangpu District, Shanghai. The 700m road has 264 cherry trees and this year the petals are being allowed to fall uncollected during the day. Peng Weiqiang sweeps up the fallen petals each evening to keep the display clean and fresh.

cherry blossom
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Wed 1st Apr

Last week saw some relaxation of the lock-down across China. It seems that the understandable urge of everyone to get back to normal after two months of restrictions proved too tempting. Some restrictions such as the re-opening of cinemas has been re-imposed in some places as well as the movement of people over provincial borders . The city at the center of the outbreak, Wuhan, is due to relax lock-down restrictions on April 8th. The world will be watching to see if the figures of infecting people in China continue to stay very low when the restrictions are lifted. One of the strange repercussions of continued isolation is that the number of cases of injuries to children has increased. In quite a few cases bored children are falling off skyscrapers . Another effect has been the vast improvement in air quality seen not only in China but throughout the world. Perhaps a long term benefit will be that no-one will need convincing that pollution is a real issue that has to be tackled.

The problem with this virus is that some people are asymptomatic carriers. Once you move away from assuming everyone might be infected these carriers may unknowingly start off a new outbreak. These people are not detected by the widely used temperature test. China has now started monitoring these asymptomatic carriers in a bid to understand the implications. On April 1st as many as 130 were identified. One study even suggests that this corona-virus has been around undetected for years and it has only been a chance mutation that makes it potentially lethal that has caused the pandemic.

The Chinese festival of Qing Ming falls on Saturday April 4th this year. As the festival normally involves the whole extended family gathering to visit graves it is not compatible with current distancing rules. The government is asking people not to visit the graves, and blocking access to cemeteries , a break in a ritual that goes back thousands of years. In the famous Babaoshan cemetery in beijing suitably protected workers are providing the tomb cleaning service on behalf of families.

As most Chinese people consider the domestic outbreak beaten they are understandably keen not to let travelers bring the disease back into the country . So anyone who looks 'foreign' is now subject to a wary look and some cases refusal to provide services for. This is the reverse of the situation in the US and UK a month ago when anyone who looked Asian was subject to the same kinds of suspicions and in some cases violence. Foreign travelers are still being forced into 14-day quarantine on arrival when they are not permitted to meet anyone. The only long-term solution must be testing of everybody so that all asymptomatic carriers can be detected and isolated. However the tests are not 100% accurate and providing a repeated test for a population of over 1 billion is just not easy to do. The main hope is that all the key workers can be tested and any new infections quickly tracked down.

medical testing
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Wed 25th Mar

While India and the UK step up isolation measures China in now slowly relaxing controls. The only new cases of Covid-19 in the last week have been amongst people coming into the country that have tested positive during the 14 day enforced quarantine.

The most eye-catching relaxation is the opening of the Great Wall at Badaling near Beijing to tourists. Tourists are temperature tested on arrival and tagged by their QR code. They also need to keep their six feet distance from one another. It must be a good time to see the wall as it is usually immensely crowded.

Schools in the island province of Hainan are planning to re-open on April 7th after a long break. In Xinjiang province, that has only ever had 76 cases and no new ones for five weeks bazaars and businesses are starting to re-open. In the province at the center of the Chinese outbreak, Hubei, the very strict lock-down has been ended with no new cases reported for over a week. However people need a 'green' health code pass to be allowed to leave the province.

Many Chinese are attributing their speedy recovery down to the use of traditional herbal remedies. The most popular remedy is blended from over twenty herbs, including ephedra, cinnamon twigs and licorice root. It is drunk as a soup and has won over many skeptics. About 85% of recovering patients are given the soup. and some figures suggest a boost of numbers recovering by 33%.

China has switched to stop possible infection coming into the country rather than containing it within its boundaries. Foreign travel into China remains very restricted with 14 day quarantine isolation before being allowed to move around the country.

The only exception to the improving picture is in Hong Kong where the number of infected people is still increasing and running at 40 new cases per day. Some have blamed this on a distrust of government following months of unrest there.

Great Wall, Beijing
Great Wall near Simatai, Beijing

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Wed 18th Mar

If you are stuck indoors for long periods time drags. In China people have been using the ubiquitous smartphone to keep tabs on the antics of the most Chinese of creatures - the Giant Panda. The most popular web site has received 700 million hits since January 25th and over 200 million videos have been watched of the playful pandas.

giant panda, wildlife
A sleeping Giant Panda

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Thu 5th Mar

China continues to demonstrate how to control the spread of coronavirus. The number of people infected continues to fall and the number of new cases in China excluding Hubei was down to 10 people today.

Some of the people most affected are farmers. The stock still need feeding and the harvest needs gathering and selling. With much reduced local markets and shortage of truck drivers a lot of produce has had to be left to rot in the fields. Livestock can't be taken to market or else buyers can not be found, so farmer's incomes are being heavily squeezed.

We're continuing to track the spread of the virus with daily updates on our coronavirus page.

cows, farm

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Thu 27th Feb

The effects of the coronavirus continue to dominate the news, with millions of Chinese people choosing or forced to spend all their time at home. One popular new hobby in parts of Shanghai is the growing of plants from seed. Watching the germinated seeds grow into plants is giving the community a sense of a brighter future. Vegetables are a popular choice with the normal shops and markets closed or inaccessible. Other popular indoor activities have led to a surge in online ordering of computer games, books, yoga mats, make-up and rather inevitably condoms. Contrary to the popular impression created in the media, the situation in China is of gradual improvement with the number of infected people falling for the last ten days in a row as more people recover. Unlike the rest of the world there has been success in keeping the cases within Hubei province, it is not spreading to other provinces any more.

cabbage seedlings
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Thu 20th Feb

A round-up from various news items recently reported in the South China Morning Post .

Studies are showing that the corona-virus is much more infectious than similar viruses, it seems to bind very easily to human cells. Autopsies of those that have died show the virus principally attacks the lungs but also the liver. Some people are being treated with corticosteroids and some results show that their use may lead to damage of the liver and kidneys so these steroids are not recommended for widespread use. There continues to be reports that herbal medicines based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are effective. It looks like that some herbs can significantly aid recovery but will not prevent people becoming infected.

The knock-on effects of the virus are showing in China and other countries. With many people either forced (as in much of Hubei province) or voluntarily staying at home the impact on all sorts of businesses is showing. With far fewer people traveling the airlines are canceling flights and laying off staff. Tourist destinations are pretty much deserted. As people are not out shopping many businesses are struggling, bookshops seem particularly badly hit, people are ordering by post to avoid going out. Restaurants are badly affected and some are quickly turning to offering take-away and delivery services to keep the businesses going. Farms are hard hit with livestock markets closed. Imports of frozen chicken, beef and pork are being held up at the ports due to a shortage of truck drivers to distribute them inland.

On a somewhat lighter note, a popular video game is letting people play at killing off the virus at least in the virtual world. With many millions stuck at home having something useful to do must becoming increasingly hard.

As far as the statistics are concerned there is a glimmer of hope. The number of people still infected has fallen on two consecutive days. If the pattern continues the whole sad episode could be over in a couple of months.

disinfecting coronavirus
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Qufu, temple, Confucius, Shandong
Lingxing Gate of Qufu Confucian Temple, Qufu, Shandong. January 2009.
Image by Sean Shih available under a Creative Commons license