News stories about China

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

Tue 15th Oct

The huge investment in Central Asia, Africa and Europe made by China since its launch in 2013 has slowed to a crawl. The figures for 2019 show there were only two loans over $1billion: $1.2billion to Egypt and $2.5billion to Pakistan. This follows a reduction in 2018 when 'only' $126 billion was spent by China. The recipients of the loans are showing reluctance to accept further money as interest payments are looking harder to repay with uncertainty over exchange rates and domestic growth. There is a growing realization that the investments do tie the recopients to China. China has less funds in the kitty to invest abroad. With the ongoing trade war with the US under President Trump there is reduced growth and a risk of a slowdown in the Chinese economy. Part of the reason for Belt and Road is to gain more markets for China's construction and development industries now that domestic demand has peaked. The total investment so far totals about $100 billion so it is a very substantial venture and has involved 160 countries creating 82 overseas industrial parks.

belt and road
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Wed 9th Oct

As part of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the PRC the President presented ‘Friendship Awards’ to 42 foreign experts. These are the highest honors that can be awarded to a foreign national. Among them was remarkable survivor from well before the Peoples’ Republic: 104 year old Isabel Crook. She was born in Chengdu, China to Canadian missionary parents. She married David Crook in 1942 in England and went back to China in 1947. They made an intensive, thorough study of how the new communist reforms were affecting poor farmers in rural areas. Their findings showed how the poorest people were being significantly helped by the new system. They suffered, as did all foreign nationals, under the Cultural Revolution but Isabel’s love for China held firm throughout all the troubles. You can read about her incredible life on her web site .

Photograph and more about the awards can be found here .

Isabel Crook award
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Mon 30th Sep
Mao Zedong, PRC, leader
Mao Zedong makes a report at the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CPC Central Committee. April 1949. Image by Unknown available under a Creative Commons License

1st October 2019 marks 70 years since the proclamation by Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing. Inevitably it is a time to look back at these tumultuous years. In 1949 China was bankrupt and starving after occupation and civil war, it was considered a Third World, undeveloped country that was likely to remain as such.

Most American commentators thought the Communist government would last a decade or so and then Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalists would be shortly put back in control. After 70 years the Communist party in as strong a position of control as ever. Their position is pretty much unassailable as long as the country continues to prosper. And prosper it has, it is on course to overtake the U.S. to become the number one world trading nation. Modern cities have been created or completely rebuilt, standards of living have rocketed and technological expertise is one of the highest in the world. Should the progress stall or turn into decline it is possible there might be change of type of government but there is no sign of it at present.

Foreign observers continue to be bewildered that Mao Zedong, as the founding father, is still held in such high regard (something like 75% good, 25% bad) as most in the west are taught he was an evil dictator in the same league as Stalin and Hitler. What the Chinese people understand well is that the country needed rapid transformation, piece-meal reform had been tried and failed, a strong unwavering hand was needed to turn it all around - the cut worm forgives the plow. So in spite of millions of avoidable deaths there is still a strong attachment to Mao Zedong who kept the country together through very difficult times. His proclamation and promise at the foundation 70 years ago seem to have come true: ‘We, the 475 million Chinese people, have stood up and our future is infinitely bright.’


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Tue 17th Sep

The P.R.C. was founded on 1st October 1949 so 2019 will be a bumper year for commemorating this event. A nationwide campaign has been in operation to find a group of people to represent the achievements of the last 70 years. They are ordinary people who have made some outstanding contribution. 300 candidates have been selected by recommendation and online votes and will be whittled down further in time for October 1st. Candidates include British born Huang Danian who was an expert in geological exploration of the deep Earth who died in 2017. Wang Jicai and his wife are honored for guarding tiny Kaishan Island off the Jiangsu coastline in total isolation for 32 years, Wang died last year. Better known heroes from the past conflicts are Huang Jiguang and Qiu Shaoyun; who both died heroically in the Korean War 1952.

great hall of the people, Beijing, Tiananmen Square
Great Hall of the People, Beijing Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Wed 11th Sep

Attitudes to teaching boys and girls differently are changing. There has been a strong historical tradition that girls are 'yin' while boys are 'yang' and so opposite ends of the passive through to assertive spectrum. A school in Chengdu, Sichuan is proposing to reinforce this age-old division against the worldwide trend. Some schools in the U.S. and U.K. are now going so far as imposing a unisex school uniform so that gender is no longer so obvious.

In the school boys are taught to build rockets while girls learn how to knit. The special course entitled 'Boys and girls are extremely different' has been popular among parents to combat the general gender-neutral treatment. Principal Fu Jin reported that the current situation “led to boys lacking enough space to grow heroically and girls lacking gentle and tranquil feminine examples to follow, so there is some gender dislocation.” The school has been widely criticized but there is a general trend back to age-old gender stereotypes.

In the early days of the People's Republic there was less gender discrimination. Mao proclaimed that 'Woman held up half the sky' and both men and women wore the same style of drab clothing. But not there is currently only woman (Sun Chunlan) who has reached the heights of the Communist Party Politburo. Of the Central Committee's 204 members only 10 are women. The Standing Committee of the Politburo (one rung higher) has never had a woman member. Elsewhere it is now common for rich businessmen to have several mistresses housed in their own flats.

shanghai, children
Copyright Richard Wingfield, October 2017.

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Wed 7th Aug

With tension all around us in the world it is comforting that Chinese people are still able to see the funny side. The comedy form becoming increasingly popular is stand-up comedy. Comedians are filling theaters with people seeking a community able to have a laugh together at themselves and the world. The popularity of the simple set up of a comedian and a microphone took root in the UK and US some years ago and some US comedians have succeeded in importing this new form of entertainment in China using Hong Kong as the initial test of popularity (including Jo Wong ). Just telling non-stop jokes has not been a Chinese tradition and in the early days Chinese comedians could only afford to do it part-time. Now theaters are packed out and tickets command high prices. Some were recruited at 'open mic' evenings when anyone could turn up and have a go.

Guangzhou and Beijing now have a number of small theaters dedicated to stand-up comedy. Let's hope they can help make everyone a little less stressed out!

comedy audience
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Thu 1st Aug

Fine vinegar has always been important in Chinese cuisine. It is far more complex than making a standard Western malt vinegar as like a fine wine different ingredients and processing give the vinegar unique and subtle flavors. Also like a fine wine vinegar is matured and a old vintages can command high prices. There are four main areas in China with renowned vinegars:

Zhenjiang black vinegar comes from Jiangsu province. It is made from rice, wheat, barley and peas. Different types of mold are used to produce the acid with some sweetness maintained.

Sichuan Baoning vinegar is produced further to the west and has its origin in the Ming dynasty. It is made from wheat bran with dozens of different herbs.

Fujian Yongchun red vinegar comes from the Eastern coast. The red color of the vinegar is imparted by a different kind of mold. The complex maturing process takes three years to complete.

Lastly Shanxi mature vinegar has the longest history - probably at least 2,500 years. It is produced from sorghum, barley and peas. No rice is used. It is matured in three and five year vintages. It is Shanxi vinegar that is in the news because the producers are making a lake of vinegar. The maturation process needs sunlight in summer and the winter cold so it needs to be exposed to the elements. The lake is part of a park created as a tourist attraction by the Shanxi Mature Vinegar Group Co Ltd. The lake is 886 feet [270 meters] long and up to 79 feet [24 meters] wide and can hold over 15,000 tons [13,607,775 kgs] of vinegar. It is said of Shanxi's citizens that they can't eat a meal without fine vinegar - it remains a passion in this northern province.

Because Chinese vinegar is made from herbs and some legumes it has a much more subtle flavor and is more nutritious. Many vinegars claim to be beneficial to health.

vinegars
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Thu 25th Jul

China is one of the few large countries that does not have an official national flower . England and the U.S. have the rose, Scotland the thistle, France the iris and India the lotus. China's National Flower Association has conducted a survey with the top candidates being: peony, plum (blossom) and orchid. The peony came top with 80% of the vote. It has long been used to symbolize beauty. It is a common garden plant in China and should the peony fall sick it was considered a bad omen form the family.

peony,flower
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Fri 5th Jul

Beijing is following Shanghai's example for the management of its annual 9 million ton mountain of garbage. Everyone will now have to sort their garbage so as much can be recycled as possible. People and businesses will now need to sort their waste into dry refuse, wet trash, recyclable waste and hazardous waste. A fine of 200 yuan will be enforced if the new directive is not followed. There will be rewards as well as fines to those who comply. This is all part of the China's aim for 2020 when 35% of household garbage should be recycled.

beijing rubbish processing

Photo credit Rob Schmitz/NPR


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Wed 26th Jun

A widespread view of China is that it is a coal-burning, CO2 generating monster that threatens to make global climate change worse.

That is a misleading simplification, in some areas China leads the world in green, clean energy. As an example Qinghai province has now run on all clean energy for 15 days on the trot beating the previous record of 9 days last year. Admittedly Qinghai is one of less populated provinces (6 million people) but it shows that great efforts are being made - even in the remote areas of China. It's not all gloom and doom.

green energy
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Wed 5th Jun

In a merger of the very old and very new it is now possible to download a computer model of a terracotta warrior and print it out with a 3-D printer. In a scheme to engage youngsters with the Chinese Qin dynasty a miniature plastic model complete with banner engraved with words of your choosing, can be yours for free. A number of different forms are available, the charioteer can be used as a pen holder for instance. It's a novel way to promote an interest in history and archeology.

There are currently no plans for life-size models to be made available.

Qin dynasty, Terracotta army
The famous terracotta warriors at the tomb of the first Qin Emperor Shihuangdi

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Wed 29th May

For thousands of years Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been used very widely in China. The World Health Organization (special agency of the UN) has aroused some debate by publicly supporting TCM as a legitimate medicinal option by including a chapter on it in their global compendium.

Since the PRC was founded in 1949 China has supported both the Western system of medicine and the Traditional. Initially this was a necessity as funds could not support the rapid creation of a Western system of hospitals and medicines for 1,000 million people. Since then there has been a drift towards using both systems for different purposes. For injuries and infections Western treatments are sought while for long-term and minor ailments the traditional system is used. Another factor is cost, China does not have a free health service and so a cheap TCM treatment is attractive compared to a hospital visit. Many Chinese believe TCM can be a good preventive before a disease takes hold.

One of the main concerns about TCM is that quite a few remedies require parts of endangered animals. With increased prosperity these supposed cures for arthritis; impotence and so on have become increasingly sought after. However many ingredients are from common plants and fungi and do not give the same cause for concern as with tigers, pangolins, sea horses and other animals. Acupuncture and moxibustion are part of TCM and these do not require ingesting dubious ingredients.

The main criticism has always been that it has unproven efficacy; however some of the ingredients have been shown to have useful medical properties. The use of herbal medicine in Europe only came to an end in the early 20th century. Every village would have a herbalist with there own special potions. Here also some treatments were beneficial, many of no demonstrable effect (placebo) and a few were dangerously toxic. In China the government spent considerable effort in the 1970s and 80s to choose the ones that are beneficial and this is one reason why TCM has better credentials than remedies from elsewhere.

TCM
Dispensing traditional medicine prescriptions. Graham Street Market, Hong Kong. 2010 Image by deror_avi available under a Creative Commons license .

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Wed 22nd May

The impressive stonework of the Great Wall can not fail to impress visitors, but for a good proportion of its great length the wall is in a dilapidated state. In the dry region of the Gobi desert, rain is so infrequent that stone was not needed to protect the wall - it could be built up in layers of tamped earth.

In Ningxia province there used to be 936 miles [1,507 kms] but only 314 miles [506 kms] of Great Wall remaining. Restorer Yang Long is working slowly and carefully to restore the old tamped earth. After many experiments they have come up with a close modern alternative using the same old material and tools. Layers of earth are reinforced with layers of gravel and needle-grass. The soil is tamped by hand with iron or wooden hammers. It is a slow process, it takes Yang Long a whole year to restore just 875 yards [800 meters] of the wall. It is hoped the restored wall will be good for another two thousand years.

Ningxia, Great Wall, ruin
The ruins of the Great Wall, this section is a mud built wall that was erected during the rule of the Ming Dynasty, Ningxia. Part of the Great Wall awaiting restoration.

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Wed 15th May

Beijing already has the world's second busiest airport - Beijing Capital International. As traffic continues to expand a huge new airport has been built at Daxing (Beijing Daxing International) which is a little further out from the capital - in fact on the border of Beijing metropolitan area with Hebei province 27 miles south of central Beijing. It covers 47 square kilometers and is due to be formally opened in June before taking passenger aircraft in September.

On May 14th the first aircraft have tested it out for landing (just crew without passengers). Four different types were used (Boeing 747-8, Airbus 350, Airbus 380 and Boeing 787-9) to check suitability for all the current types large aircraft. A new expressway has been built to the airport which will have seven runways. It is expected to handle 45 million passengers by 2021 and 72 million by 2025.

Daxing airport - artist's impression
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Thu 9th May

There are clear signs of a shift of preferences for Chinese students studying abroad. A foreign degree is still seen as a passport to a good job and so wealthy families seek to get there children a university degree from a foreign university. One side effect of the Trump trade wars is that these students are looking for places other than the U.S.. This trend has also been accelerated by the scandal over the buying of places at top U.S. universities for millions of dollars. In this case millions were donated for supposedly charitable purposes but actually used to bribe admissions staff. Students with a poor academic record were able to be admitted due to made-up claims that the candidate was a gifted athlete.

The U.S. still retains top spot with 43% for aspiring Chinese students but the U.K. is now hard on the heels at 41%. These nations are followed by Australia and Canada - fluency in English is still a top requirement from parents. The fees paid by Chinese students is a very important source of income for financially strapped institutions.

Meanwhile there is an increasing trend for students to study in Chinese universities as it is building up to be the largest trading nation.


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Wed 1st May

The centenary of the May fourth movement is being celebrated in China. President Xi has given a speech at the Great Hall of the People applauding the mass movement that succeeded in changing China's future direction. His speech noted ’the May Fourth Movement was a great patriotic and revolutionary campaign pioneered by advanced young intellectuals and joined by the people from all walks of life to resolutely fight imperialism and feudalism.With its mighty force, the movement inspired the ambition and confidence of the Chinese people and nation to realize national rejuvenation’. Back in early 1919 the Chinese government had acquiesced to many of the demands of Japan and seemed to agree with the ceding of Shandong to Japan during the Versailles Treaty negotiations.

The movement began in Beijing with students but soon spread to Tianjin and all the major cities. The protests only died down when the government conceded to many of the protestors demands. The students turned to Marxism (Russia had had its revolution only 2 years before) and many key future leaders of the Chinese Communist Party became involved in the student protests - in particular Zhou Enlai. May 4th is now celebrated as 'Youth Day' each year. Our web site has a full description of these revolutionary events here.

May 4th Protest,  Beijing,  Tiananmen Square
29th November 1919. More than 30,000 male and female students from 34 schools in Beijing gathered in front of Tiananmen Square to denounce the Japanese imperialists for killing the people of Fuzhou and protesting against Japanese ships invading Fuzhou. After the meeting, demonstrations were held, and slogans such as "Strive for Fujian" and "Resist Japan" were sloganed along the way, and more than 100 kinds of flyers were distributed, totaling 78,000. When the brigade went through the General Chamber of Commerce, it also sent representatives to the inside to ask the Beijing Business Bank to boycott Japanese goods and to break the Japanese economy. Image by Sidney D. Gamble available under a Creative Commons License

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Wed 24th Apr

The Marvel Avengers film series has been immensely popular in China. The last film in the franchise (but who is to say there may be more at some stage) 'End Game' attracted over 3 million people on its opening night. Film makers are looking increasingly to China as a lucrative market for their films. With cinema goers reducing in numbers in most countries due to increased home viewing of films, the Chinese passion for going out to watch movies is an important revenue stream. The film has already made $115 million in China.

Many people queued for hours waiting for the midnight viewing and fans were not disappointed. The film has a very loyal fan-base that has grown steadily since the first film in the series in 2008. The popularity does seem a little strange as there is no Asian lead actors and the setting is very much in the United States. Unlike films such as 'Bohemian Rhapsody' the Chinese censors have let it through without requiring edits.

avengers end game
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Tue 16th Apr

Last November we highlighted a news story about the spread of Asian Swine Fever. Despite tough action by the authorities it continues to be reported in isolated cases all over China. The fever has no cure and it is fairly easily transmitted. Pig farmers face hardship or ruin if the disease strikes so it seems likely that farmers are delaying reporting sick animals in the hope they'll escape a cull of all their animals.

Previously the authorities banned farmers from testing their own animals, in a significant reversal the ban has been removed. Hopefully farmers will test and report cases earlier and so allow the disease to be contained before it spreads.

It's possible that 200 million pigs will need to be killed to try to limit the disease which in itself is raising concerns about availability of pig meat. Pig meat is the staple meat particularly in northern China. 54 million tons is consumed annually and China is home to half the pigs in the whole world so it is a big deal.

The rarer, native pig breeds are being pushed out by the faster growing imported breeds and this is having an effect on specialist meat production for example dried hams. The more universal breeds may be fueling the disease as the declining native breeds may be more disease resistance.

The authorities are not yet calling it an epidemic but are concerned that early detection and hygiene procedures are not being carried out as diligently as they need to control the disease.

piglet
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Wed 10th Apr

The nomadic herdsmen of northern and north-western China have seen their way of life under threat. Youngsters are moving to the cities to avoid a dreary, impoverished life as nomads out in the Gobi desert fringes on the northern steppes.

Technology is now delivering answers that make the nomadic life more attractive. One approach involves putting electronic tags on the whole herd of camels. The herders no longer need to spend lots of time finding stray animals - they can just use a phone app to discover where they all are.

Hi tech is also helping shepherds and cowherds - a new piece of technology detects when animals approach a drinking station and automatically dispenses water for them. This saves wasting a great deal of time that would otherwise be needed to go round to keep topping up drinking water.

It's estimated that these and other innovations can save the herdsmen about half their working time making it far less arduous.

Xinjiang, kazakh, camel, people
Kazakh nomads on the road, Xinjiang Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Wed 3rd Apr
Hong Kong has always been short of building land. When Britain came on the scene in the 1840s the rocky Hong Kong Island was considered to be rather unsuited for habitation. With flat land in such short supply a whole new 'island' was needed to be reclaimed in order to build Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok off Lantau island. Land prices continue to be very high and so an ambitious scheme to build a new island for new housing has been proposed. Priced at HK$624bn ($80bn) it will create about 2,500 acres [1,012 hectares] of land to the south-east of Lantau island. Around 250,000 new flats would be built on the new land. Environmentalists are concerned about the effect on wildlife and would prefer the development to be on brown field sites within the existing city. Critics also point out the the former colony's population is due to drop in the next 50 years reducing the demand for new housing. The new island will be close to the newly opened sea bridge over the Pearl River estuary to mainland China.
Hong Kong, modern housing, view
Densely populated Hong Kong

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Xian, Shaanxi
The Drum Tower in Xi'an, Shaanxi. June 2007.
Image by Jeremy Barwick available under a Creative Commons license

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