More than 60 dead in pesticide factory explosion

Access Archive

Dear reader,

Only 9 more days for early-bird tickets!

We are hosting our third annual SupChina Women’s Conference in New York on May 20, 2019. It’s a conference about business, technology, and finance in the U.S.-China sphere with an all-female lineup of star panelists.

If you’d like to attend the conference, buy your tickets soon, as early-bird prices only run until March 31. As an Access member, be sure to claim your additional 10 percent off any ticket with the promo code SCWCACCESS2019.

Also, this year, we are once again going to honor SupChina Female Rising Stars for recognizable professional success in the early years of their career, one in business and one from the nonprofit sector. Please submit your nominations before the deadline of April 5 to Click here for more information and for nomination criteria.

—Jeremy Goldkorn and team

More than 60 dead in Jiangsu pesticide factory explosion

On March 21, a pesticide plant in an industrial park in Xiangshui County, Jiangsu Province, exploded, leading to a raging inferno that took firefighters a whole night to subdue. Initium Media has video footage of the aftermath of the blast (in Chinese).

  • The death toll is 62 so far (latest update in Chinese), with more than 600 people hospitalized, 34 of whom are in critical condition. A further 28 people are reported missing. Local residents are fearful of toxic fumes that may have been released by the fire.

  • “An inspection last year by the State Administration of Work Safety found 13 safety problems [in Chinese], including extensive leaks, a lack of safety training, ‘poor site management’ and a shortage of operating procedures and technical specifications posted in the benzene tank area,” according to the New York Times (porous paywall).

  • Internet reactions include posts by “desperate family members who are turning to social media in search of loved ones,” and complaints that postings about the explosion are being censored, says What’s on Weibo.

  • See also: Other recent industrial disasters in China by Agence France-Presse.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

Announcing our first quarterly Red Paper

As Access members, you already receive, for free, our annual Red Paper, reviewing the year in China news and providing an outlook on the year ahead. Here is the link for the 2017–2018 paper; here is the 2018–2019 paper.

We are now starting to produce smaller, quarterly Red Papers that summarize three months of China news at a time. The paper for the first quarter of 2019 is out today: a précis of the China news so far in 2019 in just 11 pages. It also includes a section outlining 10 possible scenarios of game-changing news that could happen in the Year of the Pig. Click here (or the image below) to download your complimentary copy.

—Lucas Niewenhuis and 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 National People’s Congress gave its rubber-stamp of approval to the Foreign Investment Law of the People’s Republic of China on March 15, and the new regulations will come into effect on January 1, 2020.

  • The New York Times published a story titled “U.S. campaign to ban Huawei overseas stumbles as allies resist.” It is the latest of many reports in the past month to show signs of strain in the American campaign against Huawei, since the U.K. and Germany signaled that they were leaning toward mitigating, rather than eliminating through a total ban, any security risk from the company’s telecommunications equipment.

  • The Italian government intends to sign on to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The country signaled early this month that it plans to formally endorse Xi’s signature project (see paywalled Financial Times report), and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he plans to attend the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April.

  • U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plan to fly to Beijing next week to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liú Hè 刘鹤, reports the Wall Street Journal. Liu is then expected “to continue talks in Washington” the following week. But depending on how you read the tea leaves, this is either the closing chapter of a negotiation process that is going “very well” (Trump’s words), or a mission to salvage talks that are actively falling apart before our eyes.

  • A patriotic troll on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo has almost single-handedly set off a massive debate about whether English skills are useless for most Chinese people. Meanwhile, SupChina published an article by Frankie Huang, in which the author argues the actual worth of Chinese-language proficiency.

  • Jiǎ Yángqīng 贾扬清, a research scientist and director of Facebook’s AI Infrastructure, has officially joined Alibaba’s Damo Academy, the AI research arm of the Chinese ecommerce giant, Alibaba said on Tuesday.

  • Donald Trump told reporters that even if a trade deal with China is reached, his administration is “talking about leaving [the tariffs] for a substantial period of time because we have to make sure…that China lives by the deal,” the SCMP reports. The Dow Jones dropped by 0.73 percent in response.

  • Google denied working with the Chinese military after Donald Trump repeated a vague assertion by the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, that Google’s work had a “direct benefit” to the Chinese military, according to NBC.

  • Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent (BAT), and face- and voice-recognition companies SenseTime and iFlyTek are advancing into the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Nikkei Asian Review reported.

  • Beijing is fighting back against reporting on the vast internment system in Xinjiang that many are calling cultural genocide. In the last week, propaganda authorities let loose a cannonade of videos aimed at both domestic and foreign audiences. Some European diplomats were also invited to visit Xinjiang, though it in unclear if they will take up the offer.

  • Research firm Forrester says China will “remain Asia’s largest in terms of tech spending,” ZDNet reports.

  • “China’s 2019 pork imports are set to double from last year to 2 million tonnes…as African swine fever hits production of the meat in the world’s top hog market,” reports  Reuters.

  • Donald Trump “is set on reducing the trade deficit, and is pushing his negotiators to get China to agree to purchase more goods, according to two people briefed on discussions,” CNBC reports.

  • Nana Ou-Yang 欧阳娜娜, the 18-year-old Taiwanese celebrity who has around 14 million followers on Weibo and over 2.2 million followers on Instagram, has found herself caught in a bizarre and messy political storm where she had to speak out about her views on the Taiwan-mainland China imbroglio.


AT&T Inc Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said Wednesday that China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is making it very difficult for European carriers to drop the company from its supply chain for next-generation 5G wireless service. “If you have deployed Huawei as your 4G network, Huawei is not allowing interoperability to 5G — meaning if you are 4G, you are stuck with Huawei for 5G,” said Stephenson at a speech in Washington.  

It took just 10 hours for a star Chinese stock picker to attract more than 70 billion yuan ($10 billion) of orders for his new firm’s debut mutual fund, the latest sign of investor exuberance in the world’s best-performing equity market. The Shanghai-based Foresight Fund, managed by Chén Guāngmíng 陈光明, said on Friday that it stopped accepting client subscriptions after blowing past its 6 billion yuan fundraising target.

“Young Chinese people want to have something unique and do not want to wear what their parents wear.” (Eighty percent of her clientele are socialites from mainland China, the company said in an email, with the rest from Los Angeles, Paris and elsewhere.)



A bell went off inside Jiang Yijun’s head. She stretched her neck and froze. An unpleasant feeling between her buttocks appeared to signal trouble — her old friends of about 15 years, the Hemorrhoid Brothers, were making their presence known again after a long layoff.


Chinese react to U.S. college admissions cheating scandal

Earlier this month, the U.S. was rocked by the largest known college admissions scandal in the country’s history. Prosecutors say that between 2011 and 2018, wealthy parents paid a total of $25 million to a company called The Key to get their kids into their college of choice. Fifty people have officially been charged. How has China reacted to the scandal? Watch this video to find out.

We also published the following videos this week:


‘City on Fire’: Behind the story and influence of Ringo Lam’s classic

Since the 1980s, the Hong Kong film industry has been notorious for its crime-themed action movies, pumped full of hard-boiled cops, honorable gangsters, and blood-soaked shoot-outs. The late director Ringo Lam 林岭东 helped pioneer the genre: His early thematic trilogy of City on Fire 龙虎风云 (1987), Prison on Fire 监狱风云 (1987), and School on Fire 学校风云 (1988) shine as his best work, with City of Fire inspiring Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

Friday Song: Kangding (poetry x music version)

This week’s song selection is a track called “Kangding,” off Anthony Tao and Liane Halton’s poetry x music album “The Last Tribe on Earth,” and was inspired by “Kangding Love Song” (康定情歌), a Chinese folk tune that is UNESCO-recognized as one of the world’s 10 best folk songs. Kangding Love Song has been performed by the likes of Placido Domingo and appears in numerous shows, including Netflix’s Daredevil. It’s easy to see why it’s beloved: The melody is simple and unforgettable, the words are beautiful, and the theme — of love — is timeless.

Kobe, Yao Ming in Shenzhen for FIBA World Cup draw

Yao Ming, Kobe Bryant, and other luminaries from the basketball world gathered in Shenzhen last weekend alongside 8,000 fans of the sport as the draw for this summer’s FIBA Basketball World Cup took place. We’ll break down the draws, including China’s rather easy group. Also in this week’s China Sports Column: The Chinese men’s soccer team suffers another embarrassing loss to Thailand, and high jumper Zhang Guowei got into some trouble for attending two commercial events earlier this year without getting permission from the national team.

The actual worth of Chinese-language proficiency

There’s a debate currently happening on Chinese social media about the value of learning English. The very same conversation can be had about foreigners learning Chinese — but unfortunately, with a different answer. Demand for foreigners who speak Chinese simply isn’t anywhere near the demand for Chinese who speak English. A few weeks ago, our contributor Frankie Huang inadvertently started a small feud in the China-watching corner of Twitter over this issue. She argues that while there are certain positions in certain industries where Chinese-language proficiency has a straightforward link to better performance, there are many more instances where this is not the case.

On the other hand — Kuora: Oh, the places China-watchers will go

These days, there are many possible career pathways for China-watchers, including academia, journalism, diplomacy, intelligence, think tanks, NGOs, and, of course, the private sector. There is huge demand for people who can speak or read Chinese, for people comfortable with being on the ground in China in Chinese-language working environments, and so on. What is your ideal China-watching job?

A testament to failed compromise: The KMT museums of Guangzhou

The district of Yuexiu in Guangzhou is a diorama of the early history of the CCP and the KMT. It is a bloodstained landscape in miniature, however, and one that looks capable of repeating itself. Xi Jinping’s repeated emphasis on the inevitability of reunification, this time with Taiwan, reeks of repeating unnecessary historical folly.

Chinese or Taiwanese? Nana Ou-Yang is at the center of a political firestorm

Nana Ou-Yang 欧阳娜娜, the 18-year-old Taiwanese celebrity who has around 14 million followers on Weibo and over 2.2 million followers on Instagram, has found herself caught in a bizarre and messy political storm where she had to speak out about her views on the Taiwan-mainland China imbroglio.

Chinese Corner: Why Chinese women don’t use tampons

In the past few years, big firms like Procter & Gamble and domestic startups like Femme 非秘 have been working hard to advertise tampons to Chinese women. But the efforts haven’t really paid off. Today, tampons remain a hard sell in the Chinese market. Why? Also in this week’s Chinese Corner: the aftermath of the closing of the Internet Addiction Treatment Center in Linyi, an independent bookstore in Beijing bucking trends, and China’s middle-aged actresses speak out against both sexism and age discrimination.

China Business Corner: Chinese entrepreneurs speak out during Two Sessions

China Business Corner is a weekly window into Chinese-language coverage of business, technology, and the broader economy. This week: entrepreneurs speak out at the Two Sessions political meeting, Muji’s rough 2018, and revisiting a series of dramatic dinner meetings in Hong Kong last year where Pony Ma and his management cohort decided to refocus the famously customer-oriented Tencent toward B2B.


Sinica Podcast: China, the U.S., and Kenya

This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy are joined by Eric Olander, host of the China in Africa Podcast from the China Africa Project, and by Anzetse Were, a developmental economist based in Nairobi. They explore questions related to Kenyan debt and development as well as Sino-American competition in East Africa.

Middle Earth: Episode #5: Video Games with Chinese Characteristics

This edition of the Middle Earth podcast takes a look at China’s video-game industry — a hugely popular business in a nation where over half the population regularly plays. In 2015, the size of the video-game market in China officially surpassed that of the U.S., making the Chinese video-game industry the biggest and most profitable in the world. Listen in as experts discuss the unique features of Chinese video-gaming culture and their implications for this constantly evolving market. Featuring: Ava Deng, translation manager; Sebastien Francois, overseas operations manager; Max Wang, narrative designer; and, as usual, your host, Aladin Farre.

Ta for Ta Episode 15: Investigative journalist Sarah Keenlyside

Sarah Keenlyside began her career as an investigative journalist at the Sunday Times newspaper in London before moving to China in 2005 to set up Time Out’s first English-language publication. After seeing a number of visitors struggle to navigate Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, she was inspired to launch the Bespoke Travel Company, which quickly grew from a one-woman outfit to the tour service of choice for high-profile clients, including Matt Damon, Metallica, Apple, and Warner Bros. Passionate about entrepreneurship, women in the workplace, and mental health issues, Sarah has given talks on all of these topics to a wide variety of groups. She was also a finalist for the “Inspiring Woman Award” in the 2018 British Business Awards hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce.

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 80

This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: the new Foreign Investment Law passed by China, a new food safety scandal at a private school in Chengdu, some controversial remarks by a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, and more.

ChinaEconTalk: Building — and Selling — the Great Firewall

This week on ChinaEconTalk, host Jordan Schneider speaks with James Griffiths, senior producer for CNN International, to discuss his new book, The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet. Together, they trace the history of the internet in China, from the early, heady days of relative freedom through the slow but steady tightening of government controls, and discuss China’s recent efforts to export its comprehensive model of internet censorship. Along the way, they consider questions on a range of issues, including the impact of Google and the tireless efforts of netizens to work around online restrictions.


Collecting oysters

Oyster fishers sort good oysters from the bad on a beach in Shandong Province. Photo by Daniel Hinks.