Dear Access members,
Sam Crane, a scholar of Chinese philosophy, religion, and politics, will join us next week — time and date to be confirmed on our member Slack channel.
Today, we got four things for you at the top. Unlike most newsletters this summer, today’s issue does NOT include a trade war update in the introductory section. There’s nothing really new to report!
—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor in Chief
Click Here1. And then they came for my mom’s WeChat group
The Party’s steady strangulation of public conversation is being felt by people who never previously worried about what they said online.
Yesterday, Jacky Luo, an engineer for the Silicon Valley payments company Square, tweeted a thread that began:
the chinese government shut down my mom’s college wechat group. it included people in and out of china who would chat about social issues in the country — just ordinary people making conversation. thursday morning, when my mom checked it, it was silent.
usually there were hundreds of messages every morning. that day, none. by thursday afternoon, they realized that none of people inside the country could see or post to the group anymore. for people outside china, everything appeared normal.
Rui Zhong 钟瑞, a U.S.-based writer, commented:
Starting to feel similar strain on conversations with folks in the diaspora and back in China within my networks as well, sadly.
Such stories are more and more common.
On the other hand
The chill has not yet been felt by many in China’s community of tech investors and entrepreneurs.
I believe China’s internet, AI, and biotech sectors will continue to defy stereotypes by throwing off cash and innovation as the government continues to repress free expression and squeeze civil society. Last week’s happy story, as reported by chronicler of mainstream Silicon Valley thought, Tech Crunch: The incredible rise of Pinduoduo, China’s newest force in ecommerce.
If I were an optimist, I might argue that we may have reached a point where a system of checks and balances that works in mysterious ways is about to restrain Xi Jinping. Might we see a late summer and autumn with a little intellectual and ideological breathing room in China? Consider the following:
George Washington University Law School professor and specialist in modern Chinese law Donald Clarke tweeted a link to this article (in Chinese), published by Hong Kong-based Initium, titled “Our current fears and hopes” (我們當下的恐懼與期待 wǒmen dāngxià de kǒngjù yǔ qídài).
Withering (and extremely brave) essay by Tsinghua Law’s Xu Zhangrun 许章润. I understand he’s in Japan now; I wonder if he plans on going back to China.
He mocks Xi’s authorial pretensions: “And then there are officials’ speeches: written by their secretaries and consisting of nothing more than bureaucratese, they actually get collected together and published, appearing with fine bindings and sent for free all over the world.”
“They are a total waste of paper; it makes people spit out their rice laughing. Here, we must not only think about why the persons involved are so retarded and vain.”
“We must also ask ourselves why a great country that has previously encountered this injury, including its various “theorists” and “researchers,” still has absolutely no resistance to it, and in fact is not short of those who would lick carbuncles and suck abscesses.”
He also calls for reinstituting presidential term limits, public disclosure of officials’ assets, and reversing the verdict on June 4th.
And here’s another odd little rebellion, or oversight by the censors. He Weifang 贺卫方 is a much-censored professor of political science and law at Peking University.
Susan Finder a.k.a. Supreme People’s Court Monitor noted that a 1998 essay of his “on media supervision of justice and freedom of press” was republished on WeChat. As of early Tuesday morning July 31 in Beijing, the article is still online on WeChat (in Chinese) and accessible in China.
The widening gyre
I present the anecdotes and facts above in the context of what has been a very strange few days for China watching:
The toxic vaccine scandal grinds on: Angry parents are protesting and demanding justice, while others are overwhelming Hong Kong’s private clinics by booking their children’s inoculations months in advance. See Jiayun’s summary below for more on this.
Completely unsubstantiated and non-credible rumors of a coup in Beijing were cast into a strange light when the People’s Daily headlined a front page: “Xi Jinping returns to Beijing.”
“…there is something different this year, an underlying anxiety that has not found its full political or social articulation” is how Sam Crane, a scholar of Chinese philosophy, religion, and politics, described his annual visit to Beijing this summer. There’s also a new Mao portrait hanging at Tiananmen, which Sam describes on Twitter as “unworldly, unreal, artificially colored,” and “pretty creepy.”
“Lots of weird stuff going around on the China interwebs the past few days. Something’s up.” Thus tweeted Matt Schrader, editor of Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief. James Palmer, Asia editor of Foreign Policy, tweeted: “I think — and all this is guesswork – there’s some kind of genuine anti-Xi push going on inside the party right now, possibly led by older leaders concerned about the prioritizing of politics above economy.”
2. Vaccine scandal protests
According to a video shared on Twitter, a group of angry parents staged a protest in front of the National Health Commission on July 30, demanding legislation to guarantee the quality of Chinese vaccines and severe punishment for Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Ltd., as well as punishment for government officials involved.
“We want the government’s commitment of handling this matter properly,” they chanted while holding up banners reading “Please give justice to every victim.” In another clip, some police officers can be seen trying to maintain order while a woman shouts to a crowd of onlookers, “See, this is how we are oppressed as victims.”
In the meantime:
Some Hong Kong private clinics providing vaccines of foreign brands say they are fully booked by mainland parents for the next two months, the South China Morning Post reports. Many health care booking agents connecting anxious parents and clinics have reportedly doubled their fees amid mounting demand.
Hundreds of families who believe that their children are victims of substandard vaccines are uniting online, calling for the government to offer treatment to their affected children, according to the South China Morning Post.
China’s securities regulator, responding to the country’s worst public health crisis in years, issued some new regulations last week, which will expel companies producing fake vaccines or doing damage to the environment from the stock market.
More details regarding the scandal have been released. Chinese authorities discovered that Changchun Changsheng, the firm at the center of the scandal, used expired materials in vaccine production and fabricated data concerning experiments on mice.
3. #MeToo in badminton: two coaches, including former world champion
A 17-year-old female student-athlete came forward last week with allegations of sexual assault against Liu Jianjun 刘坚军 and Zhang Wei 张伟, two coaches of the municipal badminton team of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.
On July 26, the alleged victim shared her story (in Chinese) on Weibo under the name @孙孙向你扔了只狗. In the article, she said that Liu, a former world champion and now the head coach of the municipal team, first sexually attacked her when she was 14 and continued to molest her over the subsequent years. She said that Zhang, a former national team player, attempted to rape her when she was 14.
4. Spies, bribes, and election experts
China, election expert? On Twitter, I suddenly noticed several odd news stories about China sending observers and consultants to help with ostensibly democratic elections in Cambodia, South Africa, and Fiji. See also With China’s help, Cambodia strongman set to extend 33-year rule on Bloomberg (porous paywall)
—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief
BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY:
Trade war day 25
US almond farmers are reeling from Chinese tariffs / WSJ (paywall)
“Prices for California almonds have fallen by more than 10% over the past two months, reflecting expectations for a bumper crop and steep tariffs imposed this year by China, which until recently was the second-largest importer of U.S. almonds after the European Union.”
Starbucks strategy to counter Luckin?
Starbucks ties up with Alibaba to deliver coffee in China / WSJ (porous paywall)
See also A billion-dollar coffee company and the woman behind it, on SupChina.
The business of recycling
New waste policies leave informal traders struggling / China Dialogue
Big numbers about tech in China
How big is China’s tech industry? Here are the latest stats / Tech in Asia
POLITICS AND CURRENT AFFAIRS:
Xinjiang gulag and panopticon
China’s Xinjiang Province: A surveillance state unlike any the world has ever seen / Spiegel Online
“In western China, Beijing is using the most modern means available to control its Uighur minority. Tens of thousands have disappeared into re-education camps. A journey to an eerily quiet region.”
Mandela, Taiwan, Beijing
The backstory of how South Africa ditched Taiwan for China / Quartz
“Rather than making a quick switch, it took Mandela 30 months to announce the change from Taipei to Beijing. Our analysis shows that internal pressure from the African National Congress (ANC) as well as external pressure from China influenced Mandela’s choice.”
Xi in Africa
Xi Jinping’s trip to Africa cements continent’s growing ties to China, and Beijing’s loans / SCMP
A Kenyan painter’s art questions China’s deepening reach in Africa / Quartz
The officials in suits arrived uninvited at Michael Soi’s studio located in the fringes of the industrial area of Nairobi. They were four men and two women, Chinese, and instantly started rifling through the stacks of artwork in the space and tossing paint cans around. This was in 2015, a year during which China and Kenya were strengthening their bilateral relations with promises of working toget
Belt and Road worries
India’s BRI bet pays off / India Today
“India’s stand on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) appears increasingly vindicated, and the concerns articulated in New Delhi’s statement last May on the lack of transparency and financial sustainability in the mega project are… being reflected in so many other quarters now.”
Pushback against China in the Pacific
Chinese bullying requires a global game plan: Palau / Taipei Times
“Large democratic countries in the world should adopt strategies to counter China’s bullying, particularly small developing countries such as Palau, Palauan Ambassador to Taiwan Dilmei Louisa Olkeriil said last week.”
China: the real reason Australia’s pumping cash into the Pacific? / SCMP
Chinese influence in the Cambodian election
With China’s help, Cambodia strongman set to extend 33-year rule / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
“As Cambodians prepare to go to the polls on Sunday, a win is all but assured for strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen in an election that highlights China’s growing influence in Asia over the West.”
Helicopter crashes nose-first into Beijing car park; no casualties / SCMP
Note: it is unusual for helicopters to fly anywhere around China’s capital.
Censorship of news about movie stars and their taxes
Mystery over disappearing Chinese newspaper report on X-men actress Fan Bingbing’s alleged travel ban / SCMP
“A mystery about China’s highest paid actress, Fan Bingbing — who appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past — has deepened after a Chinese newspaper report claiming she was under a tax cloud and barred from leaving the country was suddenly taken offline without explanation.”
Chinese power in Latin America
From a space station in Argentina, China expands its reach in Latin America / NYT (paywall)
“Our correspondent went to the deserts of Patagonia to examine how China secured its new base, a symbol of its growing clout in the region.”
SOCIETY AND CULTURE:
#MeToo movement gathers momentum in China / WSJ (paywall)
“A slew of sexual-misconduct allegations is surfacing in China, a sign of pent-up frustration about the treatment of women and a testament to the rise of a generation increasingly willing to speak up.”
Education in rural China
China brings 10,000 teachers out of retirement to take up jobs in impoverished rural areas / SCMP
“Beijing is sending ‘outstanding’ retired or retiring educators aged 65 or under to the remote areas under its ‘Silver Age Lecture Plan’, a new programme that is part of the government’s campaign to alleviate poverty in the countryside, according to the Ministry of Education.”
Sex dolls and AI
High-tech sex doll talks using AI in South China / That’s Mags
“In videos provided by a company representative to That’s, a doll moves its lips and blinks as it answers statements like, ‘Let’s have a drink’ (‘I question your motives’) or ‘What do you like to eat nowadays?’ (‘Nothing in particular’).”
Urbanization’s impact on village culture
In China, ‘Once the villages are gone, the culture is gone’ / NYT (paywall)
“Village-based traditions once practiced by close-living families and neighbors are disappearing in an increasingly urban China.”
Breastfeeding exhibition in Hong Kong seeks to build support for nursing mothers / SCMP
Yan Lianke’s dark satire of modern China / Economist (paywall)
VIDEO OF THE DAY
Viral on Weibo: A safety net saves a speeding trucker in China
Click HereKuora: Chinese culture’s diffusion to Japan and Korea
Why were Korea and Japan so influenced by Chinese culture in the past? Simply put, it was due to geographic proximity, the relatively earlier development of a sophisticated state in China, demonstrably useful technological and institutional innovations in China, and sheer size and wealth. It was not only practical and sensible, but laudable, writes Kaiser Kuo.
Friday Song: ‘Because of Love’ 因为爱情…
“Because of Love” (因为爱情 yīnwéi àiqíng) is performed by Eason Chan 陳奕迅 and Wang Faye 王菲, known as, respectively, the King of Asian Pop and the Heavenly Queen. This one’s oft-played, and for good reason.
The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 58
This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: Pinduoduo’s debut on the Nasdaq, a homemade explosive device outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing, Doug Young on the failed merger between San Diego–based Qualcomm and Netherlands–based NXP (Next eXPerience) after Beijing delayed it for over 20 months, and more.
PHOTO FROM MICHAEL YAMASHITA
Coral for sale
In this photo taken in 1998, vendors sell coral at a market in Sanya, Hainan Province. Coral is under stress around the world, threatened by water pollution, climate change, blast fishing, and coral mining. On January 1, 2017, Hainan Province banned the processing and trade of giant clams and coral.