May 2008 Archives
TIANJIN - It's been a lot of work spanning a couple of continents, but Zhongnanhai will finally re-launch tomorrow afternoon with a completely different look and functionality.
A couple of items, before we go (temporarily):
- Unfortunately, while we are currently transferring our posts to the new site, all comments will be lost. This is a sad reality of moving from Movable Type to an entirely new platform.
- All RSS feeds will change; in fact, there will be more RSS options on the new site. Please check back tomorrow (Saturday) to update your feeds.
We'll see you on the other side...
Given what has been happening here in China the past week and a half, it's hard not to think and write about all things earthquake. However, I thought I might just take a moment away from China to throw my two cents in on the Democratic Presidential nomination race in the United States.
Politicians, much like movie stars and sports figures, have never really been known as introspective. Some may call it shallow. However, I personally do cut them a bit of slack. When you're surrounded 24/7 by sycophants and fans who consider you the second coming of Lennon (that would be John, not Vladimir Ilyich) it's most likely difficult to be able to see through the fog of crap these people encase you in. But that said, there has to come a point in everyone's career where you just have to step back and say "enough is enough." There's nothing more pathetic than an aging sports star who keeps clinging on hoping for one last shot at glory, or an actor who may have had his or her 15 minutes of fame who is now relegated to supporting roles or the occasional cameo. Same thing applies to politicians. In any election, a politician - generally speaking - once the polls are closed and the numbers start flowing, will know very quickly whether or not he or she has a shot of winning. And when the numbers become inevitable, most politicians generally concede victory to their opponent gracefully and move on. However, it's becoming readily obvious that Hillary Clinton is not one of these politicians.
Despite a recent turnaround in the last few primaries, Mrs. Clinton still trails Barrack Obama to the point now where she can no longer get more delegates than he can. The best she can hope for, on the narrowest of outside chances, is that the Democratic Party flips its decision and allows the votes that were cast in Michigan and Florida to be added to the overall tally. This would still not give Clinton enough delegates to win the nomination outright. All this could potentially do is give her the lead in the popular vote, which her campaign hopes, would be enough to convince Superdelegates that she's the horse to bet on in the Presidential campaign against John McCain. This scenario has, in my estimation, about a 2 percent chance of actually succeeding. And if it did work, it would put the Democrats in a particular disadvantage. Here's why, as I see it:
For this unrealistic outcome to work for Mrs. Clinton, Superdelegates would have to turn against Obama, a politician who has run a somewhat cordial campaign (though not without its mudslinging, of course) and has kept his nose clean politically (minus his yappy former preacher). As such, if Clinton wants to turn the SD's her way, she'll have to get particularly nasty and drudge up some sort of scandal against Obama and ride it all the way to Denver. I can just see the Republicans salivating at this prospect. As well, if the Democratic party reverses its original decision not to allow the Florida and Michigan votes to stand because they violated party rules, again it gives ammunition to the Republican Party, which would be well within its rights to begin pointing out that if the Democrats can't follow their own rules, how can they be trusted to keep their promises and play by the rules if they got into the Whitehouse. Basically, if the stars align for Hillary, the Democrats are essentially going to have to run a defensive Presidential campaign. And look how well that worked out for John Kerry in 2004.
It's time for Mrs. Clinton to take a step back and face the reality of the situation. If she actually cared about the fortunes of her party, and not her own inflated sense of self-worth, she would gracefully bow out of the race now and allow the Democratic party time to get itself cohesive enough to take on the Republican machine, which, despite what you might think about the crap that has gone on the last 8 years under Bush, still has the power and support in the United States to snatch up what should have been a virtual cake walk for Democrats this go round.
This is a post in a series focusing on the US Presidential race. As the 2008 campaign has global implications, the writers at Zhongnanhai will be occasionally posting on this topic. You can read more of our coverage by clicking here.
Covering the Earthquake zone: Day 1, Sichuan Province, China
I saw my first dead body today. Figures it had to be of kids.
We were shooting at a county 60km away from the epicentre of the earthquake that hit Sichuan province, southwestern China.
Also had a building crumble towards us so we ran. But we're safe no worries.
The rescue effort in Hanwang county is into its fourth day. Parents and relatives are basically looking for their kids bodies to surface.
Miraculously a girl was rescued alive today. Unfortunately she will be amputated from the waist down. But considering the circumstances I think her parents and everyone are grateful.
The bodies weren't so disturbing, though the kids faces were beyond recognition. Some of the parents had to take two or three more looks under the sheets to make sure the body is in fact their child.
The most disturbing one was of a girl clutching a pen still. It happened so suddenly, she didn't even have time to react. The clock in the middle of town is stuck at 14:28, the time the earthquake hit.
The county is nearly deserted except for parts where there are rescue efforts going on. Some buildings are barely affected while places like the school we filmed today is a hallowed out mess.
The most haunting is the sound of parents wailing for their child when they recognize the body. Remember these people have only one child per family. And these kids were mostly of high school age, moving on to university next year. They're the hope of the family.
Thankfully I have not experienced any aftershocks in this area.
We're returning back to the hotel in the capital of Sichuan province every night. It's quite a stark contrast to be down in the dirt, inhaling rubble by day, and staying in a five star hotel the next.
Anyhow these are just a random collection of thoughts since my boss said I should talk about what I saw today.
I am feeling fine, but who knows if I'm repressing it.
Gotta wash off this debris off myself and grab a few hours of sleep. Another early start tomorrow.
Days 2&3 - Total devastation
Today I experienced what mass panic was and ran for my life in Beichuan county.
We were filming a rescue effort when I saw a group of rescue and aid workers, residents, everyone all running in our direction yelling "RUN!!!"
My cameraman ran towards me and said, "Run! It's a flood!"
We proceeded to run like hell, with rescue workers hollering that nobody should stop running.
To my understanding Xinhua news agency came out with a report around 12:50pm about fears of the rising water levels and cracks in the dam. But my boss says the water levels have a few more metres to go before it spills over.
Here I was expecting a wall of water going to wash over us like in the movies.
My first thought was: I should really get some medical insurance. Luckily my boss has told me tonight that I am indeed covered despite having not taken the hostile environment training course.
I did feel bad for the poor man still 6-7 metres down the rubble. We thought we'd stay there and film his rescue for the rest of the day. This father is not only alive after six days without water and food, but was UNHARMED. He happened to be under a stairwell which saved him. They were just feeding a string to him and dripping water down when there was mass panic. As he thought he was closer to being saved everyone left him. His 13-year-old daughter stayed with him though I'm told.
I don't blame anyone for being over cautious. After the complete destruction of this county after the earthquake, people are worried about more deaths. The county is reduced to rubble. In the old part of town 80 per cent of all the buildings are gone.
The site was extraordinary considering most of the bodies in obvious areas were removed. It was eerie and haunting on a different level than seeing dead bodies. I saw cars flattened like a tin can, bikes fallen into the cracks of the road, buildings fallen on top of buildings creating a mountain of rubble. You can't help but imagine the fear that must've ran through the place when the earthquake hit and the number of people who died in the most awful of ways.
This flood warning was a serious setback for the rescue effort continuing for those still found alive.
Yesterday we interviewed a 22-year-old still trapped in between slabs of concrete. His one leg appeared to be twisted and completely broken.
He was still very alert and chitchatting with his relatives, who were outside and took turns going in to see him.
I was outside the building and chatting with a fireman about the survivor. A young man in the army uniform passed by and was very excited to hear about a survivor. He said, "What's his condition? Just cut off his legs! Come on! We saved two people like that yesterday! What are you waiting for!?!?!"
As gruesome as it sounds, at this point in the rescue effort, life, at any cost is still worthwhile.
The survivor's relatives were all very calm and rational considering the circumstances. They didn't blame rescue workers for working too slow, nor were they impatient. Like the young rescue worker, they are just grateful to hear that he's alive. Of course at this point, the survivor has not been told that his mother died in the earthquake and so, still had good strength.
We ran into his doctor today and heard he was rescued at 20:00 last night, with a good chance of having BOTH legs healing!
Earlier in the day we climbed up a mountain of rubble. We heard the kindergarten was somewhere in there with parents still lining around trying to find their kids' bodies.
An aid worker told my colleague a very sad story about the kindergarten. When the earthquake happened the teacher tried to keep the kids calm by getting them to sing a song. As the building collapsed the singing petered out.
Among the wreckage I saw this one guy laying out photos he found. He sucked in his breath and said, "My god." His friend said, "I know, but it happened. What can you do?" None of the people who stood around
flipping through the pictures knew anyone in them. But they all cried silently.
Then there was a mother standing on top of what use to be her home. She kept yelling out her son's name. At first she sounded like she genuinely believed her son would respond. But much like the middle school in Hanwang county, I think parents and relatives are still looking, even if it's just the body. At least they know.
Filming that scene made me feel just how intrusive and exploitive the media is. We film, then leave. But what can we do?
People at the emergency shelter further south in Mianyang try to send out hope.
There is a tent sent up for people to register their missing loved ones.
Me: "How likely are these people going to find their loved ones?"
Volunteer: "You cannot give up hope. Many people just lost communication."
This elderly lady turned to me at the tent and asked me tearfully if I could help her find her 30-year-old son and her 3-year-old grandson. She came straight to the centre after the earthquake and hasn't been
in touch with them since.
People are holding up signs everywhere and hoping to talk to fellow villagers to see if they've seen or heard from their loved ones.
I know people say the rescue effort is winding down, but there are still places, in the mountain area, where rescue crews have yet to reach because the aftershocks made the roads inaccessible. I heard though that certain villages are still doing well enough but are running out of time without food and water.
The epicentre, Wenchuan, is still inaccessible to cars. Though my colleague, who took two days to get in on foot, assures me Beichuan, about 80km away from the epicentre, is by far the worst hit place. Likely because the county is surrounded by mountains on all four sides and the houses are built on the lowest level.
It's getting hotter by the day now and the stench of bodies is going to be a big concern. I often hear pieces of mountains rolling down of in the distance in Beichuan. I personally haven't felt much of the aftershocks.
As for the cracked dam, I wonder if the army is just going to let it wash out the county eventually. Looking at the damages I have no idea how long, and whether it's possible to even clean up that mess.
I want to thank everyone for caring about my safety. You have to believe me that we are the most taken care of. We always have water supplies and we get to stay in a five star hotel every night back in the city. And I am always careful.
My body is aching a bit from running so hard, and my throat is a bit sore from inhaling so much dust and debris (yes even with a face mask) but otherwise I am fine.
Sichuan Earthquake coverage: Day 4
No survivors were found alive by the time I left Beichuan county today at 16:00 local time. The chances are getting slimmer. All I saw were body bags being carried around.
We found a rescue effort where a father sat waiting to see if his son is still alive under a slab of concrete. It used to be a three story building. Now it stands only waist high.
He doesn't live in the county but arrived two days ago and had been continuously calling his son's mobile until it got through last night and was picked up. He heard breathing sounds and immediately notified rescue crews. They didn't start the digging until 11am today.
Two hours later they got a glimpse of the top floor of what use to be a motel. Inside were four bodies. Rescue crews gave up digging. There's no way anyone underneath would survive.
The father thinks his son is still on the first floor.
He speaks in Sichuanese to me, gesturing behind him, his son's unintended grave. I could only understand 70% of what he's saying, but I'm guessing he's complaining that the rescue crews didn't come fast enough. It still hasn't sunken in that it's now day 6 after the earthquake.
Just across the rescue site was a couple taking great pains to collect their belongings scattered on the street. They put everything in their store. They fidgeted with the lock for a long time, as if they'd return some day. My coworker told me he saw reports today that officials do not plan on rebuilding the county after the cleanup.
Further down some residents are back to dig through the rubble for their belongings. One man found his photo album and his army badge. The ex-army soldier beams and holds up a mobile phone. "I found it! And it still works!" He's among the lucky ones. None of his family members died in the earthquake.
The town is almost empty except for rescue and aid workers. Even they are slowly pulling out.
An hour drive south to Mianyang Emergency Shelter shows a bustling place. Inside people have made beds on top of treadmills, hanging laundry off the bench press, and boxing rings have become a big comfy bed for dozens. There were weird giant sized posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other body builders hanging on the wall. The earthquake victims leaned against them, slurping instant noodles or eating congee.
The right side of the stadium grounds was a big queue. They were registering their kids into a temporary school that will be built shortly near the site. The NBC correspondent told me that this was very well coordinated and unseen during Hurricane Katrina.
So far the stadium is quite sanitary. It's been home to survivors for almost a week, and now houses over 10,000, most from the Beichuan area. Those with their kids running around can still manage a smile or two.
I saw one baby screaming at the top of his lungs and kicking his grandma. Perhaps he's traumatized from the events of the past week. She graciously tried to hold him upright for me to take a picture of him, but he wouldn't have it. He continued to cry.
Tomorrow is another day spent in Beichuan. We felt an aftershock today while filming the rescue but it was very small. We all ran away from buildings or anything that can topple over us. But it's kind of hard.
How does one go on day in and day out not trusting nature? Not trusting the roof over your head?
My coworker's friends live in Chengdu. A newlywed was home alone when the earthquake struck. Her first thought was: What's the most precious thing we've got? She ripped her 52" plasma screen off the wall and
proceeded to wrap it up with three blankets. Then she thought: "That freezer is really new and very good."
I don't know whether she managed to carry that stuff herself.
But now she and her husband take shifts sleeping. One sleeps until 3am and the other takes over into the morning. They have set two glass bottles one on top of the other. They figured if the earthquake was big enough they will wake up.
Not sure that will save them. But I can only imagine how horrible it must be to not feel safe in your own home.
I realize I'm very privileged. Today I was hiking back to the car when I let out a big sigh "Whew! Finally done work, now I can go home!" Just then I was passing by a couple of local residents. I felt so awful. These people don't have a place to call home and will likely either sleep on the floor or in a tent made of three plastic sheets in Mianyang.
My mother called me frantically this morning, telling me to get out. She said, "Why are you doing this? It's not like they pay you a lot. You don't need to prove anything!"
I really had no good answer for her. I had to ask myself long and hard why I wanted to be here. It's not for fame; I'm not even doing on-camera stuff. It's not for the adrenaline, because I can think of a million other things more exciting than running for my life from a possible flood. It's not because of some altruistic reason that I think I'm "serving the people" or that it gives me great satisfaction to tell people about their pain.
The only answer I can come up with is that this opportunity opened up for me to experience what people have to endure through natural disasters. And keep me humble.
I've heard horror stories about trying to get a flight out of Chengdu airport. Some people waited for 24 hours or more. Our driver then piped up: 'Yeah but you guys have money so it's no problem.'
And that cinched it for me right there. We do have the resources. I'm sure I'd get out faster if I got first class tickets. I can live in my cushy five star hotel every night, or get out of here anytime I want.
Sichuan Earthquake coverage: Day 5
The mourning of the dead in Beichuan took place all over the county, just like the rest of the country at 14:28, the exact time the earthquake hit a week ago.
I went to the one that was held on the highest pile of rubble in the area, with only rescue workers from the army and media there.
About 10 minutes before the moment, the cameraman turned to me and asked, "Did you feel it?" I didn't, but it was an aftershock.
Shortly afterwards someone pointed to the mountain behind us. At the peak were clouds of dust kicking up. I looked long and hard and finally saw huge boulders rolling down the mountain.
I didn't know if it was going to be bad, but at that time, I felt pretty safe standing on top of the rubble. At least nothing can fall over me.
We never saw boulders reaching the bottom of the mountain. But it's enough of a reminder that Beichuan is still under threat.
14:28 rolled around and the soldiers all took off their hats and bowed in unison towards the Chinese flag, lowered at half mast. Car horns wailed for three minutes. It was touching.
Across the river, a rescue crew is still busy digging out a possible survivor. They do not stop during the moment.
A 67-year-old woman was found alive earlier this morning. They were hoping for one more miracle.
As we waited for the "moment" to happen, ie. see them pull out a survivor, a cameraman and I wandered off to the back part of town.
I've been back in this county for the last four days. Everyday the roads look different, boulders moved, rubble pushed aside. I'm unsure whether that car really rammed into that railing or whether it was pushed there to clear off the roads.
But this back end of town, looks about as eerie as the first day I went there.
Few residents are allowed in as of 8am today. The rescue workers say it's for their own safety. I find only a handful of them trying to collect their belongings.
One couple I ran into stood on the empty street staring at an apartment building. She points to the window with a curtain billowing in the wind. "I thought I was just going on a day trip for work and would come back that night, so I didn't even bother closing my window."
"Which floor do you live on?"
I counted. "You mean the third."
"No, the bottom floor is crushed under, now the second floor is the
None of her family died. But she lost her housecleaner and many friends.
"My initial thought was that my family was alive so I'm one of the luckier ones. But now coming back ... I'm not sure what to do."
She came back to collect some things. But it's not safe to enter. All she has left is her purse and the clothes she wore out of the house that day.
The stories of these residents don't stop here, but the life has certainly left Beichuan county.
Only a handful of residents and mostly people from the surrounding mountain areas are seen weaving between all the rescue workers who are tired and don't have much else to do other than body retrieval.
There's nothing "new" to report other than the rising body count. The international news is slowly moving back to the cyclone in Burma and to other news.
I'm heading back to Beijing tomorrow. I hear the airport is a nightmare so I'm prepared for extreme delay.
I don't feel like leaving because I know the stories aren't done. But such is the news lifecycle.
My colleague said he interviewed a father who dug with his bare hands at a school for his son yesterday. It took him 10 hours to save him.
He said, "My first thought was: It only took 10 hours? That's quick!"
Think that's a sign to get out before you get too jaded.
As emotionally taxing as this earthquake has been for many people here in China, an interview I conducted this morning really brought home to me just how much of an impact this disaster in Sichuan may be having on the overall Chinese psyche.We managed to contact a Chinese Ph.D student at Harvard Medical School by the name of Li Gang who spearheaded a donation drive to help the Sichuan victims. Ostensibly the point of the interview was to discuss what overseas Chinese people were doing to help out the victims here in China. But what was striking about the interview was the emotion that flowed forward during our discussion. In relating how he had organized the Chinese community on campus to get together, I started to hear a slight change in his voice. And in a follow-up question about what the reaction of the Chinese community at Harvard was, Mr. Li essentially began sobbing as he told us about how he and his fellow overseas Chinese students all gathered around computers and viewed images of the devastation in Wenchuan County. Afterward it got me thinking about the mental stress that people can face when they're detached from their comfort zone.
I have a number of Chinese friends and colleagues here in China who have lived for an extended period of time overseas. Though virtually all of them say they enjoyed their experience overall, many of them will freely admit that they often times found it difficult. Many reasons are generally given, including the difference in the food, the struggles with the language, the financial strain of living in generally more expensive countries, etc. The list is generally quite extensive and varied from person to person. But most of my friends and colleagues, if pressed on the matter, will admit that one of the biggest things they struggled with was a detachment from Chinese people and the Chinese culture. It, in my estimation, seems to be an emotional attachment to the 'motherland' that a lot of non-Chinese can't completely get their heads around. I've always sort of lived by the theory that home is where you make it. That's why I now consider China home. Sure, this isn't my country and technically I'm a guest here. But still, I've made China my home. But for reasons that are likely numerous, most Chinese, in my estimation, don't really think like this. Even if they were born and raised in other countries, there seems to be some kind of homing-beacon like drive buried within the Chinese soul that makes them long for the Middle Kingdom. So when disaster strikes the 'motherland,' I suspect the drive to want to help their kinsmen is amplified among Chinese people. This is why I think my interviewee this morning had difficulty containing his emotions.
Living abroad can be tough on anyone at times. As an example, this past week my elderly mother slipped and fractured her hip. Upon hearing this news from my family members, I was somewhat torn as to what to do. Being on the other side of the planet and working where I do during this time here in China would make a return flight home to visit here in the hospital logistically difficult. Still, I was stricken by a sense of 'I need to do something,' even though I know there's nothing I can do physically for her. Thankfully, she's receiving high-quality medical care and, according to my family members who are there with her, responding very well to treatment. And not to remotely even try to compare the earthquake disaster here in China with my mother's accident, but, from an emotional standpoint, it did give me a better insight into how handcuffed overseas Chinese must feel right now. You're half a world away, and you want to help, but your options are limited. That said, though I'm not normally in the habit of soliciting comments from our readers (especially angry ones!), I would like to hear from overseas Chinese and ask them what's going on in their heads right now when it comes to the disaster in Sichuan.
China came to a virtual standstill as the country observed three minutes of mourning for the victims of the deadly Sichuan earthquake. Starting at 2:28pm, air sirens wailed across the country as most motorists stopped and blared their horns. This photo was taken at Jishuitan Qiao in northwest Beijing.
Watching the television news coverage of the mass rally in Tian'anmen Square following the official three minutes of mourning, it was readily apparent that this disaster has unified people in a way that other things, such as the Olympics and other historical political campaigns (see: Cultural Revolution), have not. Compared to things like, for example, the Torch Relay, which rallied mainly frustrated youth behind a nationalistic cause, the earthquake has brought everyone together. Young and old, affluent and poor, could all be seen in the pictures from Tian'anmen Square, chanting 中国加油 (Zhongguo Jiayou, or 'Power to China') in unison. And while, at times, pundits have been critical of perceived nationalism here in China, this time around, the unity of the Chinese people is being directed at the most altruistic cause; Chinese people helping each other.
Further to this, the government has sanctioned three days of official national mourning. This is the first time this has happened to honor average Chinese citizens. (In the past, the deaths of national leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have been marked by official mourning, but nothing on this scale) And to coincide with the mourning period, the media here has suspended basically anything that smacks of entertainment. It's being reported that newspapers will only use black font on their front pages during this period. Music programs on radio stations have been suspended and replaced by news and analysis of the quake and television stations are running continual coverage of the relief efforts. It's a very unique time here in China right now. But the question that is starting to be asked within media circles is just how long this will remain the focus of the nation's full attention?
I remember vividly in North America following 9/11 that we started asking ourselves as journalists and media organizations just how long it would be before we could, or should, start talking about other things about a week-and-a-half after the terrorist attacks. Of course, news of the event and the subsequent fallout remained the top story for weeks after the two towers crumbled to the ground. But it remains a delicate point for the media every time a massive catastrophe like this takes place. How much time do you dedicate exclusively to this before life moves on and other issues begin to be discussed again? I don't think there is any hard and fast answer to this question. Generally the theory is to gauge the mood of the public. That in itself can be a difficult thing to do, because people's emotions range widely when disasters like this take place.
No one in their right mind could diminish the scope of this disaster and the outpouring of grief that the Chinese people have been expressing for their countrymen. But just how long this will last is a somewhat unprecedented question here in China, and something that I suspect will be debated more and more as the days press forward.
BEIJING - A friend of mine passed this along this morning:
In the morning, I logged in to MSN as usual. More than 10 friends of mine sent me this "bad news" and wanted me spread it to as many people as possible:
The leader of No.3 Middle school in Huizhou, Guangdong Province has "directed" a show of donation. He asked staff to video tape him and some other leaders of the school donating money. After the video had been taken, he and his co-workers took back all the money they donated. Not only that, they gave some money to each student and asked them to donate it on tape. Afterwards, the money was returned.
My friends said, let's spread this ugly image of this school leader! Use the internet as media supervision tool, to criticize this behaviour!
You can watch the video shot by the students here.
UPDATE (1:48pm Beijing Time):
Thanks to cat for filling us in on the story in the comments section. We learned how quickly rumors can spread when people began predicting an earthquake between 10pm and midnight on the day of the Sichuan quake. Looks like this story may just be a rumor, as well.
More charity groups are stepping in to offer contributions to the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan. One such is a Beijing-based group that's connected to the China Youth Care foundation. I received a letter this morning from one of the organizers:
As you all know, the 7.9 magnitude tremor, which was focused in China's Sichuan Province, is estimated to have killed at least 14,800 people -- and that toll is expected to rise dramatically as rescue teams reach the most affected areas. In cities near the earthquake's epicenter, over 26,000 people are buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Thus, the urgent help to earthquake-affected areas are badly needed. Though donations from home and abroad has been collected very effectively these days, I am sure that still some people may not have time to do it personally or still look for proper ways to help.
I and some friends are organizing an event to gather donations (cash is preferred) together and send it right away. We have one experienced person from China Youth Care Foundation who can guarantee the donations to use efficiently. Our charity dinner group has donated blankets for a Qinghai school successfully that this person coordinated.
We will have a banner showing our real care to those survivors, which you can express something on it too. We'll send it to the disaster region afterwards.
Please see details as below:
Sunday, 18th May
Location -MEA Education Centre and Kultur Kafe in the Blue Castle Complex, Building F,S-116A / NO.3,West Dang Wang Road Chaoyang District / near Dawang Lu subway stop
Tel: 0108599 7735
Please pass this message on to your friends as well.
Also a reminder that the Bookworms in Beijing, Suzhou and Chengdu are coordinating donation efforts. They are looking for tents, dried food, practical clothes, quilts and emergency blankets as well as money for water and medicine. You can find more information here. All donations should be dropped off before 4pm on SATURDAY in Beijing and Suzhou and 1pm SATURDAY in Chengdu.
BEIJING - As I'm sat at home writing this post in my comfortable dry apartment, in near silence - I, like many of you, feel desperately helpless. I've donated, I've told people how to donate on the radio and I've appealed to everyone I know back home to donate. And they are doing.
But, I cannot help thinking that I should be doing more. With the death toll likely to rise above 50,000 - I want to help with my hands. I want to help give water, distribute medicine, wipe away people's tears. And a part of me wants to grieve with the people here in China.
I'm not Chinese, but I live here. This is my home too right now.
Where I come from we don't have earthquakes or snow-storms of the magnitude that we have seen here. We just don't. And for me to be on the radio every-night delivering news about the rising casualty list - is hard.
Whilst on the show I'm signed into my messaging client - so that should anything go wrong, or need amending, my superiors can contact me swiftly and silently. For the past couple of evenings one of my Chinese friends on my contact list has been asking me the same question, 'Why is our nation's flag at Tiannanmen Square not at half-mast?'.
It's a good question.
According to Wikipedia:
Flying the flag at half-mast is a symbol of respect, mourning and distress. The flag is lowered to allow the invisible flag of death to fly on top of the mast, thus signifying death's presence, power and prominence.
The flag certainly would have been lowered in many other countries, as you can see from the Wikipedia article - so why not here? And I really am not criticising, I just want to understand why.
'It seems that the flag is never lowered for civilian matters, no matter how big. I've basically never seen a flag at half-mast. One time at school the flag was raised to half mast where one of the pulleys got stuck, but that was a half-mast raising, not a half-mast lowering.'
Just how big a civilian matter does it need to be? There is no doubt that a flag flying at half-mast is hugely symbolic, wherever in the world you happen to be. Anyone who happens to glance will know what it means - it means that the nation is mourning. It would in no way show weakness, or a lack of strength - rather, in my eyes it would show solidarity at this tragic time.
UPDATE - At 14:28 on the 19th of May 2008, 3 minutes of silence will be observed across China. Additionally, the National Flag will be flown at half-mast for the period of the 19th-21st.
BEIJING - I feel as though I'm in journalistic limbo right now.
I received a phone call this morning from a good friend of mine who had just arrived at the airport in Chengdu. He works for a Russian news service as the chief correspondent here in China. As such, he has been tasked to make it to the epicenter of this week's earthquake in Wenchuan County. He relayed for me his trip there from Beijing, saying that it was an extremely sad flight, as many of the people who were on it were family members of the victims who were on their way to collect their dead relatives. He also described for me the hardships he personally faced in getting to the hardest-hit area, given that he would most likely have to rent a bike to make it to the region because 4-wheel transport remains a virtual impossibility. And despite all that he had told me about the trouble that lay ahead for him and the hardship that he had already encountered, a large part of me wanted to say 'congratulations.'
It may seem morbid, but it's these kinds of situations that tend to bring out the best in journalists. I don't know if there's any sort of scientific reasoning behind it, but as a journalist, you're trained to gravitate toward the heart of the action. Perhaps it's because we're trained to relay information that no one else has. Perhaps another part of it is also a bit of self-gratification, given that being in these kinds of situations, you're work comes under intense focus, forcing journalists to strive above and beyond their day-in and day-out routine work. And yet another part of it might be somewhat self-serving, as after the ordeal is over and the work is done, you can say to yourself and others "I was there. I was on the front lines." Whatever it is that compels us as journalists, we all want to be involved in the story. Hence why I say I feel in limbo.
Given my present circumstances, I'm locked here in Beijing and have no opportunity to make it out to the disaster zone. Sure, I'm on the radio everyday, and have been tasked to talk about the broader-based issues surrounding the earthquake, such as logistics, civic policies, emergency management and international aide and support. I've also been doing semi-frequent updates on the overall situation on radio back in my native Canada. But a big part of me just feels that it's not enough. Again, not to sound morbid, but big-news situations like this don't come along everyday. And being a journalist within potential proximity to the story, one can't help but want to be there in the thick of things.
The last thing my friend said to me really sort of brings home the situation. He said, "I just wanted to give you a call and say that if I don't make it back, thank you [for your friendship]." Even though part of him realizes that he's potentially putting his life at risk by entering into the mass devastation, the drive to tell the story for journalists more often supercedes conventional practicality. So best of luck my friend. And the same to those doing their part for the victims of this horrific tragedy.
Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) changed its homepage logo on May 13 in honor of earthquake survivors. The gray logo is centered on a red cross and the date of the disaster. Clicking on the logo takes users to earthquake information on Baidu's finance channel. Baidu has donated RMB 2 million to the relief effort. According to a dzwww.com report, the word "earthquake" was searched 27.1 million times on Baidu by May 13, while "Wenchuan" was searched 4.95 million times and "Sichuan Earthquake" was searched 3.82 million times.
Tencent (0700.HK) released a special version of its instant messaging (IM) software QQ2008 Beta1 on Wednesday to allow QQ users to pay tribute to those affected by the Wenchuan County earthquake. The new version adds functions for yellow memorial ribbon and lit candle icons to be inserted in QQ signature blocks.
China Mobile (NYSE: CHL, 941.HK) partnered with the Red Cross Society of China to release an SMS donation platform on Tuesday, reports Sohu. Using the platform, China Mobile subscribers can send donations in increments of RMB 1-2 to earthquake victims. The donations will be deducted from users' mobile fee accounts.
But how do you actually going about making a donation via SMS? China Mobile's website says
China Mobile customers can make donations by sending SMSs with the numbers "1" or "2" in the body of the message to 1069999301; you can contribute 1 or 2RMB to the disaster-hit areas and make repeated donations.
The donation service is legitimate and I'd strongly encourage making a contribution. A little goes a long way. The money is deducted from your mobile bill.
There are also other domestic companies pitching in. Again from Pacific Epoch:
Alibaba's consumer-to-consumer (C2C) site Taobao.com opened an online store to donate product proceeds to earthquake victims on May 14, reports Hexun. Approximately 3,000 Taobao sellers with 30,000 goods have signed up on the platform to donate 50 percent of their sales to the rescue effort, according to the report. More than 2,300 of the goods are already sold out, said the report.
Alibaba's online advertising exchange platform Alimama has purchased 400,000 advertisement spaces across 100,000 websites to place public service announcements for Sichuan earthquake donations, reports Hexun. Alimama is also asking its ad sellers to donate one day of advertising revenue to earthquake victims. By Wednesday afternoon, Internet users had used Alibaba-owned platforms to donate RMB 4 million to the cause.
Alibaba provides a page in English here.
In the blogsphere, Ryan from Lost Laowai has developed an icon that links to the Red Cross Society of China's donation site. Zhongnanhai will feature the badge. Please post it on your blog. Or better yet: click on the link and donate to the Red Cross.
For more information, click on the donation badge below.
We'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who have contacted us with their kind wishes of support for our colleagues and friends at The Bookworm Chengdu. Thankfully, everyone is safe.
The Bookworm are co-ordinating our efforts to help the people of Sichuan during this difficult time. The Bookworm Chengdu has become a focal point in assisting those groups currently providing on the ground support for those in Sichuan affected by the tragedy.
The Chinese Red Cross are currently setting up operations in affected areas. In the meantime, smaller groups are doing what they can to provide food, water, shelter and medicines.
The Bookworm are assisting these groups, until the larger organisations are able to provide support.
What you can do:
The Bookworms in Beijing, Suzhou and Chengdu will be gathering much needed emergency materials to be sent to victims of the earthquake.
As advised by the Chinese Red Cross, we are collecting emergency donations only of:
MONEY FOR WATER AND MEDICINES
Our friends at DHL will ship all collected donations to The Bookworm Chengdu on Saturday 17th May.
Please drop off all donations by
4pm on SATURDAY 17th MAY
Call Alex or Jenny on 132 6421 7462
Please drop off all donations by
4pm on SATURDAY 17th MAY
Call Pierre on 138 6210 4118
Please drop off all donations by
1pm on SUNDAY 18th MAY
Call Bronwyn on 158 2826 1084
Beyond these dates, our efforts will continue in accordance with advice from the Chinese Red Cross.
Thank you for your desperately needed support.
There is also a benefit on tonight at Mao Live:
A concert to benefit the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan province will be held at MAO LIVEHOUSE (Beijing). All profits will go to the Chinese Red Cross toward the massive relief effort.
IC Girl Band (metal, metal, metal)
RandomK(e) (angsty space rock)
The Verse (Beijing's only funk act)
Sand (long-running jammy rock institution)
8.30pm at MAO Livehouse
Tix are RMB50, and the proceeds will go to the Chinese Red Cross, who are
sending help to those affected by the earthquake in Sichuan.
SHANGHAI - Our writers have not focused much on the unfolding disaster in Sichuan province, largely because TV crews, journalists, Twitterati, bloggers, and others are now either on the ground or already doing excellent coverage. But it's important that we mention that everyone can help aid in the rescue and recovery effort, and help the victims of the quake. Shanghaiist, which has been leading the blogging coverage of the earthquake aftermath, has a page which shows how you can contribute. Please do so.
I arrived in Shanghai this afternoon and my hotel has both CNN and BBC, two stations I don't receive in my apartment. The images, which many people have already seen repatedly, are shocking and incredibly sad. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.
By Hugh Jorgen
BEIJING - The death toll soars past 12,000 as rescuers scramble to pull victims from the aftermath of the earthquake in China. It is human misery and destruction on a massive scale.
The world's media has focused on the disaster area in Sichuan province. The Chinese public is desperate for news about the devastation and the story has even eclipsed the Myanmar disaster to become the lead item on most international newscasts, including CCTV International. Well, sort of. Credible news organizations instinctively lead with the latest video from the disaster areas. Basic details like rising casualty figures, the latest status on rescue efforts and the scope of damage are the first things presented in most newscasts; not so at CCTV International. While the subject is of course, the earthquake, the lead story on Tuesday night was, well, not really a lead story at all. Instead, the state-run broadcaster chose as its lead item a minute-long copy story (that means no video) about a phone conversation between President Hu Jintao (yes, he leads the news again) and US President George W. Bush. Bush was calling to send his condolences to the earthquake victims and their families on behalf of the American people as well as to "provide all possible assistance to the disaster areas." Fair enough, but this is not, I repeat NOT, a lead story, especially when thousands are dead more are hurt or missing. But then, four sentences in to this uninspired item, the substance - and the focus of this story- take a bizarre turn. During this conversation, viewers are told Hu Jintao decided to bring up the "upcoming fourth China-US strategic dialogue". Awkward. That was followed by the usual blathering about China willing to "contribute to the development of bilateral ties." Then it gets worse. As tens of thousands of rescue workers scramble to find survivors in the disaster areas, and a nation waits for the latest details on the catastrophe, viewers are told that during the conversation with the US President, "Hu Jintao also reiterated China's stance on the Tibet issue", and that he hoped the US will take a fair stance and "address the issue properly". I would have given real money to see the bewildered look on Bush's face in the Oval office when the translation came down the phone line on that one.
From a news programming perspective, this is simply embarrassing. At best, the Bush-Hu conversation could have been tacked on after the latest information about the disaster was presented. Other unrelated issues which the two leaders apparently touched on could have been placed after all the earthquake coverage. It's another example of the disturbing sense of priorities that are consistently revealed by China's state-run broadcaster at the worst possible times. CCTV has again shown that real news stories, no matter their scope and importance, will always take a back seat to any opportunistic publicity the CCP leaders feel compelled to give themselves. Viewers in China deserve better. In the meantime, the Sichuan earthquake is not the only disaster playing out on China's state run-television.
Hugh Jorgen works in state-run media. Zhongnanhai welcomes submissions at email@example.com.
By Hugh Jorgen
I'm always amused to watch the responses of recently-arrived foreigners in China when the subject of CCTV International comes up. For those of you not familiar with it, CCTV International (CCTV 9) is the state-run English-language television station operated by China Central Television, which also operates several other such stations, most of which are in Chinese. Among the program lineup on CCTV 9, you'll find regular live editions of CCTV News. For many foreigners living in China, CCTV 9 is one of the few English-language TV stations they have access to. While some of the programs are quite good, CCTV News could use a major overhaul. The frustration it generates among foreigners is fairly consistent. "It's just propaganda," they often complain. "That's right," I respond. After a few more moments of watching their blood pressure rise as they recount recent viewing disappointments, I offer to explain the source of their frustration. What usually throws them off is the use of the word "News". Just because the program has the word "News" in its title, I explain, doesn't mean they are actually presenting news, at least not in the Western sense. It soon dawns on them that their suspicions were right: CCTV is simply a mouthpiece for the Chinese government. "News" coverage, and all that usually entails, has very little to do with the mandate of CCTV.
The devastating earthquake in Sichuan is a classic example of the CCTV approach to covering such events. On a Monday evening newscast, the first couple of minutes of content did not actually provide any specifics of the catastrophe. By this point, the actual official death toll was around 8,000 and climbing, with thousands injured and an untold amount of damage done. But no one watching this particular newscast would get specific details about the massive scope of this emerging disaster till several minutes in. Instead, viewers were told about what the Chinese leaders were doing in response to the earthquake. This, of course, is standard procedure at the state-run broadcaster. Forget about the standard journalistic procedure of answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. The lead in any such story at state-run media is always about the leadership - in other words, Hu and Wen first - always - then maybe all those other questions later on. Last night, for example, the lead story on the disaster was about what President Hu Jintao was doing. It was the usual item about "directing rescue officials to work all out" and "urging rescuers to spare no effort, etc." In the second story, viewers were treated to comments from Premier Wen Jiabao aboard a jet as he headed for Sichuan province. In a sound bite that lasted less than 60 seconds, Premier Wen managed to promote the CCP no less than three times as he read from a prepared script: "lead the people", "strong leadership" and "I believe that under the leadership of the CCP and the State Council, the people and the army will unite," were his English translated phrases of inspiration to the victims and their families. Curiously, despite his seemingly effusive concern about the victims, there was no mention of anything like "our thoughts and condolences go out to the victims and their families in their hour of need," - the usual PR'd response from politicians in the early stages of such disasters.
In fact, it wasn't until about 2-3 minutes into the newscast that the actual details of this massive tragedy started to emerge. And despite the fact that the earthquake had struck a full eight hours earlier, there were still no live reports from CCTV reporters. Viewers had to settle for pre-recorded phone interviews from a couple of reporters from other media outlets who gave scant details in fully-scripted responses.
For regular viewers of CCTV, this game plan is dejavu all over again. A couple of months earlier, the government dusted off the same playbook for its coverage of the snow storm that pounded southern China. (Also known as "Snow Job 2008")
These are classic examples of the CCTV philosophy, which could probably be summed up as "No matter how severe the disaster, there is always an opportunity to promote the Party, and while doing so, remind people who's in control".
The lesson for foreign viewers is simple: as long as you don't actually expect news from CCTV News, you are much less likely to be let down. That's how the CCP puts the control in "damage control".
Hugh Jorgen works in state-run media. Zhongnanhai welcomes submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's a sober analysis of China's current role in the world, and why the west needs to adopt new methods to deal with it:
The most successful human rights engagement with China--such as that of John Kamm, a former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong who has intervened on behalf of hundreds of political prisoners--is characterized by what one might call respectful tenaciousness. Trying to crack Chinese Internet censorship or highlighting the cases of those mistreated for seeking to advance the rule of law or exercise free speech, for instance, is always appropriate. But so is applauding China's attempts to control corruption or experiment with local elections.
The essay also discards antiquated methods of containing countries the west doesn't like; methods usually championed by American trade isolationists and human rights advocates:
There are, after all, only a limited number of ways in which human rights groups or Western governments can influence China on civil and political rights. Formal diplomatic entreaties usually yield shallow results. Trying to isolate the world's most populous country is not an option. Economic sanctions that worked against apartheid South Africa and maintain at least nominal pressure on countries such as Burma and Zimbabwe would be fruitless against the world's second-largest economy. Military intervention to stop human rights violations is unthinkable.
One of my favorite passages concerns that most ubiquitous of sentences found in state-run media and Chinese government statements: "(insert name/country here) has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." I'm sure, in Chinese, this doesn't have the same connotations as it does in the west. In English-speaking countries, that phrase usually draws more derision than concern:
When the U.S. Congress recently passed a resolution calling on Beijing to end its repression of dissent in Tibet and open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, a Chinese spokesperson declared that the resolution had "seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." Nor was this the first time the Chinese had expressed emotional distress at some political gesture. Everyone from the Icelandic singer Björk, who shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" at the end of a concert in Shanghai, to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who met with the Dalai Lama in Ottawa, has been accused of hurting the feelings of the Chinese. Indeed, the Chinese might be the only people who regard the rantings of CNN's Jack Cafferty, who referred to the Chinese government as "goons and thugs," as worth taking seriously. Nerves this sensitive bespeak either a severe case of adolescent angst or a revealing insight into national character, or both. It is hard to imagine Vladimir Putin or Robert Mugabe, or George W. Bush for that matter, confessing to having hurt feelings about anything, much less the kind of symbolic ephemera that seem to regularly rile the Chinese.
The whole article can be read here, and is a refreshing look at how western countries can deal with China in the future.
BEIJING - An earthquake struck Wenchuan in the eastern part of Sichuan province this afternoon, hitting 7.6 on the Richter scale. This report indicates it registered as a 3.9 quake as far away as Beijing.
The quake hit 57 miles (92km) north-west of Sichhuan, the capital of Chengdu province, at 2.28pm (7.28am BST), the US Geological Survey said on its website.
It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties or damage in the provincial capital.
"We felt continuous shaking for about two or three minutes. All the people in our office are rushing downstairs. We're still feeling slight tremblings," said an office worker in Chengdu.
Tremors were felt in Beijing, about 930 miles away, and the Thai capital of Bangkok, 2050 miles away, where buildings swayed for several minutes, although there were no immediate reports of injuries.
In Beijing's financial district, many workers left their buildings but there were no visible signs of damage.
Your's truly was sitting at Starbucks on the 2nd floor of Tower 2 of the China World Center when the quake struck, and was completely oblivious that anything had occured. It wasn't until I received a phone call and was told an earthquake had just struck was I made aware. I immediately glanced up at the looming CCTV tower and saw that it was still standing, so I figured it couldn't have been that bad.
The office buildings in Guomao were evacuated, leaving thousands of people on the streets. The small tremor also closed my favorite sushi restaurant, which meant I had to go hungry. It seems any opportunity to close up shop for the day will be taken.
UPDATE 1 (12:47am Beijing Time):
This quake looks to be much stronger than first anticipated. My phone has been ringing off the hook all night from news organizations in Canada wanting live interviews and more information. Unfortunately I'm in Beijing and not in Sichuan, so I'm only able to provide information from Xinhua and Twitter, as well as the excellent coverage from Global Voices and Shanghaiist (which deserves a mention "with honors" for its updates all day).
The death toll seems to be increasing almost hourly. Since I began doing live hits, it has risen from 5,000 to 7,600 and now I'm reading it could be over 8,000. As soon as I post this, I'm sure it will be outdated.
I also notice that, as far as I can tell, only the New York Times is reporting that the tremors felt in Beijing likely weren't the same ones from the earthquake in Sichuan. It claims a second quake hit Tongzhou shortly before 3pm which caused the swaying buildings and chandeliers in the capital. I'm sure more on this will come to light in the coming hours and days.
Our hearts go out to all the victims and their families and friends in Sichuan and around China.
Update 2 by Paul
The death toll from yesterday's earthquake in Sichuan has now been upgraded to 9,219. Of course, this is a preliminary estimate. Indications are that rescue crews are still clamoring to try to get to the hardest-hit region of Sichuan, which is Wenchuan (汶川) county, north of Chengdu. Apparently many of the roads have been washed out by landslides. And just taking a look at the forecast over the next couple of days, it doesn't look like rescue crews are going to have any easier a time. The forecast, though warmer than today (26 degrees Wednesday and 30 Thursday), is still calling for showers in the area.
Like Cam, I too have been contacted by a few news organizations, including my old station back in Vancouver which called me at 6:45 this morning (though, it was fine, because I happened to basically be up anyway). I expect this is likely going to continue as more and more information continues to come out about the severity of the quake. On a related topic, I have to give props to the state-run television stations for their coverage. Between devastating footage and reporters giving live updates on a continual basis on CCTV's news channel, I must say it's a lot better than I thought it was going to be. I suspect the government has specifically asked for as much coverage as possible on this, given the fallout from the snowstorms earlier this year. I suspect there is significant concern within government circles right now about civil unrest and rumors, as can be gleaned from this line from a Xinhua report:
"Those who spread rumors to sabotage disaster relief work would be dealt with according to China's laws and regulations."
Almost immediately following yesterday's quake, an SMS rumor started making the rounds (around 3:30pm) in the capital that there was going to be another quake between 10pm and 12am that was going to be larger than the first one felt in Beijing. Obviously, anyone who knows anything about earthquakes knows that science has yet to be able to predict exactly when earthquakes will strike. All that can be done is measure them when it happens. But its rumors like these that the government understandably wants to quash.
New Sounds of China （中国新声) is an (*ahem*) new bilingual Chinese-English radio show presented in collaboration between Resonance FM and London Chinese Radio. Their first episode features a solid cross section of studio and live recordings; some of the latter come from a recent experimental music festival in Beijing. Adding to the appeal is an interview, in Chinese, with Glorious Pharmacy's Li Tieqiao. Well worth a listen. You can hear their first show here. Oh, and, surprise! You'll likely need a proxy or VPN to access this if you're in mainland China.
London Chinese Radio offers the following summary:
A new show devoted to Chinese contemporary music in its many surprising guises. Broadcasting in a mish-mash of the world's three most popular languages - English, Chinese and Music - New Sounds of China hopes to challenge orientalist perceptions of Chinese music, and prove that there's more playing on the iPods of the People's Republicans than just Peking Opera. Presented by Wang Weilin and Paul Kendall, as a joint collaboration between Resonance FM and London Chinese Radio. Please contact the show via (insert e-mail address), to record your requests, recommendations and rants, and in return, we promise to steal the best ideas and claim them as our own. The show will be broadcast live across London on Resonance 104.4FM on Wednesdays from 6-7pm. You can listen to it from this link.
伦敦华语和 Resonance FM 合作，即将拨出一系列的中国地下音乐节目，名为《中国新声 》这些音乐显然和大家熟悉的来自香港台湾的流行乐完全不同。该节目将通过调频 104.4 FM 在周三下午6-7点播出。同时，您也可以通过我们的网上链接收听。
The show will include music by Meihao Yaodian, Li Jianhong (李剑鸿) among others, and an exclusive interview with Li Tieqiao. Tune in and prepare for ... er, something !
UPDATE: Though absent from the original blurb, you can contact New Sounds of China at londonhuayu "at" gmail "dot" com.
I wish I came up with that column title myself, but alas, it was one of the creative editors at the Times Colonist. This week's column takes a look at the explosive growth of China's luxury goods industry:
Aside from fashion shows, high-end cosmetics and fancy Fujitsu tablet laptops, the fair also showcased a private Sikorsky helicopter valued at US$200,000.
"This is much more reasonable than buying the Ferrari," the sales agent told me.
Sikorsky is one of the companies that has launched a joint venture with a Shanghai firm to market its private helicopters. They've sold more than a dozen so far and see potential for rapid growth.
Beside the helicopter sat the red Ferrari with beautiful Chinese models sprawling all over the hood.
If you wanted to be a bit more environmentally friendly, the fair sold the most quintessential of Chinese goods, the bicycle. This bicycle was made by BMW and sold for almost US$10,000.
The whole article can be found here.
In an unrelated note, readers may have noticed that our comments feature has been turned off. This is because of a massive volume of spam which hit our servers in the past few days. We will be changing hosting providers and blogging software soon, and comments should be back open then.
BEIJING - QQ News is reporting that two foreigners beat a Chinese man in Shenzhen who asked them not to urinate in public on the evening of May 7.
The website says the two men relieved themselves in the middle of Shangbu and Sugang roads in the city's Futian area. A Chinese citizen surnamed Zhang asked the foreigners not to relieve themselves in public, and noted the street had just been cleaned.
The website says the foreigners responded by beating Mr. Zhang, leaving his face bloodied. The two foreigners, whom local police say were intoxicated, were taken into custody. They refused to apologize to Mr. Zhang claiming they didn't understand Chinese. They also refused to pay an RMB 10,000 fine.
The full version of the story, in Chinese, can be found here.
BEIJING - As if going through airport security isn't enough (although it seems much easier in China than it does in the still panicky United States), now Beijing's subway security will be stepped up prior to the Olympic Games in August.
China portal NetEase (163.com) is reporting that security at all of Beijing's subway stations - including Lines 1, 2, 5, 10 (as yet unopened), 13, and the Batong Line - will see security guards, sniffer dogs, and x-ray machines in place by the end of June.
Passengers will be checked prior to boarding the trains, including personal checks of liquids, such as water, which passengers may be carrying.
With millions of people traversing Beijing's rapidly-expanding network of subway lines each day, one wonders what kinds of delays this might cause. Might be wise to leave a little extra time for that commute.
The full story, in Chinese, can be found here.
(Thanks to SY for sending the story, and XQ for translation).
Now that the torch is on home soil it was expected that the protests would die down. It seems as though this is not quite the case.
Unknown protesters in Shenzhen attack Olympic runners and extinguish the flame
In a stunning blow to China's prestige, two local protesters shocked hundreds of cheering bystanders when they unexpectedly extinguished the Olympic Torch today near the Window of the World, a theme park in the Shenzhen industrial zone near Hong Kong.
It also seems as though a video is going to be made available on the website a little later today - I'll keep you posted.
Full story available here.
UPDATE - As promised a video has finally surfaced - though what good it will do is anyone's guess. Personally I do not think that it shows the torch being extinguished by protesters, more likely due to over-crowding. The 'action' (if you can call it that) starts at around 2:00.
Ok so I realise that I've not contributed to ZNH for a little while (there's a variety of reasons for this - but I'll not bore you) and every now and again something passes my desk, or is whispered in my ear that is too good (or odd) to pass up.
I was casually surfing around when I found this blog post at the China Herald
And I have to say I was rather taken aback. Why on Earth would anyone feel the need to ban a performance of Pinocchio? What is it in the story that offends!?
Let me give you a quick synposis...
When the gentle woodcarver Geppetto builds a marionette to be his substitute son, a benevolent fairy brings the toy to life. The puppet, named Pinocchio, is not yet a human boy. He must earn the right to be real by proving that he is brave, truthful, and unselfish. But, even with the help of Jiminy, a cricket who the fairy assigns to be Pinocchio's conscience, the marionette goes astray. He joins a puppet show instead of going to school, he lies instead of telling the truth, and he travels to Pleasure Island instead of going straight home. Yet, when Pinocchio discovers that a whale has swallowed Geppetto, the puppet single-mindedly journeys into the ocean and selflessly risks his life to save his father, thereby displaying that he deserves to be a real boy.
Now, forgive me if I am wrong - but isn't this a story about the discovery of oneself? About being unselfish and telling the truth?
Somebody please tell me what I'm missing here.
John Kennedy at Global Voices Online has translated an interesting piece being circulated online (h/t to ESWN). An overseas Chinese student in Korea claims that Chinese people residing in and visiting the country are now potentially unsafe following last month's torch relay protests, which turned violent:
Near where we live there's this big lady who's always been really nice to me, stopping to ask how I've been whenever she sees me. I waved hi to her today, and then she suddenly turned her head in the opposite direction. Then later my roommate came home with red eyes and when I asked what was wrong, I found out that as she was taking the subway back, just translating some assignment work, the Korean male student sitting beside her saw her checking the Chinese, and immediately asked, "너 중국인요?" (are you Chinese?), and my friend asked, 'so what if I am?' He immediately replied, " 중국개새끼" (the Chinese are inbred dogs). My friend snapped right back, "너 개새끼잖아" (you, maybe), and didn't expect then that several Koreans standing nearby would suddenly rush over and surround her, saying all at once thing like, "they always say the Chinese people have terrible character, now today I sure enough see that it's true," until my friend had no choice but to run off as soon as the subway stopped, even though it wasn't her stop. Things like this have been happening a lot these past two days. I've been asking my friends, and most of them have more or less come across it, and now we don't dare go out alone, and don't dare come back too late. When we're alone we don't dare speak Chinese.
This video of Chinese protesters in Seoul beating Koreans has also been circulating online:
The full Global Voices post can be read here. It's well-worth a look.
BEIJING - This week here in China, the media coverage from the national media organs has been dominated, as one might expect, by President Hu Jintao's trip to Japan. And what is interesting to watch, particularly from a media awareness point of view, is just how additionally cautious Xinhua is being surrounding the content it's putting out surrounding the trip.
Xinhua is, by nature, generally very conservative. If there is even the remotest possibility of upsetting someone within the upper echelon of power in government, Xinhua will avoid it like 7 year old avoiding her creepy uncle. That said, even at the most critical of times, Xinhua will at least make mention of certain issues 'country X' and China have. But this gem from the state-run monolith, to me, epitomizes just how much pressure surrounds President Hu Jintao's trip to Japan this week.
TOKYO, May 7 (Xinhua) -- Visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda held talks in Tokyo Wednesday on furthering the strategic and mutually beneficial relations between the two countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials said the two leaders discussed bilateral relations and other issues of common concern.
The two leaders are expected to attend a signing ceremony for mutual cooperation documents and meet the press following their talks.
Earlier in the day, the Chinese president met Japanese Emperor Akihito, who hosted a welcome ceremony for the visiting Chinese leader.
Hu arrived in Tokyo Tuesday for a five-day state visit aimed at boosting bilateral relations. This marks the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Japan in 10 years.
In a written statement issued at the airport upon his arrival in Tokyo, the president said the development of a long-term stable and good neighborly relationship between China and Japan is in the fundamental interests of both countries and both peoples.
Hu expressed the hope that his visit will help enhance mutual trust, strengthen friendship, deepen cooperation and inspire plans for the future. He added that China will work together with Japan to open up new prospects for comprehensively pushing forward their strategic and mutually beneficial relations.
Hu's visit to Japan is seen as a step to further improve the once-chilly relationship between the neighbors, which began to warm with former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "ice-breaking" visit to China in October 2006. That event was followed by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's "ice-thawing" trip to Japan last April and Fukuda's "spring-herald" visit to China last December.
In an interview with Japanese journalists in Beijing on Sunday, Hu described his visit to Japan as a "trip of warm spring" and wished for a "warm spring for the friendship between the two peoples."
Don't get me wrong. Xinhua has never been viewed as a bastion of hard-hitting information by any stretch of the imagination. However, the inherent lack of anything substantive seems, in my estimation, to show that the government is really trying to make sure that nothing offends the current Fukuda administration during Hu Jintao's visit. The larger question in my mind though, is why has Beijing all of a sudden decided to enter into this 'love-in' with Japan right now? Fukuda's current hold on the leadership of the LDP in Japan is tenuous at best right now. If the current political climate in Japan continues on the path it's on at the moment, odds are Fukuda won't be Prime Minster by the time 2008 comes to an end. And the odds of finding another LDP leader who is willing to placate China the way Fukuda has is pretty minimal. So, from a political perspective, this current state of rapprochement from Beijing toward Tokyo may well leave the Chinese government in a difficult situation if a hard-liner takes over as the Prime Minister in Japan.
I've always been in support of China and Japan building a stronger relationship. The mudslinging that's taken place between the two countries over the last 10 years has gone from sublime to ridiculous and back again. And while both sides should be applauded for at least trying to make the effort, the political realities in Japan are more than likely going to swing the pendulum the other way in the not-too-distant future.
We were there to tape an episode of Tianjin Business Traveler focusing on golf. We visited the Yangliuqing Golf Course in Tianjin (which, for my money, beats the stodginess and pretension of Pine Valley any day) and wanted to showcase what a real members-only luxury club looked like.
Pine Valley charges USD $150,000 for membership, and only 400 members are admitted to the club (making it China's answer to Augusta National). As the club is situated in Changping County, a good 90 minute drive out of town, plans were made to sleep in the club's luxury hotel for the night as we needed to continue shooting in the morning.
Somewhere along the way, however, our crew seemed to anger the management at Pine Valley. While my Chinese is passable at times, whatever it was that caused such an uproar was beyond my limited listening scope. Of course, my crew didn't notify me that we had a problem. Once we wrapped up shooting around midnight, I asked my producer if we were staying in the hotel. Only then did he let me know "there might be a problem."
Sure enough, there was. We were being sent out to fend for ourselves in the dusty suburb of Changping County. The PR advisor at the course was helpful, and took us to "the best" hotel in the area. It was about a 15 minute drive away. By now, it was approaching 12:30am.
She checked us into the hotel. Our crew of 5 people took three rooms (with me, the lucky laowai, getting his own private room). They asked for my passport. Not anticipating this situation, I hadn't brought it (yes, I know, it is law for foreigners to carry passports at all times... but who really does that?!?).
Whatever, they seemed to let me stay anyway, because the golf course PR manager passed me the room key and we all went upstairs. I walked into my room and saw a hand-print on the wall, above the bedframe, that I hope was done in chocolate -- but I couldn't really tell. Whatever, I was exhausted, closed the door, cleaned up, and crashed on the bed.
That's when I got a knock on the door. It was my producer. He said the PR manager booked my room under her name, and when she tried to leave downstairs the front desk asked where she was going. It turns out my failure to bring a passport wasn't the problem at all, it was this: this particular hotel had not received approval from the local Public Security Bureau to allow foreigners to stay.
The PR manager and my visibly tired producer told me to try and sleep while they went out and searched for another hotel. I indeed did fall asleep, until there was another knock on my door. This time it was two fully-uniformed police officers, who wanted me out - now. It was 2am.
To their credit, the police officers weren't rude about it. I told them where I live, how long I've been in China, my passport number, and the fact I was with an entire crew from the TV station. Still, it wasn't good enough. I argued that I had stayed half the night there anyway, there was nowhere else to go, and couldn't they just let me sleep? Nope. I had to leave.
My producer and the PR manager returned empty-handed... there was no other hotel they could find in Changping, let alone one that would accept a foreigner. With no options, I had no choice but to head back to Beijing. It was about 2:30am.
I've spoken to a person who works at a law firm in Beijing who claims that a law requiring hotels to receive approval before admitting foreigners was struck from the books back in 2003. She argues that foreigners should legally be allowed to stay anywhere now, but that some hotels may not be aware of the change.
Oddly, this isn't the first time this has happened. I once had a reservation (made through my girlfriend) at a Home Inn south of Guomao in Beijing. When we walked in the front door and tried to check in, they bluntly asked if I would stay. I said yes. And they said I couldn't because I was a foreigner.
I did a quick search online to see if I could gather any information about this apparent regulation, but turned up nothing. If anybody knows, I would love to hear how this works. I only hope that Olympic visitors don't get caught in this mess.
That night in Changping County certainly wasn't one of my best times in China. There were no taxis in Changping to take me home, so the producer and driver decided to take me to North 5th Ring. One the way there, we got into a car accident with one of those giant rigs.
It was sure nice to hit the pillow... albeit sometime after 5am.
HONG KONG - Hong Kong is constantly striving to uphold it's image as one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world. Earlier this year the Hong Kong government launched a city-wide WiFi program that planned to turn the entire territory into a WiFi hotspot. Priority was given to busy public places, including libraries, public inquiry service centers, community halls and centers, as well as parks and Government buildings.
These measures have now been extended to Olympic coverage by Hong Kong's i-Cable Communications, who have exclusive new media rights to the Beijing games. This week the company announced the launch of a free WiFi service at around 800 hotspots for Cable TV's official Olympic website.
In Hong Kong's bustling metropolis, such a move will enable locals and tourists to keep up to date with the Games using their laptops, mobile phones or other portable PDA devices on a regular basis.
A Chinese student recently had the opportunity to interview the Dalai Lama in the United States, and his subsequent essay has been posted on numerous sites around the Internet. The China Digital Times has posted the English version (proxy link), and describes the student as:
Lingxi Kong (孔灵犀) is a fourth year student majoring in Greek and Latin at Columbia University. He met with the Dalai Lama on April 24, 2008, and wrote an essay recounting the meeting. The Chinese version has spread widely on the Internet, both inside and outside of China now.
(h/t to Danwei)
Today marks the 89th anniversary of the May 4th Movement here in China. So, on this anniversary, I thought I'd take a moment to analyze the parallels and differences that exist here in China today.First, for those who are unfamiliar with the May 4th Movement, allow me to give you the historical background behind it. On May 4th, 1919, some 3,000 students from Peking University and other higher-learning institutions here in the capital gathered in front of Tian'anmen to denounce the government in power at that time for not doing enough to protect China's territorial integrity. What they were upset about at that time was the fact that the colonial powers (mainly England and France, though there was some frustration with the United States as well) screwed China over in the Treaty of Versailles which ended the First World War.
Britain and France were bogged down heavily in fighting against the Germans in 1917, and needed help from wherever they could get it. As such, the British appealed to the Chinese government to allow it to draft the thousands of Chinese nationals that were living in England at that time for the war effort. China agreed, under the condition that if and when Germany was defeated, the German concession of Shandong would be repatriated back to China. An agreement was struck, and over 100,000 Chinese nationals were sent in to action (mainly as runners, field engineers and laborers) and were said to be critical in helping to win the war. But when it came time to settle the score after the fighting was over, Britain and France screwed China over in the negations and handed Shandong over to Japan instead of back to China as was originally promised. And because of the political instability at the time here in China following the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the Beiyang government (which was in power in the northern part of China and, internationally, was considered the legitimate government of China at that time) was not politically strong enough to put up enough opposition. As one might imagine, this created waves of anger amongst Chinese people, and led to the May 4th protests. And while the protests were suppressed in the capital, they spread throughout China in the weeks that followed, and eventually led to the birth of the CCP, among other political movements at the time, including the concept of 白话 (baihua, or vernacular Chinese) which allowed the average person to learn to read and write, given at that point, the Chinese written language was mainly only understood by the academic elite. As such, the May 4th Movement is considered by many to be the catalyst for the birth of modern China.
So if one were to look at the May 4th Movement in 1919 in today's context, you might be able to draw some similarities surrounding what is happening here in China today. All the recent fervor surrounding the torch relay and the protests against France and the 'western media' is basically all connected to indignation amongst young Chinese against being screwed around by other countries. The same thing happened 89 years ago. So, with this in mind, are we seeing the start of another May 4th Movement here in China? In my estimation, no. Allow me to explain why.
At the time of the 1919 protests, China was in political upheaval. Following the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 that ousted the then-reviled Qing Government and ended thousands of years of dynastic rule here in China, China essentially devolved into a collection of feudal states that were governed by one warlord or another who were all vying and scheming to consolidate and expand their respective spheres of influence. As such, in my estimation, the Chinese people yearned for stability. So when China was screwed over by the 'west' back then, in my estimation, China was longing for a sense of nationalism and unity. Today, China is unified. As such, there's no yearning amongst the masses here in this country for mass political movements against the 'the west.' Sure, there are small shots of anti-'western' protests, like the Carrefour demonstrations, but they have basically petered out. Another reason we won't be seeing another May 4th movement here in China is because it's difficult to rally around a perception. In 1919, China had a tangible and tactile reason to be upset. 'Western' powers had physically ceded Shandong to Japan. A Chinese person 89 years ago could look at a map of his or her country and physically see that a chunk of its territory was not under its control. Today, frustrated Chinese are rallying against a perception. While there may be general agreement amongst many that there is an anti-China bias in the 'western media', the evidence - while being dolled out in many different forms - isn't tactile or 100 percent conclusive. Hence the great internet debates about whether or not there is or isn't an anti-China movement. In 1919, it was cut and dry. China had been screwed over. As such, I would argue, that - despite the thousands of voices crying out in protest on the internet and at demonstrations - there isn't anything specific enough to rally around to create a mass movement beyond what we've already seen.The May 4th Movement here in China was a turning point, and should be celebrated. From its ashes came some of China's great leaders, including Sun Yat-sen, who, through great political will and determination, helped to unify this country and laid the foundation for China's strength today. I know, from a historical sense, we are talking about apples and oranges comparing then and now. But it is interesting to examine the political zeal that existed 89 years ago to that which is now in play here in today's China.
The torch relay has been a disaster, no matter which way one looks at it. Historians will not connect the 2008 Olympic torch relay to such ideals as peace, harmony, or "one world, one dream". It will be remembered for protesters in London, Paris, and San Francisco - sometimes violent - and that image of Jin Jing clinging to the torch on the streets of Paris.
Much has been made of how the world is against China, to the point we've seen a psycho-analysis about western motives and comments on this blog about how westerners really don't understand China.
Amid this uproar, most western commentators (and regular people) have been quick to point out that nobody is against "China", just the government. As I've stated before, the government and the people are two very different entities. One can be a proud American and despise George W. Bush and the Republicans; likewise, one hopes that Chinese people can distinguish between criticism levelled at their government and criticism directed at the people. Although, admittedly, some protesters haven't been doing a good enough job of discerning between the two, especially when the line between them in China is blurred.
To further underscore the point that the criticism of China hosting the Olympics - and the torch relay - is not about being anti-China, we turn out attention to the media coverage of the torch relay in Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong, legally a part of Chinese territory (even though it sure doesn't feel like it when there). We toss to this article in the New York Times:
The day before, newspapers mingled images of official celebrations with coverage of protests. The English-language South China Morning Post and the Chinese-language Apple Daily and Ming Pao all ran photos of free-speech activists with gags over their mouths, and a three-story-high "pillar of shame," which depicts a jumble of naked corpses with desperate-looking faces. Ming Pao showed an inscription on the pillar's base reading: "The Tiananmen Massacre: The old cannot kill the young," a reference to the 1989 crackdown in Beijing, photos of which are still censored in the mainland press.
Hong Kong's media, which have a tradition of using satire not always appreciated on the mainland, have been poking fun at Beijing's efforts to clean up its city and its residents. On April 19, TVB, a local television station that has programming in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, broadcast footage of a woman allowing her young child to relieve himself near the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium.
On April 23, The South China Morning Post followed up, calling a leaky roof at that same stadium an embarrassment. A few days later, it pointed out a shortage of toilets in an article headlined, "Beijing must shake off that know-it-all attitude."
The April cover of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review had a political cartoon of President Hu Jintao holding the torch with big earplugs blocking out noise from protesters. "Olympics Horribilis," the headline read.
On April 18, HK Magazine published an editorial "Torching the Torch," calling the relay "the perfect microcosm of modern China: a PR exercise surrounded by thugs with batons." The free weekly continued its taunt: "But what did China expect? A 21-gun salute and a welcome casserole?"
I have been a frequent visitor to Hong Kong, and one of my fears is that its press freedoms will slowly be suffocated until they become a lifeless corpse, like they are in mainland China. One needn't agree with Hong Kong's media coverage; the fact is that they have a right to print things that people may disagree with. Beijing deserves credit for keeping its promise of a hands-off approach.
Reviewing Hong Kong's torch relay coverage should also lay to rest the hollow conflict that has been created in the minds of China's restless fenqing: that it's the world vs. China, and the Chinese people need to rally together to protect their pride and fend off the hypocritical foreign barbarians. The fact that Chinese people on Chinese territory in the Chinese media also have problems with Beijing's policies speaks volumes. At the very least, one hopes this will make the patriotic Carrefour-boycotting masses wonder if they're getting the full story in the mainland press.
Oh, and Taiwan? The mainland government has been awfully silent about it lately, probably because the torch didn't, won't, and will never pass through that territory/region (take your politically correct pick) in 2008. And the fact that even Ma Ying-Jeou himself says he'd welcome the Dalai Lama to Taiwan, well....
At the end of the day, I totally understand the anger and frustration that is felt by young people in China. But when they are spoon-fed state-run propaganda and have little knowledge of the outside world, they develop a distorted sense of reality. It draws a feeling of pity more than frustration. The fact is that it's the Chinese government which was unprepared for these protests, which have led to the embarassment of China on the world stage. It is the Chinese government, and it's rigid policy in Tibet, which has resulted in worldwide anger. It is the Chinese government's reaction to unrest in Tibet, consisting of violent rhetoric, that has drawn the scorn of people worldwide. It is the Chinese government which has closed off Tibet to foreign reporters, but expects them to take its word without any verification or confirmation. It is the Chinese government which announces arrests in apparent planned terrorist attacks and then refuses to provide evidence of their claims.
These complaints are not attacks on the Chinese people, but are critiques of the Chinese people's current party in power. The Communist Party has done a lot of wonderful things for China - lifting 400 million people out of poverty comes to mind as one of the greatest achievements of any government in history. But this does not erase its atrocities, and the Chinese people must do a better job of holding their government to account.
Courtesy of Danwei, Beijing-based band Defy sings about their dislike of state-run China Central Television. Here is a sample of the lyrics:
I don't watch CCTV
I don't watch this fucking channel...
... Ai, I don't like you...
... CCTV, CCTV, CCTV
It's nice to know that CNN and western media aren't the only ones drawing the ire of the fenqing.
Hope everyone is having a happy May holiday.
I figured this is as good a time as any to update our progress on Zhongnanhai. Later this month, we will be unveiling a new site design complete with new writers and a renewed focus at bringing more stories and more opinions to our daily readership.
Keen readers will have noticed that Mr. Rich joined us in March, our fourth regular contributor. We will be adding more regular contributors over the coming months, including news, views, and perspectives from all corners of China.
If you are interested in writing for Zhongnanhai, we are specifically seeking people who regularly read news and blog websites, and have a keen interest in technology and/or arts and entertainment. If you are interested, please email me at email@example.com.
I should also mention that May marks this blog's one year anniversary. I launched it while sitting on a bar stool inside Malone's in Shanghai. I had been considering starting a blog for some time, and figured, a couple of beers in, that now was as good as any. I couldn't have anticipated then how much, and how fast, this blog would grow in the coming year. Our unique visitors, overall visitors, and page views have improved each month since then, hitting our record-setting month in April.
Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and check back often because big changes are coming this month.
Happy May Day!