The China backlash gathers force

Access Archive

Dear Access members,

Just two main top stories today:

  • There is gathering evidence that a real backlash against the Chinese Communist Party is building — academics, business people, and politicians of all stripes across the globe are grumbling about China and criticizing Beijing.

  • Bilibili, China’s leading video-streaming website, appears to have started banning some gay content, such as same-sex kissing scenes.

—Jeremy Goldkorn and team

1. The China backlash gathers force — January 2019

There was not any one big news event today. However, there were a number of stories that suggest the following:

  • A real global backlash against the Chinese Communist Party — amongst the political, academic, and business elite — is gathering force.

  • The current U.S. and Chinese governments intend to rewrite global trade rules.

  • Huawei is a globally competitive company, and is likely to remain a global force no matter what the U.S. government or its allies do.

The evidence for the above assertions? To wit:

George Soros

Foreign scholars and businesspeople will vote with their feet

Rewriting the old rules

Huawei resurgent

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. Bilibili appears to have started censoring gay content featuring kissing scenes

Bilibili, China’s leading video-streaming website, never explicitly branded itself as a space for gay content. But since its launch in 2009, the platform has been a boon to the Chinese gay community and people who enjoy watching gay-themed shows or fan art because of its relatively open-minded attitude toward sexuality compared with that of other streaming services in China.

However, recently, a growing number of Bilibili users reported that some videos uploaded by them had been gradually taken offline for featuring same-sex romantic content like kissing scenes.

For more, please click through to SupChina.

—Jiayun Feng

3. Dirty joke at Shanghai ‘international school’

The South China Morning Post reports:

A private international school in Shanghai has promised to punish its deputy headmaster over a textbook that featured a dirty joke. The exercise book that was dispatched to 48 eighth graders of the SMIC Private School in Shanghai featured a joke ‘Mommy’s Washcloth’ that compared a woman’s pubic hair to a washcloth and ended with a punchline about sexual activity.

Note: “International school” should be in quote marks: SMIC Private School appears to be a cram school for well-heeled Shanghainese families who want their kids to go to school abroad.

You can read the actual dirty joke on What’s on Weibo: “Mommy’s washcloth” – Shanghai school uses dirty sex joke to teach kids English

—Jeremy Goldkorn


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

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • The United States has informed the Canadian government that it plans to proceed with a formal request to extradite Huawei chief financial officer Mèng Wǎnzhōu 孟晚舟 on allegations of banking fraud and breaking sanctions on Iran. China is not happy.

  • More than 100 senior former diplomats and leading scholars have signed an open letter calling for the release of the Canadians detained in retaliation to Meng’s arrest. China-watchers are starting to worry about visiting China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded furiously and disingenuously, saying the letter showed “disrespect for China’s judicial sovereignty and the spirit of the rule of law.”

  • Baidu is under fire from an influential writer for rigged search results. Fāng Kěchéng 方可成, a veteran political journalist, is the latest to write a scathing criticism of the search engine for its promotion of fake and low-quality news.

  • Equal parental leave for men and women? Shanghai Women’s Federation (SWF) is hoping to introduce a shared parental leave policy for both men and women in an attempt to encourage equal sharing of childcare among new parents. Naturally, parts of the internet are upset that women and men may be treated the same.

  • Yáng Héngjūn 杨恒均, an Australian citizen, former Chinese foreign ministry official, and writer of fiction and political essays has been detained by the authorities in Guangdong for “endangering national security.”

  • Is the Chinese economy in 2019 as bad as conventional wisdom suggests? Maybe not.

  • Karl Marx is the subject of a cute new animated TV series.

  • The U.S. Navy sailed a destroyer through the Taiwan Strait, the fourth time it has announced such an operation since last summer.

  • The turmoil in Venezuela is worrying for Beijing, as China has a lot of money at stake.

  • The U.S. reportedly canceled lower-level preparatory trade talks ahead of the visit to Washington, D.C., by Vice Premier Liú Hè 刘鹤 next week, but otherwise, it was an unusually quiet week of trade war news.


  • Chinese wine: Domestic demand down?
    China’s wine production drops by nearly 40% in 2018 / The Drinks Business
    “China’s wine production has seen the sharpest drop in recent memory with a 37.16% plunge to 6.29 million hectolitres in 2018, down from 2017’s 10.01 million hectolitres… China’s wine production has been declining for five straight years but the drop rate seen in 2018 is the sharpest so far, signalling demand for domestic wine is waning fast among consumers.”

  • Solar panels to get pricey
    Party is over for dirt-cheap solar panels, says China executive / Reuters
    “The global solar power industry is about to lose a major competitive windfall as prices of Chinese-made solar panels begin to recover after a collapse last year, the leader of one of the world’s top manufacturers said on Thursday.”

  • GMO crops from the U.S.
    China opens the door to U.S. GMOs / WSJ (paywall)
    “This month Chinese regulators approved the import of five genetically modified crops. These soybean, corn and canola ‘biotech traits’ are designed to grow despite natural obstacles like pest infestation.”


  • Taiwan self-defense
    Taiwan president urges faster mass production of missiles / Focus Taiwan
    “President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 Cài Yīngwén) has called on a key defense technology institute to lay a solid foundation for Taiwan’s defense industry in the coming 50 years and expedite mass production of two models of sophisticated missiles.”

  • Repression of Taiwanese activists in P.R.C.
    Lee Ching-yu denied access to husband in jail / Taipei Times
    Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜 Lǐ Jìngyú), the wife of jailed Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲 Lǐ Míngzhé), has again been denied approval to visit her husband in China, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) said yesterday.  

  • Repression of communists and labor activists
    Seven Maoist students detained in Beijing after talking to foreign media / Radio Free Asia
    “Authorities in China have detained seven members of Marxism study groups at two top universities amid a nationwide crackdown on Maoist supporters of a labor movement in the southern province of Guangdong. Seven undergraduate students at Peking University (Beida) and Renmin University (Renda) were detained in a coordinated operation on January 21.”

  • Repression in Xinjiang
    Inside the vast police state at the heart of China’s Belt and Road / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    In an article subtitled “Xi’s economic ambitions drive the anti-Muslim crackdown in Xinjiang,” Peter Martin reports on ten days spent in Xinjiang:

“It is like if you have a child who misbehaves,” said Du Xuemei, a supporter of the camps and the spokeswoman for Yema Group, a trading company that operates the jewelry boutique. “The parents need to teach it right from wrong.”

But China’s severe actions in Xinjiang are about more than forcing ethnic minorities into line, as I saw on a recent trip to five cities in the region.

Far-flung Xinjiang is critically important to President Xi Jinping’s loftiest goal: completing China’s return as one of the world’s great powers. Although it represents just 1.5 percent of China’s population and 1.3 percent of its economy, Xinjiang sits at the geographic heart of Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative…

…So far the police state in Xinjiang doesn’t appear to be reassuring investors, even as tourism picks up and a rush of government spending lures workers in search of well-paying jobs. Almost no foreign companies have located there and the region’s economy slowed last year. China sees that as a temporary setback. But as the Xinjiang campaign continues to draw unwelcome scrutiny, it is focusing attention not only on China’s treatment of Muslims but Xi’s vision for the nation’s future.

  • We had to destroy the environment in order to save it
    County destroys wetlands to build solar farm / Sixth Tone  
    “A county-level government in northeastern China has come under fire after more than 400 hectares of pristine wetlands were drained to build a solar power plant. The partly state-funded project in Kangping County, Liaoning province, began in 2016 and drained more than 20 percent of the Santaizi Reservoir, according to state broadcaster China National Radio.”

  • Confucius Institutes in Africa
    China hands over Sh 1billion culture centre to Kenyatta University / Nairobi News
    “The Chinese government on Thursday officially handed over a modern international culture and language centre worth over Sh1.09 billion [$11 million] to the Kenyatta University. The building hosting a Confucius Institute, an Africa Education Institute, an International Languages Centre and a culture centre will be used towards promotion of local, African and foreign languages, arts and culture.”

  • Endangered wildlife trade
    China banned pangolin trafficking, but what happens to seized animals? / AP
    “A pioneering environmental non-profit organisation in Beijing has launched an investigation, called Counting Pangolins, to find out what happens to such animals recovered from the illegal wildlife trade. Its findings so far highlight discrepancies between environmental laws and outcomes.”



This artist takes pottery making to a whole new level

Wang is a popular pottery artist on Kuaishou, a Chinese online video app. His works stand apart from others, as they are crafted using his own specially designed pottery machines, and much of his artwork is impressively small and intricate. Most of his works are even smaller than the knuckles on his hands!

We also published the following videos this week:


‘The Unfinished Comedy’: How a brave satire in Maoist China destroyed its creator’s career

In the 1957 satirical film The Unfinished Comedy, made during Mao Zedong’s Hundred Flowers Campaign, one of the characters is a CCP censor who initially assures a comedy duo of his support, only to become increasingly irritated as their show goes on. The irony was all too real — especially after the real-life director, Lu Ban, found himself swept up and punished in the Anti-Rightist Campaign that followed the film’s release.

Huawei’s problem of being too ‘Chinese’

Huawei, much like China, has succeeded because it has been willing to go to lengths, and make sacrifices, that others have not. But as Huawei and China have grown to become leaders in the Asia-Pacific region, the methods that got the company there have been called into question. This is a story about how China’s biggest telecom company can attribute much of its success — and most of its setbacks — to how stubbornly “Chinese” it remains, even amid rising demands for it to conform to Western standards.

China Business Corner: ByteDance takes aim at WeChat with Duoshan, a Snapchat-like video app

ByteDance’s new app is Duoshan (多闪), literally “multi-flash,” a video app that functions a lot like Snapchat. The product was developed with a cool $75 billion valuation behind it, leading many to ask whether it might make a dent in WeChat’s market share. Also in this week’s China Business Corner: Drone maker DJI finds itself in a bribery scandal, and ecommerce platform Pinduoduo loses millions due to a technical glitch.

China Fintech Today: Huawei Pay eyes Russia, WeChat launches digital payment platform in Malaysia

In this week’s column: China’s fintech leaders are moving into Southeast Asia and other regions as China’s fintech industry becomes more regulated; new fintech endeavors are under way as the industry develops; regulations continue to improve the viability of the industry; and more.

Venezuela-China, explained: Geopolitics and corruption

This is the third of a four-part series that spotlights the Venezuela-China relationship. Venezuela is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Its relationship with China — with billions of dollars of trade deals and the China-Venezuela Joint Fund — has not helped.

Kuora: The Nanjing Massacre, where ‘all Chinese…seemed marked out as victims’

The Nanjing Massacre museum, starting this year, has begun to sort out the family trees of the victims and survivors of the 1937 Rape of Nanking. This week’s Kuora revisits the atrocity, and asks how and why Japanese soldiers resorted to wholesale rape and slaughter following the collapse of Chinese defenses.

Sun Shuang: China becomes world’s fintech hub with most deals completed in 2018

What contributes to the boom of China’s fintech industry and what are some risks under its glamorous surface? We spoke with Sūn Shuǎng 孙爽, an analyst at 01Caijing, a fintech knowledge service institution based in Beijing, at an event organized by the Asian Financial Society in New York City on January 18.

Friday Song: Na Ying, the singing legend, and her unforgettable swan song

Na Ying 那英 is a beloved star from the mid- to late 1990s, regarded as a solid performer, but she didn’t have a truly transcendent hit until “Sadness” (默 Mò), released in 2015. It is not as much a song as it is an atmosphere of sadness and desolation built on a foundation of strength. It’s a triumph of somber lyrics and controlled vocal performance.


Sinica Podcast: The U.S. and China: Cold War, or hot air?

This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with Ali Wyne, a policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, about the big picture in U.S.-China relations. Are we already in a cold war? Wyne gives a spirited argument that we’re not — and makes the case that the interconnectedness between China and the U.S. can still serve as effective ballast in the relationship.

Ta for Ta: Episode 13: Libby Lam

This week, Juliana visited Libby Lam, a mother and children’s book author and illustrator, at her alma mater, the Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong. She took the time to discuss her dramatic career switch and share more about her professional philosophy. We learn how her time in the corporate world at PepsiCo and the Walt Disney Company influenced her, why she decided to write in English instead of Chinese, and why she made the decision to go back to school.

TechBuzz China: Ep. 36: China Tech Is Risky Business — Pinduoduo’s Hack and DJI’s Corruption Scandal

In episode 36 of TechBuzz China, co-hosts Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma talk about the dirty, risky, and more unseemly aspects of China tech, primarily focusing on two stories that grabbed headlines recently: the “hack” at the ecommerce company Pinduoduo, and the corruption scandal at the drone designer DJI. Although the incidents differ greatly from each other, they have come on each other’s heels, so our co-hosts decided to bundle them together for an episode, reflecting what’s buzzing within the tech community in China right now.

ChinaEconTalk: Changing tides in 2019, with Gordon Orr

“The U.S.-China equilibrium of the past 20 years has gone,” declares Gordon Orr, director emeritus at McKinsey, in his recent piece on what to expect in China in 2019. So what will replace it? What impact will the increasingly activist Chinese government have on the broader economy? And what larger reflections does a 30-year China veteran have about recent changes in China?


Music break

A woman plays the guzheng (古筝 gǔzhēng), a Chinese plucked-string instrument with a history of more than 2,500 years, in a dressmaking shop in Jinan, Shandong Province. Photo by Daniel Hinks.