Most Chinese people live on only a third of China’s land – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on July 6, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

China’s demographic divide

In 1935 Chinese demographer Hu Huanyong 胡焕庸 proposed an imaginary line from the northeastern city of Heihe on the border with Siberia to the southern town of Tengchong on the border with Burma (Myanmar). The line divides China roughly into an eastern third — containing around 95 percent of the population — with the western two-thirds of the country comprising mostly mountain and desert and home to only about 5 percent of the population.

Although China’s borders have changed since 1935 and the population has grown from around half a billion (according to to roughly 1.4 billion today, the population-to-land ratios on either side of Hu’s imaginary line have remained roughly the same.

The agricultural and demographic implications of the Heihe-Tengchong Line, as it’s known, may be a factor in much of Chinese history and culture. The huge inhospitable western regions cut China off, to an extent, from the rest of the Eurasian landmass. Fear of famine and hyper-competition for resources have been constant problems for a population squeezed into a mere third of China’s land where farming is productive. West of the line, you’ll find the poorest and least developed counties in China, east of the line are concentrated more billionaires than anywhere on the globe aside from the United States.

So I’m looking forward to reading an upcoming series by the state-owned but still delightful Sixth Tone in which two SUV-loads of journalists spent a month driving along the Heihe-Tengchong Line and reporting on what they found and the people they met. The first installment is called “Hu Line: China’s forgotten frontier.” (I rather approve of renaming it the Hu Line — Heihe-Tengchong is a mouthful.)

Spy vs. spy

Spies are in the news again:

  • The South China Morning Post reports that Taiwanese prosecutors charged a mainland Chinese graduate from one of Taiwan’s top universities with espionage and “accused him of attempting to recruit spies for Beijing.”
  • American freelance investigative journalist Nate Thayer has published an article titled “How the Chinese recruit American journalists as spies” in which he says agents of the Shanghai State Security Bureau tried to recruit him as a spy, and requested he “pass U.S. state secrets to them in exchange for cash payments.”
  • The jingoistic Global Times recently accused Australia of spying on Chinese citizens and China’s embassy in Canberra. The allegation came after several media organizations reported on a covert campaign of influence in Australia by the Chinese government.
  • China recently passed a set of laws to govern its secret police.
  • In May, the New York Times said that “the Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there.” (See a SupChina roundup of relevant reporting on the affair.)
  • In April, Sandy Phan-Gillis, a Houston-based businesswoman, was found guilty of spying and deported back to the U.S. after two years of detention while under investigation. She gave her first interview after her return in late June.
  • Also in April, Beijing security organs released a propaganda video encouraging citizens to inform on spies for large cash rewards

Soccer is how you show Chairman Xi a good time

Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel watched a football match between Chinese and German youth teams on July 5. Xi is well known as a soccer fan — see his unusually relaxed smile in the photos above.