Who is Chen Quanguo?

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Dear Access member,

October 1 is a holiday in China, so news is likely to be slow, but we’ll put out a newsletter as usual.

All the best,


1. Self-reliance and ‘screws that never rust’ in state media  

Xinhua’s English and Chinese home pages and the People’s Daily lead with a report on a Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 speech at the end of his short tour of the northeastern Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin provinces.

The Global Times’ Chinese-language site has gone full retro Communist today, with the top headline: “Xi Jinping urges us to become ‘screws that never rust’” (习近平号召“做一颗永不生锈的螺丝钉” xí jìnpíng hàozhào “zuò yī kē yǒng bù shēng xiù de luósīdīng”).  

“Screws that never rust” is, of course, a reference to everyone’s favorite Communist boy scout, devoted Maoist, and semi-fictional soldier: Léi Fēng 雷锋, the original revolutionary screw that never rusted.

  • Xi went to Lei Feng’s “second hometown” of Fushun, Liaoning, where he visited the Lei Feng Memorial Hall and said that the Lei Feng spirit is eternal, and that Party members should integrate his lofty ideals into their daily work life, and be screws that never rust in service of the people.

  • Who exactly is Lei Feng? The story is that he was orphaned at a young age. He had a short life of good socialist deeds, selfless devotion to Chairman Máo Zédōng 毛泽东, and service to a transport brigade of the People’s Liberation Army. Then Lei was killed at the age of 21 by a falling telephone pole.

  • Lei Feng’s Diary 雷锋日记 was published in 1963 and the “Learn from Lei Feng” propaganda campaign began in earnest.

  • The Lei Feng propaganda engine has been revved up periodically since then. See, for example, these links (all to my old website, Danwei.org, except where noted):

Why now? It’s not March 5, the traditional Lei Feng remembrance day. And that Global Times story is originally from Xinhua, so the Lei Feng stuff is coming from the central propaganda authorities, not just from a Global Times columnist. I can speculate on two reasons, aside from the fact that Xi happened to be in the northeast near the “birthplace of Lei Feng spirit.” Let me be frank, I’m just dumping my thoughts here:

1. “Martyrs’ Day” falls this weekend.

Xinhua reports that senior Party leaders “will pay tribute and lay flowers at the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square on Sunday morning.”

Martyrs’ Day was inaugurated on September 30, 2014, “to commemorate those who lost their lives for national independence and prosperity.” That year, an official told the New York Times (porous paywall) that “the holiday should help people remember their history.” However, the same article said that “some analysts see the holiday as part of an effort by the Communist Party to enshrine itself as the nation’s guardian against invaders and as the arbiter of who is considered a martyr.”

Resuscitating the old Fengster seems of a piece with the Martyrs’ Day coverage and propaganda we can expect this week.

2. Preparing for tough times

Endurance under the stress of a trade war is one of the propaganda themes of Xi’s visit to the northeast. The Xinhua article linked at the top of this section quotes Xi: “With international unilateralism and trade protectionism rising, we must adhere to the path of self-reliance. If China wants to develop, it must ultimately depend on itself.” The phrase used for “self-reliance” is 自力更生 zìlì gēngshēng, which Mao popularized.

Javier Hernández of the New York Times picked up on the Mao references, too — his report (porous paywall) on the Xi trip is subtitled: “A tour of farms and factories in China’s northeast gave Mr. Xi a chance to look like Mao and take aim at Trump.”

Xi never shied from Maoist language, and he is comfortable bringing back the Party propaganda themes and characters of his youth. Xi has previously nodded approvingly towards Jiāo Yùlù 焦裕禄, the iconic honest communist cadre in an impoverished rural county, who died in 1964 of overwork at age 42. Jiao, like Lei Feng, is hauled out every once in a while, as a role model for Party members.

Lei Feng himself was promoted as a selfless hero, willing to sacrifice everything during tough times. In the 1960s, nobody but a tiny privileged few in China lived in material comfort. Perhaps, with economic clouds ahead, Xi is bringing back Lei Fei as a warning to Party members: Prepare for hardship.

Addendum: Lei Feng oddities

If you have not had enough of Lei Feng yet:

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. Who is Chen Quanguo?

“The architect of China’s Muslim camps is a rising star under Xi,” says Bloomberg (via Straits Times). “If one individual sums up the values gap between a rising China and the West, it may well be” Chén Quánguó 陈全国, the Party boss of Xinjiang. So who is he?

  • Male, Han nationality, born 1955 in Pingyu, Henan Province, according to ChinaVitae. Joined the Party in 1976, graduated from the economics department of Zhengzhou University, received a master’s degree in economics from Wuhan Automotive Polytechnic University.

  • “Chen had no known family connections to help him climb through the ranks,” according to Bloomberg: His first job “saw him join a rural commune in Henan, beginning a nearly four-decade journey from lowly apparatchik to Politburo member.”

  • From 2010 to 2011, Chen was the governor of Hebei. There is very little information about Chen in the public domain prior to that.

  • In 2011, Chen became the Party boss of Tibet. Bloomberg notes that it was “a prestigious appointment,” Hú Jǐntāo 胡锦涛 had held the same job, and “Tibet was still reeling from an outbreak of violence against Beijing’s rule,” which Chen is seen to have successfully managed.

  • In August 2016, Chen was put in charge of Xinjiang. His brief, according to Bloomberg: “to implement a policy to ‘strike first’ against domestic terrorism and unrest.” Chen replicated the policing and surveillance tactics he had pioneered in Tibet, and is now overseeing their rapid expansion.

  • Chen is politically savvy, according to Bloomberg: “In February 2016, he publicly hailed Mr Xi as China’s ‘core’ leader months before his title was made official, and has described Mr Xi as a ‘wise leader’ with a ‘magnificent plan’ for China.”

U.S. House of Representatives hearing

An American House of Representatives Foreign Policy Committee hearing — see China’s repression and internment of Uyghurs: U.S. policy responses — took place this week. The South China Morning Post has a report.

  • Nury Turkel, chairman of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (and an upcoming Sinica guest), named Chen Quanguo, saying his tenure as Party boss of Xinjiang had heralded the “dehumanisation of the Uyghur people.”

  • “Adrian Zenz, a researcher credited as being one of the first to produce a detailed picture of the existence and scope of mass internment camps in Xinjiang, called on the US government to investigate whether American companies were involved in supplying cutting-edge technology that could be used by Chinese authorities for surveillance and other security-related systems in Xinjiang.”

  • “All witnesses who spoke at Wednesday’s hearing said US President Donald Trump’s administration should implement the Global Magnitsky Act, a form of economic sanctions that would freeze the assets of Chinese officials deemed crucial to their government’s Xinjiang operations.”

  • “Kenneth Jarrett, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said that the issue of American firms’ potential involvement in supplying surveillance technology deployed in Xinjiang had not yet become a ‘topic of conversation’ for the association’s roughly 1,500 member companies, but that business leaders were generally following events in Xinjiang closely.”

Finally, the Council on Foreign Relations has a video of a conversation with Wáng Yì 王毅. There does not seem to be a transcript yet, but a research associate at the Council, Viola Rothschild, has summarized the foreign minister’s remarks on Twitter:

The things happening in Xinjiang are internal affairs. China is acting within its constitution and respecting freedom of religion. Terrorist incidents in the region have harmed innocent lives of Muslims and others. There was a time when Xinjiang was unsafe and insecure. The government is fulfilling its responsibility of helping the region become more stable and protect law and order. We are doing what should be done. There are no more terrorist attacks now.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. Bolton — the real China hawk behind Trump? — trade war, day 85

There is little hard news in the trade war today. We are still waiting on the Trump administration to provide evidence for its charge of election interference by China — what Axios calls a “baseless” accusation of “a minor act of war.” Bonnie Glaser, an expert on Asia-Pacific security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, tells AFP that there’s an important distinction between “overt attempts at exerting influence” and “covert interference,” and that what we have seen so far is only in the first bucket.

In the meantime, here are a few interesting reports:

  • National security adviser John Bolton has “played a key role in persuading Trump to take a tougher approach toward Beijing that goes beyond the bitter trade war between the world’s two biggest economies and includes disputes such as cyber activities, Taiwan and the South China Sea,” two officials told Reuters.

  • “Some American friends have proceeded from the Western theory of realism,” Foreign Minister Wáng Yì 王毅 told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York today, and reached a “conclusion…that China is about to seek hegemony and even challenge or displace US leadership…I want to tell you very clearly that this is a serious strategic misjudgment,” AFP reports.

  • Wang Yi added that he remains optimistic, stating there is “no cause for panic,” and “we can overcome current difficulties,” he said, according to Reuters.

  • “China is seeking to work with the European Union on WTO reform, but Beijing will still face a ‘united front’ from the US, EU and Japan on contentious trade issues like state subsidies,” the SCMP says.

  • “The United States is working on a counter-offer to stop Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from building internet infrastructure in Papua New Guinea (PNG),” according to the U.S. Charge d’Affaires in the country, James Caruso, Reuters reports.

Other trade war and U.S.-China relations news:

—Lucas Niewenhuis

4. A trio for Friday

  • Bytedance is in discussions “to raise new funding that would value the business at $75 billion,” reports the New York Times (porous paywall). “The Japanese conglomerate SoftBank is among the investors involved in the talks… A $75 billion valuation would make Bytedance one of the world’s most valuable private tech companies — Uber was recently valued at $76 billion.”

  • “Rats as big as kittens walk up the staircases at Hong Kong housing estate where first human case of rat Hepatitis E virus was found” is the South China Morning Post story on a new infectious hazard in Hong Kong. The New York Times headlines the same news more sedately: In Hong Kong, Hepatitis E strain jumps from rats to humans (porous paywall).

  • “Jack Ma is retiring. Is China’s economy losing steam?” asks this opinion piece (porous paywall) by MIT professor Yàshēng Huáng 黄亚生: “Two of the three forces, globalization and marketization, that have propelled Alibaba to its current $500 billion valuation are dissipating. The third force, technology, is mired in the trade war between China and the United States, and its prospects in China are now uncertain.”

Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at jeremy@supchina.com.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • The trade war more than tripled in scope, as the U.S. imposed tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods and China responded with tariffs on $60 billion in American goods. A detailed white paper produced by the Chinese government, which accused the U.S. of “trade bullyism,” became the official Party line when it was reprinted in its 36,000-Chinese-character entirety in the People’s Daily.

  • Donald Trump accused China of election interference, but provided no evidence of a covert campaign, pointing instead to China’s targeting of American farmers with tariffs and purchase of an ad in the Des Moines Register in the context of the trade war. China denied the allegations, and Trump later said that his “friendship” with Xi Jinping — by all accounts, a one-sided sentiment — “may not be” a thing anymore.

  • Pope Francis made a provisional deal with Beijing to unify the system for appointing Catholic bishops in China, and recognize the Pope as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in China. The Pope later defended the plan against critics, insisting that “It’s not [that the Chinese government] names them. It is a dialogue. But the pope will appoint them. Let that be clear.”

  • Hong Kong banned a pro-independence party, invoking an obscure clause in the city’s Societies Ordinance to shut down the Hong Kong National Party, after a little more than two months of threatening to do so.

  • Potentially hundreds of Pakistani men say their mostly Uyghur wives and children are trapped in Xinjiang, and are lobbying their embassy to pressure China for their release. Meanwhile, China’s crackdown in Xinjiang sparked more protests across the Islamic world, even as the repression of Islam spread beyond just Xinjiang. There are more articles on Xinjiang linked in our Monday newsletter.

  • The Maldives voted in a new, less China-friendly president, marking the fourth time in recent years that a country in south or southeast Asia has seen a backlash to Chinese investment during an election.

  • New discipline rules for Communist Party members in China, set to take effect October 1, make clear that any inappropriate remark online can lead to expulsion. Off-limit sentiments on social media include endorsement of bourgeois liberalization, defamation of national heroes and models, and slander of the Party and state leaders.

  • A Marxist Society at Peking University was shut down, apparently because the students were too sympathetic to the plight of workers trying to organize a trade union at Jasic Technology factory.

  • We also noted how state media communicated Xi Jinping’s messages that agriculture is a “top priority of the Party’s work,” and also, later, that “all thinking and talking that doubts or slanders state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is incorrect.”

  • Three op-eds or essays also caught our attention this week. Here are the SupChina pages where we discussed them:


  • Gene editing safety violation allegations denied, shares surge
    China’s Genscript jumps after denying faking allegations / FT (paywall)
    “Shares in a Chinese biotech company which is partnering with Johnson & Johnson on a new cancer treatment, surged as much as 19.9 per cent in early trading on Friday after the company denied allegations of faking data.”
    Yesterday in WSJ: GenScript shares drop on report alleging safety violations by unit partnered with Johnson & Johnson
    “The report alleged that Nanjing Legend Biotechnology Co. bypassed standard safety procedures while testing an experimental gene therapy on Chinese cancer patients. It accused parent company GenScript of cherry picking results disclosed to investors. GenScript and Legend deny any wrongdoing.”

  • Infographic: Chinese internet by the numbers
    Here’s what happens in one minute on the Chinese internet / Radii China

  • Autonomous buggies to clean city streets
    Baidu’s autonomous driving technology finds new application in urban cleaning / TechNode
    “Joining hands with Chinese tech giant Baidu, Beijing Environmental Equipment Company, a subsidiary of Beijing Environmental Hygiene Group, launched seven autonomous driving vehicles for urban environment cleaning.”

  • BMW gets its fix of lithium  
    China’s Ganfeng Lithium signs 5-year supply deal with BMW / FT (paywall)
    “Ganfeng, which is set to price an IPO in Hong Kong next week, will sell the lithium at market prices and provide as much lithium as Munich-based BMW needs, it said…Lithium is a key ingredient for electric car batteries, along with nickel, cobalt and manganese.”

  • Uber gets scooters from China
    Briefing: Uber is coming back to China to make scooters / TechNode
    “After selling its ride-hailing operations to Didi in 2016, Uber is coming back to China but not to compete for the market again. The company is ordering bikes and scooters for its bike-rental business back in the US.”

  • Bullet Messenger gets the wrong kind of attention
    Bullet Messenger is getting more attention from local media for lax security and racy content / TechNode

  • Thailand smartphone market
    Smartphone market cut-throat as Chinese rush in / Bangkok Post
    “The sluggish economy has caused fierce smartphone competition as Chinese phone makers flood the market and mobile operators offer longer payment instalments of up to 36 months at the Thailand Mobile Expo.”

  • Artificial intelligence — educational robots
    AI robots are transforming parenting in China / CNN
    “Driven by a cluster of leading AI companies and using ad campaigns that target tech-savvy parents, early education products have taken a futuristic turn in China…A search on Tmall (China’s equivalent to Amazon) with ‘education robot’ gives 65 pages of products.”

  • Thailand boat tragedy aftermath
    China orepares unprecedented online Tourism regulation / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    “China has drafted sweeping regulations targeting online travel agencies and platforms based in the country after a deadly boating accident involving Chinese tourists in Thailand fueled claims of lax oversight, according to a person familiar with the matter.”
    “The regulation by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism would mandate that online travel providers improve rescue and emergency plans, better vet and manage their on-ground service providers, purchase liability insurance, and protect clients’ personal information.”

  • Didi and ride-hailing problems
    What Didi’s blackout exposed about the ride-hailing industry / Sixth Tone
    “After the death of a passenger, Didi suspended night services. But some say that wasn’t enough to fix safety concerns.”




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Debut appearance for 12 panda cubs in Chengdu

Twelve panda cubs born this year held their first public appearance at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, on Friday.

We also published the following videos this week:


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A comic featuring some of Lu Xun’s most caustic quotation

What is China reading this week? In the latest Chinese Corner, we summarize stories about how the population train went off the rails; neurotic young parents; a Yale university graduate who has, despite his bravado, failed to revolutionize the Chinese countryside; and a comic featuring some of Lu Xun’s most caustic quotations.

Gubei WTown: Beijing’s water town amusement park

Constructed in 2010 near a “wild” portion of the Great Wall on the outskirts of Beijing, Gubei WTown is an imminently Instagrammable (though ticket-required) destination for weekenders. Our correspondent checked out its skiffs, streams, shops, hot springs, and “history.”

China Sports Column: Yao Ming’s ‘promotion’ and Stephon Marbury’s balls

The Chinese sports world can be so bizarre that sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe. Case in point: Yao Ming has done so well as president of the Chinese Basketball Association that rumors are he’s going to head up Chinese soccer. (Probably not.) In other news, check out Stephon Marbury’s new (glow) ball.

Sinica Podcast: Xi Jinping’s long, hot summer

This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with Jude Blanchette, the senior adviser and China Practice Lead at Crumpton Group’s China Practice. We pick his brain on the rumors swirling around Beijing this summer, about public criticisms of Xi’s leadership, about the lack of any real succession plan in the eventuality that Xi is somehow incapacitated or steps down, and on an emerging political science literature on authoritarianism.

The SupChina Quiz: Tech in China

It’s the last Thursday of the month, which means it’s quiz time at SupChina! This month: 12 questions to test how much you know about the people and products of the contemporary Chinese tech world.

The Chinese left who support Trump and the American alt-right

There is an active and vocal faction of Donald Trump supporters in China, nicknamed “Trump Guards” (川卫兵 chuān wèibīng), a pun on the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution. In the American president, they see a kindred spirit — even in spite of recent provocations — someone whose aggressive nationalism, hard line on immigration, and disdain for liberals is matched only by their own.

NüVoices Podcast: Joan Xu on screenwriting in China

In the fifth episode of the NüVoices podcast, Alice Xin Liu and Sophie Lu are joined by Joan Xu, a budding screenwriter based in Beijing, who has been working most recently on a forthcoming web series, The Circle 御姐的星途. She frequently works in the action-adventure genre on China-Hollywood co-productions.

Director Jia Zhangke roasts Hu Xijin over his review of ‘Ash Is Purest White’

While most of Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin’s enemies usually choose to ignore his rants, that’s not the case with Hu’s latest Weibo post. It’s a negative review of the movie Ash Is Purest White, directed by Jia Zhangke 贾樟柯. In a now-deleted post that initiated controversy, Hu criticized Jia’s movie for making him uncomfortable due to its “negative energy.”

TechBuzz China: Meituan, the Super App That Won Against a Thousand Clones

As Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma go on vacation for the Mid-Autumn Festival and Golden Week, take a listen to their earlier episode on Meituan-Dianping, the super app that just raised a healthy $4.2 billion from investors in its IPO.

Director exposes Chinese TV’s fraudulent ratings

On September 15, Chinese director and screenwriter Jingyu Guo 郭靖宇 created a furor when he exposed on Weibo the prevalence of fraudulent ratings in China’s TV industry.

Feng Xiaogang cut from film because of Fan Bingbing tax scandal?

A director’s cut of Jia Zhangke’s latest movie, Ash Is Purest White 江湖儿女, released in China last Friday, was six minutes shorter than the version that played at Cannes in May. The cuts focus on scenes featuring Feng Xiaogang, who has a small cameo role. Feng is close friends with Fan Bingbing, who is currently embroiled in a tax evasion scandal.

College student expelled for unpatriotic social media posts

Wang Dong 王栋, an 18-year-old freshman student attending the civil engineering program at Hunan City University 湖南城市学院, found himself in trouble after internet users filed complaints about a series of since-deleted unpatriotic posts on his personal Weibo.

Further restrictions on foreign television programming

The National Radio and Television Administration released a draft of new regulations regarding the airing of foreign programming. According to the draft, which will be open to public discussion for 30 days, foreign shows will be banned from prime time, or from 7 to 10 p.m.

Kuora: Censorship of American tech companies in China, and reciprocity

The sensitivities that give rise to the censorship effectively preventing many global tech companies from competing in China aren’t commercial but political. The CCP fears that social media sites and services in particular are dangerous. But reciprocity — hitting back at private-sector Chinese internet companies — is hardly the answer.

Listen: A wild ride for China stocks

This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: A wild ride for China stocks, the director of the National Energy Administration goes down for corruption, China cancels trade talks with the U.S., David Kirton on the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, and more.


Moon Harbor in Suzhou

This is the night skyline of Jinji Lake (金鸡湖 jīnjīhú) as seen from Moon Harbor. The glossy centerpiece is the Gate of the Orient (东方之门 dōngfāngzhīmén), a prominent building known for its height and design.

The photo was taken during a stroll with local friends after dinner. One of them lived in Suzhou and brought us here to marvel at the scenery and enjoy the cool breeze.

I had seen the Gate of the Orient earlier in the day and sympathized with claims that it resembled a pair of pants. Harsher criticism and outright mockery has been and is still being directed at the Gate of the Orient. As similarly unique structures have been appearing across China, this example highlights the negative public opinion that such “weird architecture” can incite. But by presenting the Gate of the Orient in this light (although light is lacking literally), I hope criticisms of this architectural feat do not neglect the luster it adds to Suzhou’s night skyline. On a larger scale, the flavor that “weird architecture” adds to its surroundings should not be ignored when critiquing such creative expression.

Chionh Hwai Teck

You can click here to view more photos from our inaugural SupChina photo contest.