Week in Review, December 6-13, 2019

Here are the stories that caught our eye this week:

  • Two women were photographed burning books outside the Zhenyuan County library in Gansu, which led to a wave of anger and online criticism. The women’s actions follow an October order that schools “‘firmly cleanse’ their libraries of reading material deemed illegal, improper or outdated as part of efforts to ‘create a healthy and safe environment for education.’”
  • Beijing ordered all government offices and public institutions to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years. The FT notes that the order “is the first publicly known instruction with specific targets given to Chinese buyers to switch to domestic technology vendors, and echoes efforts by the Trump administration to curb the use of Chinese technology in the US and its allies.”
  • China announced that Uyghurs in internment camps have “graduated,” but failed to provide any supporting evidence. The announcement came after exposés were published by the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailing the treatment of Uyghurs held in indoctrination camps and their families, and the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of the Xinjiang Human Rights Policy bill. Meanwhile, it was also reported that China had sought funding from the World Bank for its Xinjiang surveillance operations and that Han Chinese, lured to Xinjiang as part of the government’s “Hanification” plan, are now seeking to leave.
  • An estimated 800,000 people turned out to protest on Sunday in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Free Press reported that the protest “ended peacefully despite heightened tensions between demonstrators and police in Central.” A Hong Kong student in the U.S. provided some nuanced commentary on the roles of clicktivists and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association in supporting and opposing the protest movement respectively, while the Global Times reported that an online game where players “hunt down traitors who seek to separate Hong Kong from China and fuel street violence” has been attracting mainland Chinese players.  
  • An associate professor from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Qián Féngshèng 钱逢胜, was fired after a female student filed sexual assault allegations against him. The founder of ecommerce giant JD.com, Richard Liu (Liú Qiángdōng 刘强东) was also reported to have quietly stepped aside after he was implicated in a sexual assault scandal.
  • Marking the yearlong detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Beijing claimed that the two were being held in “good” conditions and that their cases had been handed over to prosecutors. The two have not had access to lawyers or contact with their families since their arrests.
  • TikTok had a troubling week as chief Alex Zhu (朱骏 Zhū Jùn) canceled a trip to Washington to meet with members of Congress. The Washington Post observed that it was a “move that stoked fresh criticism of the social-media app at a moment when it’s trying to repair its relationships with U.S. officials.” 
  • China’s Central Economic Work Conference took place this week and leaders agreed to a 2020 “economic blueprint” that will see the rollout of additional fiscal and monetary measures to counter economic slowdown through boosting consumption, infrastructure development, and employment. Counter to previous reports, no economic growth target for the coming year was set. It was also reported that despite slowing economic growth in recent years, sales of Moutai, China’s most famous liquor, have been on the rise.
  • The rollout of facial recognition technology on the Beijing subway received public pushback with Professor Láo Dōngyàn 劳东燕 of Tsinghua University publishing an essay on WeChat opposing the move. Jeff Ding of the ChinAI Newsletter translated the essay.
  • China’s ambassador to Denmark is reported to have threatened the prime minister of the Faroe Islands that a trade agreement will not go ahead should the archipelago refuse to enter into a 5G contract with Huawei.
  • China’s edgiest photography festival, the Lianzhou International Photo Festival, celebrated its 15th anniversary this week in Guangdong.
  • Chinese actor Léi Jiāyīn 雷佳音, best known for his role in the hit TV show The First Half of My Life 我的前半生, got himself into hot water after he complained about the frequent bathroom visits of his female co-star Tāng Wéi 汤唯 on the set of the movie The Whistleblower (吹哨人 chuīshào rén).