The hard-hat revolution?

Access Archive

Dear Access member,

Maria Repnikova will join us for a Slack Q&A next Friday, August 2, at 10 a.m. EST (10 p.m. in Beijing). Mark your calendars for an interactive discussion exploring the topics of her book, Media Politics in China: Improvising Power Under Authoritarianism, as well as her recent research in Ethiopia exploring Chinese engagement there. 

—Jeremy Goldkorn and team

1. Hong Kong: The hard-hat revolution?

Protests continue in Hong Kong, and there are bound to be more demonstrations over the weekend after this newsletter is sent. 

The South China Morning Post reports that protesters have taken to the airport, crowding the arrivals hall:

Aviation workers were among an estimated 15,000 protesters who staged a sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport on Friday in a bid to win international support for the movement against the now-suspended extradition bill.

The Hong Kong Free Press has more: In Pictures: ‘Welcome to Hong Kong, stay safe’: 100s deliver anti-extradition law message to travelers at airport.

The Guardian describes another, rare form of protest in Hong Kong:

More than 400 public servants from 44 departments have signed a letter threatening “concrete industrial actions” if the government continues to ignore public demands. The public servants posted images of their government staff identity cards, as proof of their positions, with notes on them calling for an investigation into the police.

Adding fuel to the controversy around the thug attacks in Yuen Long at the beginning of this week, Reuters reports that Chinese officials had specifically encouraged the residents of that neighborhood to resist protesters prior to the violence:

Lǐ Jìyí 李蓟贻, the director of the Central Government Liaison’s local district office made the appeal at a community banquet for hundreds of villagers in Hong Kong’s rural New Territories.

In a previously unreported recording from the July 11 event obtained by Reuters…Li chastises the protesters, appealing to the assembled residents to protect their towns in Yuen Long district and to chase anti-government activists away.

“We won’t allow them to come to Yuen Long to cause trouble,” he said, to a burst of applause.

“Even though there are a group of protesters trained to throw bricks and iron bars, we still have a group of Yuen Long residents with the persistence and courage to maintain social peace and protect our home.”

However, the Hong Kong government appears to be making efforts to tone down this controversy, per the HKFP:

Hong Kong’s number two official Matthew Cheung [張建宗 Zhāng Jiànzōng] has apologized for the way the government handled the Yuen Long attacks on Sunday, and for the first time described its perpetrators as “thugs.”


Now that organizing for mass protests has been taking place for most of the past two months, it’s somewhat surprising that a nickname for the protests hasn’t taken hold yet. A contender emerged this week, as Mary Hui writes in Quartz, “Hardhats are the new symbol of Hong Kong’s protests”:

If the commonplace umbrella was the defining image of Hong Kong’s massive protest movement in 2014 — hence the aptly named the Umbrella Movement — then the sturdy hardhat is fast becoming the symbol of the ongoing wave of protests… 

While helmets and hardhats were also used during the Umbrella Movement, they have taken on a much more central role this time around. Just like umbrellas, the hardhats serve both functional and symbolic purposes: they protect protesters’ heads in potentially violent situations, but also send a message of steely resolve as protesters buckle in for the long haul.

Noting Mary Hui’s earlier thread on Twitter about the symbolism of the hard hat, Antony Dapiran tweeted on July 23 that “perhaps we should call these protests the ‘Hardhat Revolution.’

Another Hong Kong–based journalist, Stuart Heaver, today also dubbed the protests the “hard hat revolution” in a piece for The Independent: Hong Kong’s quiet and determined ‘hard hat revolution’ is braced for a lurch towards civil war. He comments: “The young Hongkongers I talk to are not stereotypical hard-bitten agitators but they are determined, idealistic and desperate…No one knows what will happen next. It feels like a revolution but it also feels like a pending catastrophe. No one is predicting a happy ending.” 


Other reports to keep track of, from and about Hong Kong:

The threat of PLA force

“We note with concern the Chinese government’s statements,” a state department spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post on Thursday… 

The state department said it “categorically reject[ed] the false charge of foreign forces as the black hand behind the protests,” referring to an allegory often employed by Beijing to refer to external interference.

The arrangement for the Chinese garrison in Hong Kong is found not only in the Hong Kong Garrison Law as you reported. It is stipulated also in Article 14 of the Hong Kong Basic Law in exactly the same words, ie “The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may, when necessary, ask the Central People’s Government for assistance from the garrison in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief.”

Other articles

  • In Hong Kong protests, faces become weapons / NYT (porous paywall)
    “A quest to identify protesters and police officers has people in both groups desperate to protect their anonymity. Some fear a turn toward China-style surveillance.” 

  • Hong Kong headliner makes headlines / China Heritage
    “Following the release of ‘We Connect’, Episode 17 in its Spring-Summer 2019 season on Friday the 19th of July, Headliner 頭條新聞, a topical and popular Hong Kong TV show that specialises in political commentary and pointed spoofs, went into summer recess. After the dramatic events of the evening of the 21st of July, however, the show’s holiday plans were shelved.”

Earlier this week in and related to Hong Kong:

  • In Hong Kong, organized groups of thugs attacked protestors and bystanders at Yuen Long on July 21, injuring 45 people in the most violent day since the start of demonstrations a month and a half ago. At the same time, Beijing began a coordinated propaganda offensive that called for the “rule of law,” and decried the protestors as anarchist Hong Kong elements (乱港分子 luàn gǎng fēnzǐ). Donald Trump said that Xi Jinping has “acted responsibly” in Hong Kong, but Beijing did not return the friendly words, and instead blamed the protests on U.S.-directed “black hands.” 

  • Beijing made clear that military force is an option in Hong Kong, because the “behavior of some radical protesters challenges the central government’s authority” and “absolutely cannot be tolerated.” In another sign of the severity of the situation, Junius Ho [何君堯 Hé Jūnyáo], a pro-Beijing lawmaker, made a death threat against an opposition lawmaker. 

  • Police banned a protest planned in Yuen Long for July 27, after 11 universities had issued warnings urging students to heed safety concerns, though students signaled they would still show up. 

  • In Australia, a protest featuring pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing students at the University of Queensland turned ugly, as some in the latter group ripped up signs supporting Hong Kong. The Chinese consulate-general in Brisbane, Australia, praised the disrupters for their “counter-protest against separatists.” 

The South China Morning Post today reports that the University of Queensland had “named Xu Jie, the Chinese consul-general in Brisbane, as a visiting professor of language and culture in a July 15 ceremony at the university,” raising further questions about the Chinese consulate’s involvement in the protests at the university. 

—Lucas Niewenhuis

2. A quick update on the techno-trade war 

Is Trump being advised against continuing the trade war? One source told Politico, “The good news is, there aren’t that many people left with much influence telling him that trade wars are good and helpful.” But Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser, told CNBC: “That doesn’t apply to easing up on China.” Kudlow separately added to CNBC that he “wouldn’t expect any grand deal” with China. 

Trump tweets negative on Apple and Google: “Apple will not be given Tariff waiver, or relief, for Mac Pro parts that are made in China. Make them in the USA, no Tariffs!,” one Trump tweet stated. Another insinuated, “There may or may not be National Security concerns with regard to Google and their relationship with China. If there is a problem, we will find out about it. I sincerely hope there is not!!!” (Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had two days prior said, “We’re not aware of any areas where Google working with the Chinese government in a way that in any way raises concerns.”) 

Farmers just want it all to end: Bloomberg reports this reaction to the $16 billion in subsidies:

“America’s farmers ultimately want trade more than aid,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest general farm organization. “It is critically important to restore agricultural markets and mutually beneficial relationships with our trading partners around the world.”

China allowed more tariff-free purchases of American agricultural products, this time 50,000 tons of cotton, along with unspecified amounts of corn, sorghum, and pork, according to Bloomberg.

Huawei and U.S.-based contract manufacturer Flex broke up, and not just because of the Commerce Department entity list, though that was a factor. Caixin reports (paywall):

“During quarter one, there was well publicized action by the U.S. government and significant geopolitical under certainty that impacted our customer Huawei,” said Advaithi.

“These actions, which were beyond our control, lead to a reduction in demand for products we assemble for them in China. And as a result of this, we’re scaling down our Huawei-dedicated operations in China,” he said, adding that the change was “unfortunate” given the two companies’ “longstanding and successful partnership.”

But Caixin can reveal the relationship between the two companies has been patchy of late. Huawei is currently taking legal action against Flex, alleging the U.S. company refused to return production material held in one of its China factories.

A source told Caixin separately, “As early as May, Flextronics had already halted production” at its Changsha factory. 

3. Juul-style e-cigarettes are coming to China

It will be interesting — or mildly horrifying, depending on your view of the product — to see how popular the slick Juul style of miniature e-cigarette becomes in China. Bloomberg reports that “The woman who helped invent Juul e-cigarettes is targeting China” (porous paywall):

One of the top scientists behind electronic cigarette leader Juul Labs Inc. is striking out on her own to launch a new e-cigarette brand in China.

Chenyue Xing’s company, Myst Labs, has developed a slick silver device called the Myst P Series that will debut at the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Guangzhou on Saturday. Resembling a USB flash drive, the 399 RMB ($58) e-cigarette was designed to solve some of the challenges facing Juul… Xing, Myst’s chief scientist and co-founder, says the P Series has lower nicotine levels than Juul products and was formulated to appeal to current smokers — avoiding the fruity flavors that might lure in teenage newbies…

Myst faces intense competition in China, where dozens of e-cigarette startups have collectively raised tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to profit from the world’s largest tobacco market. The e-cigarette craze has hit as overall funding for tech startups has slowed in China, with venture deals dropping 77% in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to market research firm Preqin.

“This initial land grab is so important,” said veteran angel investor Rui Ma. “For tobacco and other hedonistic products, most people are loyal to one brand.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis

Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Beijing took a page from apartheid South Africa’s book and published a white paper that rejects any notion that Uyghurs may have an identity or a culture that is separate or different from “Chinese civilization.” Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan objected to Chinese state media’s characterization of him describing “happy lives” in Xinjiang. 

  • The next round of techno-trade-war talks will take place in Shanghai on July 30–31, the Chinese Commerce Ministry confirmed. While expectations are extremely low for this round, Beijing did give five companies tariff exemptions to buy 3 million tons of American soybeans as a goodwill gesture. Trump is also moving forward on his promise of a limited reprieve for Huawei, and on July 22 said there would be “timely licensing decisions” for some American companies to sell to Huawei. Meanwhile, hawks in Washington are now taking aim at companies like TikTok for its control of personal data, and industries like Chinese bus and train infrastructure over concerns about surveillance. 

  • Beijing’s biggest security worry is separatists, according to a white paper titled “China’s National Defense in the New Era.” The strategy document is the first to be publicly released since 2015. Separately, the rapid expansion of China’s defense industry was shown in a ranking of the top 100 biggest defense companies in the world by Defense News, where six out of the top 15 are now Chinese. 

  • Lǐ Péng 李鹏, the former premier widely known as the “Butcher of Beijing” for his order of martial law that brought a bloody end to the 1989 Tiananmen protests, died at 90 in Beijing.

  • China’s first private satellite launch to orbit was completed by i-Space, a three-year-old Beijing-based startup, on July 25. It is a major milestone for the private space industry in China, which is only five years old. 

  • STAR, the new Nasdaq-style stock market, launched in Shanghai on July 22, and got off to a booming start in its opening hours. But that did not last long, as many of the first batch of companies saw steep declines after listing. 

  • More American university administrators are speaking out against racial profiling of ethnically Chinese scientists, as this week the University of Pittsburgh, California Institute of Technology, and Johns Hopkins University issued statements. Also, Peter Mattis and Matt Schrader wrote an essay calling for an informed approach to U.S. national security worries about China: America can’t beat Beijing’s tech theft with racial profiling.

  • Chinese companies have nearly reached parity with the U.S. on the 2019 Fortune Global 500, which featured 119 corporations from China (not including 10 from Taiwan), while 121 companies from the U.S. were on the list. 

  • The Financial Times is being sued by Want Want China Times Media Group for defamation, after a report in the newspaper claimed that China Times and CTiTV — owned by food and beverage giant Want Want’s media subsidiary — took editorial directions from the Taiwan Affairs Office, the body in Chinese government that handles Taiwan issues. 

  • In Pakistan, housing is being built for half a million Chinese professionals who are expected to relocate to Gwadar, the southern port that has received massive Chinese investment. 

  • China vowed to take a hard line on child sexual abuse, as the Supreme People’s Court of China on July 24 released information about its handling of four “typical” cases that involve sex crimes against children. 

  • In 30 African countries, StarTimes now beams Chinese TV shows into the homes of 10 million subscribers, raising concerns over the prevalence and control of Chinese state media, CNN reported.

  • Exiled real estate tycoon Guō Wénguì 郭文贵 was accused of being a spy by Washington-area research firm Strategic Vision US LLC in a federal court filing. 


—Despite the latest data showing weak growth, we expect China’s growth to stabilize in 3Q2019.

—The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is poised to cut interest rates by as much as 30 basis points in the second half, while fiscal spending will also be ramped up.

—Beijing will also focus efforts on rescuing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from financial hardship, which will divert resources from stimulating headline growth overall.

—To effectively balance stabilizing growth and deleveraging while leaving policy room for contingency measures means that Beijing is unlikely to announce any major stimulus.

  • The stars of STAR
    Three billionaires created on day one of China’s new tech board / Bloomberg (porous paywall)
    Shanghai’s new Science and Technology Innovation Board, also known as the “STAR Market,” did not have a perfect start, but it did create three billionaires: Chen Wenyuan of HYC Technology; Cao Ji of Hangke Technology; and Deng Hui of Arcsoft Corp. 

  • The shrinking dreams of Wanda Sports
    China’s Wanda Sports raises $190.4 million in downsized IPO / Reuters
    Wanda Sports Group [is] a “sport events owner whose interests include the distribution of media rights in Asia for the FIFA World Cup.” Two days ago, it had “already cut the size of its IPO to up to $308 million from a previous size of up to $500 million.”

Higher pork prices – up about 35 percent in a year – have already fueled a surge in poultry meat demand. Chicken breast is about 20 percent more expensive than a year ago, while duck breast has nearly trebled in price to 14,600 yuan (US$2,125) a tonne, according to Shenghe.

This is still only about half the cost of pork, but such prices are unheard of in China, where breast is typically the cheapest part of the bird.


But pickings this year [of pu’er tea] have been slim at Nannuoshan, one of six major pu’er mountains in Yunnan, where the hottest weather and lowest rainfall in decades have lowered output… 

Provincial officials blame climate change for the greater frequency of drought in recent years, warning that rising temperatures threaten losses in crop production.

Those who ate more than 50 grams of chilli a day had more than double the risk of poor memory, and a 56 per cent higher risk of suffering memory loss, the study found… 

The study generated huge interest among chilli lovers on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, when it was posted on Wednesday by Chinese website Pear Video. The topic received more than 300 million views, with some chilli lovers standing firm and others expressing disbelief.



John Elder, a spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department, told Caixin that police waited until now to release the materials because of the need to redact and legally review it all before granting access to the public.

Some details in the released materials have gone viral since Wednesday. Some people posted sexual details contained in the materials on social media, while some commenters speculated that extortion was the motive behind Jingyao Liu’s accusations.

Jingyao Liu acknowledged the authenticity of the released material, but she was also “furious” with certain domestic media reports for describing the sexual details in exaggerated ways, she told Caixin on Thursday. Richard Liu’s attorney, Jill Brisbois, said in a statement that the released materials further proved his innocence.


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‘Cities of Last Things’: A revenge story told backward in a hodgepodge of genres

Netflix’s latest addition from Taiwan is Cities of Last Things 幸福城市, a hodgepodge revenge tale from Malaysia-born director Ho Wi Ding 何蔚庭. The movie combines various genres, following the life of a man named Zhang Dong-ling across three life-changing, irreversible nights. Its story unfolds backward. Reverse chronology can be a risky and even pointless gimmick, but Cities of Last Things manages to pull it off without being annoying.

Chinese Corner: Eat, stream, and become a millionaire

They say the best job to have is one you would do even without pay. Perhaps the rise of broadcast eating, also known as mukbang, is the best example of this. Finding its origins in South Korea, where a group of streamers began broadcasting themselves eating food in 2008 and quickly rose to minor fame, the odd profession has morphed into a global phenomenon in the past decade, with numerous streamers accumulating regular viewers who tune in just to watch them eat.

Richard Liu sues feminist blogger for defamation over her ‘rapist Dong’ Weibo posts

Chinese billionaire and founder Richard Liu (刘强东 Liú Qiángdōng), who is the subject of a rape allegation made by Jingyao Liu, a 21-year-old Chinese student from the University of Minnesota, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Weibo user @马库斯说, claiming that the feminist blogger’s remarks about his alleged rape case and his ecommerce company had besmirched his reputation and made an extremely negative impact on Chinese society. 

Kuora: Why do Chinese people like their government?

Why does the Chinese Communist Party, which actively curtails the rights of those who live under its rule, still have the support of its people? What exactly is the relationship between the Chinese people and their government? And why might a Western observer of China be obscured from the Chinese point of view? Kaiser Kuo answers these questions and more, in the context of recent history, showing us what the world looks like through Beijing’s windows and the extent to which Beijing’s worldview is shared by China’s citizenry.

The SupChina Quiz: Chinese food

It’s the last Thursday of the month, which means it’s quiz time! Today we present 12 questions about Chinese food, from General Tso’s chicken to laziji.

Tibet: What is happening there now?

As international attention drifts, China has continued to tighten its grip on Tibet. What are the core issues for Tibet, and how has the situation developed since the 2008 riots?

‘Grapes of God,’ smitten: The transformation of a small Catholic village in Yunnan

Cizhong, located in northern Yunnan Province near the border of Sichuan and Tibet, is known for both its unusual French Catholic heritage and a historic wine industry. It was a thriving, wine-producing village until a new dam downriver recently changed everything. “Our land is gone,” said a guesthouse owner. But not everyone objects to the new way of life.

Justin Bieber joins Weibo. Is his China ban lifted?

Justin Bieber was banned from performing in China in 2017 by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture, but two years later, the ban may have been lifted, at least partially, as Bieber joined Sina Weibo last week and has been pretty active on the microblogging platform since.

China calls for ‘broadly same’ but not ‘completely equal’ rules for foreign and local students

In the wake of some recent news and debates in regards to preferential policies enjoyed by foreign students in China, the country’s Ministry of Education clarified its position at a press conference last week, saying that it would make further efforts to make sure management and services for Chinese students and overseas students studying in China are “nearly the same” but not “totally identical” given that foreign students come from a different cultural background


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Sinica Podcast: Michael Swaine on the ‘China is not an enemy’ open letter

The Washington Post recently published an open letter signed by five scholars and former government officials: M. Taylor Fravel, Stapleton Roy, Michael Swaine, Susan Thornton, and Ezra Vogel. The letter laid out seven main arguments for why the U.S. should not treat China as an enemy, and not surprisingly, the letter got a lot of pushback from more hawkish China-watchers. This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy talk to Michael Swaine, the primary author of the open letter, about the origins and intentions of the letter and the reactions to it. 

Ta for Ta, episode 23: Joy Chen

This week on Ta for Ta, Juliana speaks with Joy Chen, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and author of Do Not Marry Before Age 30. An internet star and new-media entrepreneur in China, she uses her fame as a platform for her mission: to help 100 million Chinese women realize their full potential. Joy discusses the creative processes and inspiration behind writing her book (which went to print 20 days after being submitted), her experience as a contestant on the Chinese oratory show Super Speaker 超级演说家, where she gave a 15-minute speech entirely in Mandarin with only one day of preparation, and the personal importance of her Chinese identity.

ChinaEconTalk: Little Red Book, Big Red Ideas: A Global History of Maoism, Part 2

Jordan continues his interview with Professor Julia Lovell, author of the recently published book on Mao’s international legacy entitled Maoism: A Global History. In this episode, Lovell recounts the ways in which Maoism truly started going global in the 1950s and 1960s

NüVoices, episode 18: Cultivating community in corporate culture

In this episode of NüVoices, Alice Xin Liu interviews Chenni Xu, corporate communications head for Alipay in North America and a board member and local chapter co-head of NüVoices in New York City. Chenni discusses her experiences navigating the corporate world, from Brunswick to Alipay and from Beijing to America.

TechBuzz China, episode 48: Three Squirrels: The nutty world of Chinese D2C brands

Three Squirrels is a Chinese internet snack brand that started off with selling nuts and went public last week with a market cap of close to $2 billion. The most recent TechBuzz China episode is all about the direct-to-consumer, or D2C, market in China.

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 92

This week on the Caixin-Sinica Business Brief: Beijing’s recent report of the lowest level of air pollutants in the first half of 2019, a new partnership between Alibaba and Sinopharm, Didi Chuxing’s attempted relaunch of its Hitch carpool service, and more.


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BE-Jing No. 5: Riding away

This photo from Xicheng, Beijing, in 2017 is part of BE京jing, a 30-part photo essay project by Gregorio Soravito. It’s about everyday life on the streets of the Chinese capital, a kind of narration about the people who live in this unpredictable city and are constantly growing, changing, and upgrading. BE京jing is a collection of moments that tries to transmit, through a gesture or a facial expression, an identity both individual and collective. It focuses its attention not on places but on people: the human resources that make this gigantic city feel natural and alive.