News roundup: Atheism and religion

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Top China news for February 28, 2017. Get this daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at

Too much religion or too much control?

The Ministry of Public Security recently published a revision of an administrative regulation intended to maintain social order. It includes a clause that sets a punishment of 10 to 15 days of detention for anyone who uses an internet platform or publication to insult a religion or ethnicity. The blog Chublic Opinion examines the online controversy that followed, noting that “the outcry was loud and clear, with one Weibo post asking people to oppose the measure collecting 60,000+ forwards within a short period of time.” The pushback against the regulation primarily targets Islam: Commenters feel that the Chinese government has been too accommodating to the spread of Islam, and that the “secular joys” of Han Chinese life are worth protecting.

A rather different view can be found in a report released this week by the NGO Freedom House, which argues that “controls over religion in China have increased since 2012, seeping into new areas of daily life” and that Uighur Muslims face “very high” levels of persecution. Yesterday, The New York Times published a story (paywall) about a statement released by “a half-dozen United Nations experts” condemning China for a wave of expulsions of Tibetan monks and nuns from two religious enclaves.

 Xi Jinping: Shut down zombie companies

After last week’s reshuffle of key financial and economic officials, state media reported today (in Chinese) on a meeting of the Leading Small Group for Financial and Economic Affairs presided over by Xi Jinping and attended by Chinese premier Li Keqiang. Such meetings are a means of coordinating economic planning activities that are undertaken by a range of different government bodies. Reports about the meeting consisted mostly of Party jargon, but there are a few specifics mentioned: a resolution to control chaos and resolve systemic risk in financial markets, to shut down state-owned “zombie companies,” and to regulate the real estate market to make sure houses are for living in, not speculation.  

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Latest official economic and demographic statistics

China’s National Bureau of Statistics has released a report on the country’s economic and social development in 2016. According to the report, GDP last year grew by 6.7 percent, and the population reached 1.383 billion, 57.35 percent of whom live in cities. Retail sales of consumer goods rose 10.4 percent to 33.23 trillion yuan ($4.8 trillion), while online sales of consumer goods rose 26.2 percent from the previous year to 5.16 trillion yuan ($0.75 trillion). Xinhua has published a summary of the report in English.

February 28 Incident

Today is the 70th anniversary of the February 28 Incident, when an anti-government uprising in Taiwan was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government, killing at least 10,000 people. This year, there has been a noticeable amount of reporting on the anniversary in China’s state-owned press, although much of it seems aimed at negating the idea of Taiwanese independence — this is one example (in Chinese). In Taiwan itself, four university students were detained by police earlier today for trying to destroy a statue of Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang when the massacre occurred.

Dzos and yaks

Thank you to John Holden for the following correction: Last week, we misidentified the animals in this photograph as yaks. They are, in fact, dzomos (female dzos), a cross between cattle and yaks.

 —Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor in Chief

This issue of the SupChina newsletter was produced by Sky Canaves, Lucas Niewenhuis, Jia Guo, and Jiayun Feng. More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.


  • China says it has received its largest foreign drone order: Xinhua / Reuters
    Xinhua News Agency reports that China has received its largest foreign order from an undisclosed buyer for a new military drone. The Wing Loong II, which conducted its maiden flight from an airport in western China on Monday, has a wingspan of more than 65 feet, and is a medium-altitude, long-distance unmanned aerial vehicle with both reconnaissance and strike capabilities. For more on drones, high-tech tanks, and a weaponized laser that can cut through an armored vehicle, see this series of photos from Chinese exhibitors at an arms fair in Dubai.
  • China’s new multibillion-dollar target market: LGBT youth / Foreign Policy (paywall)
    In recent years, many technology firms have launched campaigns to support same-sex partnerships and target the “pink yuan.” In the run-up to this year’s Lunar New Year, the Chinese mobile phone brand Vivo released a supportive message urging LGBT Chinese to bring their partners home to meet their families. In 2015, ecommerce giant Alibaba ran a contest to award 10 same-sex couples free weddings in Los Angeles. LGBT Chinese spend about $300 billion annually; moreover, 56 percent of LGBT Chinese men and 62 percent of LGBT Chinese women said that the most important factor influencing their purchasing decisions is whether the company has LGBT-friendly policies and regulations, according to a 2016 report. Earlier this month, we noted that a state-owned media company had invested in the gay dating and chat app Blued.


  • China ‘anti-terror’ rallies: Thousands of troops on streets of Urumqi / The Guardian
    Thousands of troops have paraded through the streets of Urumqi, capital of the violence-stricken Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, following a military demonstration earlier this month. The mass gathering of more than 10,000 rifle-toting forces, the latest in a series of “anti-terror rallies” in the region, was described as a way of “mobilizing the armed forces to fight against…enemies of the people” by the government-run Xinjiang Daily. Xinjiang has experienced a series of deadly conflicts in recent years, including an ethnic riot that killed at least 197 people and injured more than 1,700 people in 2009. For more on ethnic tensions and the recently heightened security situation in Xinjiang, see this detailed roundup published by the Jamestown Foundation.
  • China reacts with anger, threats after South Korean missile defense decision / Reuters
    South Korean conglomerate Lotte has confirmed a land-use deal it first gave approval to late last year, and angered Beijing in the process. The deal offers up one of Lotte’s golf courses near Seoul to the U.S. and South Korean militaries so that they can install a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system. Throughout last year, Beijing expressed strong disapproval of the deal. In November last year, construction by Lotte of a multibillion-dollar theme park in the northeastern city of Shenyang was suspended, while in January, scheduled concerts by South Korean musicians were canceled, although the Chinese government made no official connection with the THAAD plans. Chinese state media is now explicitly calling for a variety of boycotts on South Korean goods, with the Party mouthpiece People’s Daily going so far as to advocate the consideration of cutting diplomatic ties with South Korea.


  • Courts to protect spouses from fake, illegal debt / Global Times
    On Tuesday, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) amended a controversial article in a judicial interpretation of the marriage law that specified that after a divorce, both husband and wife are responsible for paying off any debts incurred by either of them while they were married. Divorcees who found themselves financially crippled because of their spousal debt have been calling for a change to the law for some time. According to a statement (in Chinese) released on the website of SPC, under the new article, “people’s courts shall not uphold one’s claim on debt if he or she colludes with either spouse to fake a debt” and “if one side of a couple incurs debts for illegal use, such as gambling or taking drugs, the people’s court shall not uphold the claim as well.” Some online commenters have called the amendment a “positive change,” but many are unsatisfied: “Two fundamental questions remain unanswered. First, who should be responsible for individual debts incurred during a marriage that is not for family use or legal investments? Second, whose burden is it to prove whether or not borrowed money is used for illegal activities?” one person noted (in Chinese).