Kvetching about China

Access Archive

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  • Kvetching about China

    A Singaporean friend of mine who reads this newsletter recently complained to me: “Why you so negative lah!” Well, my people were born to kvetch, and there’s a little bit of kvetching to be done:

    The Hong Kong government has proposed a maximum penalty of HK$50,000 and three years in prison for anyone breaking the new national anthem law:

    • “The proposal will be discussed on March 23 in Hong Kong’s legislature,” according to the Associated Press.

    • “Anyone who publicly and wilfully alters the lyrics or the score of the national anthem, performs or sings the national anthem in a distorted or derogatory manner, or insults the national anthem in any other manner, will be committing an offence,” according to Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP).  

    • The definition of insulting the national anthem is “unclear,” said Democracy Party leader Wu Chi-wai 胡志偉, according to HKFP: “If any protesters argue with or make hand gestures at anyone playing the national anthem, even if they were not targeting the national anthem, they may be charged as well.”

    • The internet will be seen as a public space, so the law will apply to anything online according to a government source, as reported (in Chinese) by RTHK.

    • “This is very worrying,” said Eric Cheung, a law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, according to Radio Free Asia. “Hong Kong law doesn’t include clauses that are ideological within the text of legislation,” but the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government seems to be heading in [that] direction.”

    Activist Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 tweeted “The National Anthem Law is part of the brainwashing education against which we have opposed since the beginning. It is a form of imposed ‘patriotism’ which suppressed the public’s freedom.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    More on Central and Eastern Europe and China

    I recently wrote about China’s 16+1 grouping of 16 central and eastern European nations plus China. Andrea Střelcová’s wrote from Prague that one reason that eastern and central European countries like 16+1 is that it created leverage towards the EU, which still does not take them “seriously in the EU ‘old boys club.’” Nathaniel Espino, who lives in Poland, responded:

    Interesting comments from your Czech correspondent and in general I agree, though if the Central Europeans want to be taken seriously by the West they could start by not electing populists and loonies like Kaczyński, Fico, Orban and Zeman.

    I know one of the issues in this part of the world (I live in Warsaw) is countries trying to use EU funds to pay for Chinese-built infrastructure, particularly in areas like high-speed rail, where they would get roped into Chinese technical standards rather than European ones. Yes, it’s only fair that the richer EU countries help fund development in countries that got shafted by Yalta, but it’s also only fair that they expect their infrastructure companies, rather than China’s, to get the contracts.

    Democracy in action

    Xinhua News Agency reports that a “candidate list for the upcoming elections” of president, chairman of the Central Military Commission, and other leadership positions was distributed to National People’s Congress (NPC) delegates on Thursday, and “will be put for vote at a plenary meeting of the NPC session.”

    Xinhua notes that “NPC deputies agreed that the procedure embodied democracy and the candidates are eligible and enjoy wide support.”

    News bites

    • “The prevailing calm in Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan’s remote east does not rule out the prospect of a clash between local powerbrokers and Dushanbe authorities,” says International Crisis Group, which urges “China and Russia to communicate with each other and nudge President Rahmon toward a smooth transition of power.”

    • Uyghurs in various cities in the U.S., Australia and Turkey organized demonstrations “to protest a sweeping Chinese surveillance and security campaign that has sent thousands of their people into detention and political indoctrination centers,” according to Gerry Shih of the Associated Press. (Listen to a Sinica podcast with Gerry here.)

    • Occasional SupChina contributor Sophia Yan reports for the Associated Press on Chinese workers tricked into illegal work on the American commonwealth island Saipan.

    Please send us questions for Sinica

    We really appreciate your support as Access members. We’d like to invite you to contribute to Sinica by sending us questions for upcoming shows. We’ll be recording the following soon: Orville Schell on China’s revisionist history; Christopher Rea on humor and hucksters in China, yesterday and today; and John Delury and Ma Zhao on China and the North Korean crisis.

    You can send questions by writing to me at jeremy@supchina.com, or to Kaiser at kaiser@supchina.com, or reach our whole editorial team at editors@supchina.com. If you have not yet joined us on our Slack channel, please come chat with us.

    My apologies for anyone offended by my kvetching, and have a great weekend!

    —Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


    • Alibaba plans dual listing on mainland China stock market
      China’s securities regulator is making plans for rules changes that allow the country’s largest tech companies to come home to the mainland stock market, it was reported earlier this month. Ecommerce giant Alibaba is reportedly actively working to dual list, and other large companies have expressed interest.


    • China wins first battle in ‘war against pollution’
      Levels of smog are rapidly declining in China’s big cities and around the country, indicating a victory in one front of China’s four-year-old “war against pollution.” However, water and soil pollution have reached alarming levels, and even with air pollution, the path to healthy levels is not yet clear.

    • ‘Like it or not, Donald Trump’s policy has been remarkably successful’
      Xi Jinping called Donald Trump on March 10 to express support for Trump’s decision on March 8 to agree to a summit with Kim Jong-un. Andrei Lankov, one of the most perspicacious observers of North Korea, says that Trump’s North Korea policy has been “remarkably successful” in pressuring not just the rogue regime, but also China and South Korea to take action to solve the conflict.

    • China announces largest government reshuffle in years
      The parts of China’s government regulating the finance industry and environmental protection are set for major overhauls, though not as radical as some observers had expected. The shake-up is part of China’s largest government reorganization in years, announced during the second week of China’s annual Two Sessions.

    • What Xi talks about when Xi talks about reform
      The second week of China’s annual Two Sessions political gathering kicked off with a viral eye-rolling moment, and the announcement of some major reshuffles at the top level of government. The departmental rearrangements indicate that President Xi Jinping’s reforms are finally on track, even though they will not be to the taste of many observers.

    • Trump to China: Reduce trade deficit by $100 billion, or I’ll slap you with $60 billion in tariffs
      A $30 billion package of tariffs on China just wasn’t enough for Trump, who reportedly demanded that $60 billion in tariffs on up to 100 Chinese products be ready for his signature as soon as next week. Meanwhile, the U.S. is pressing China to reduce its bilateral trade surplus by $100 billion, while Beijing is urging Trump to not see trade as a “zero-sum game.”


    • Who are Jingri? The Chinese who consider themselves Japanese, spiritually
      There is a group of people in China who, despite their unquestionable Chinese national and ethnic heritage, identify themselves and want to be seen as Japanese. They have been around long enough to earn a specific name — jingri (精日 jīngrì), meaning spiritually Japanese. Yet their existence didn’t ignite much of a stir in public discourse until a string of negative news against them came out lately, which caused China’s foreign minister Wang Yi 王毅, in a press conference during the ongoing Two Sessions, to disparagingly call them “scum among Chinese people.”

    • A poster for ‘The Shape of Water’ in China unwittingly swears at the audience
      There are three days to go until the Chinese release of The Shape of Water, and a marketing campaign is in full swing, with a five-day countdown that started on March 11. Today’s poster, however, while it looks innocent enough at first glance — it shows the protagonist, Elisa, holding up three fingers — actually shows a profanity on screen.

    • Chinese acting schools are rejecting applicants with plastic surgery
      The hostility toward actresses and actors who have had cosmetic surgery is so widely shared in the Chinese entertainment industry that it is now affecting aspiring acting students who have not started their careers yet. Earlier this month, Shandong University of Art announced that it would reject any applicant who has had plastic surgery.

    • Former UIUC professor Xu Gang accused of decades-long sexual misconduct
      Xu Gang 徐钢, a former tenured associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) and a prominent curator behind contemporary art exhibitions in China, lost his post as the curator of the upcoming 2018 Shenzhen Biennale on March 15 after allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior emerged this month.


    Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing retires at 89

    Li Ka-shing’s rags-to-riches story has inspired generations of people in Hong Kong and beyond. He made his first pot of gold by selling plastic flowers…


    ‘Amazing China,’ a documentary extolling Xi Jinping, is the movie officials want people to love

    Amazing China is a 90-minute documentary that presents the nation’s achievements over the past five years since Xi Jinping assumed office. Released on March 2, the film has won neither critical nor popular support — though officials appear to love it. While the English name of the film is rather straightforward, the Chinese title — 厉害了, 我的国 (roughly translated to “Bravo, my country”) — has a more complicated backstory.

    FIFA opens Weibo account, new badminton height requirement, and yaks at Beijing Olympics?

    In this week’s China Sports Column: FIFA gets off its cozy couch and launches an official Weibo account; a new rule by Badminton World Federation (BWF) now means that players have to serve with the shuttlecock no higher than 1.15 meters (3 feet, 9 inches) from the ground; NPC delegate Bai Jiazhaxi proposes yaks should be represented at the 2022 Olympics in the form of a mascot.

    China-censored version of ‘The Shape of Water’ adds shadows to erase nudity

    China’s film censors are at it again, finding ever-more-creative ways to scrub nudity from a Hollywood blockbuster. This time, Chinese audience saw Elisa, the main character of The Shape of Water, wearing a strange shadowy dress in a scene that originally had her naked and with her back to the camera.

    From xiaolongbao to siu mai: A primer on the Chinese dumpling

    No question about it: Dumplings are a quintessential Chinese dish — delicious fillings stuffed into a thin shell, boiled, steamed, or fried. There are plenty of varieties — dim sum favorites har gow (steamed crystal shrimp dumpling, or 虾饺 xiājiǎo) and siu mai (open-faced dumpling, 烧卖 shāomai); 小笼包 xiǎolóngbāo (soup dumpling); 锅贴 guōtiē (fried pot stickers); 汤圆 tāngyuán (boiled sweet sticky rice dumpling); and more obscure regional ones, like momo (Tibetan dumpling filled with seasoned meat, 馍馍 mómo).

    Black Panther in China: A red carpet opening night near Tiananmen Square

    On Friday, March 9, the newest Marvel superhero movie made its debut on mainland Chinese screens. Beijing’s black community came together to celebrate the opening of Black Panther with a red carpet event put on by OPOPO Magazine, attended by more than 400 people. Walking into the Tiananmen Poly International Theater felt like slipping through some protective barrier and entering Little Wakanda in Beijing.

    Sinica Podcast: How China’s poverty alleviation program works, explained by Gao Qin

    A professor of social policy and social work, and director of the China Center for Social Policy at Columbia University, explains how China’s dibao social assistance program works and how poverty is measured in the world’s most populous country.

    Kuora: The bias inherent in American media portrayals of China

    The lens through which most Americans know what they think they know about China is, of course, the media, and that comprises individual people, all saddled with their own privileges and prejudices, all possessed of their own ideological or epistemic or ethical norms, all shaped by unseen cultural and historical forces. It’s not surprising that bias should exist. Of course it does. Anyone would be a fool to think otherwise.

    ‘Maximum of 10 foreigners’: A ‘Two Sessions’ security measure

    “Until March 22nd, every Friday night and Saturday, as requested by local authorities, we can only allow a maximum of 10 foreigners in our store at a time,” read a strange posting that recently went up on a few popular student hang-outs in Beijing’s university district. Who put them up, and why?

    Mingbai: The four legendary beauties of ancient China

    四大美女 (Sì Dà Meĭnǚ), the Four Great Beauties, are legendary Chinese women, all of whom have inspired idioms that are used to describe people who are exceptionally beautiful. They are Wang Zhaojun, Gui Fei, Diao Chan, and Xi Shi. Learn more about them in this week’s edition of Mingbai.

    996 Podcast with GGV Capital: Miranda Qu of Xiaohongshu on Powering Ecommerce With Community

    Miranda Qu is the co-founder of Xiaohongshu (“Little Red Book” in Chinese), the world’s largest lifestyle platform that integrates community and content with ecommerce. Over 75 million users spend a total of over 100 million yuan per month on the app to buy fashion, cosmetics, and lifestyle products from both overseas and domestic brands.



    Saint Patrick’s Day in Shanghai

    In this photo from 2010, foreigners dressed in green celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day in Shanghai. The holiday, which is observed on March 17 each year, celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish.

    Jia Guo