Census Data Leads Experts to Believe China’s Population Will Plummet

Based on expert analysis of China’s 2010 census’ data, a recent Southern Weekend article claims that China’s population will reach its peak of 1.386 – 1.4 billion people sometime between 2020 and 2023. After that, the population will drop dramatically to approximately 750 million by the year 2100.

According to the sixth national census held in 2010, there are currently 220 million children aged 0 – 14 in China, comprising 16.60% of the total population. This number has startled a number of researchers, who see the figure as closing in on Japan’s birth rate of 1.3.

Professor of Sociology at Peking University and Vice Chair of the Population Studies Committee, Guo Zhigang met with Southern Weekend to explain the data provided by the 2010 census. According to Professor Guo, the data shows that China’s birth rate is alarmingly low. The amount of 0 – 14 year olds has dropped 6.3% since 2000, and 17% since 1982.

In contrast, China’s aging population has risen quite dramatically. People aged 65 and older currently constitute 8.87% of the population, up 1.87% from 2000, and 3.87% from 1982.

“China has already hit the point of no return,” said Peking University’s Professor of Population Studies Mu Guangzong. “China has fallen into the trap of having too few children and too many elderly. It’s the trap of having a very low birth rate.”

Academics interviewed by Southern Weekend believe that the data derived from the recent census undermines the One Child Policy Committee’s figure of China maintaining a birth rate of 1.8. Birth rate numbers signify the average amount of children each woman bears. The number 1.8, for example, would mean that each woman has 1.8 children in her lifetime.

“Looking at the data, we have reason to believe that China’s birth rate is somewhere between 1.4 and 1.5,” said Professor of Sociology at Peking University Li Jianxin.

Chen Youhua, Professor of Sociology at Nanjing University, commented that the data provided in the 2010 census is more conclusive than the data from the 2000 census, with a margin of error of only 0.12%, down from 1.81% in 2000.

“The figure of 1.8 has never been supported by official census data,” said Professor Liang Zhongtang of Shanghai’s Academy of Social Sciences. “This is the number provided by the One Child Policy Committee in the mid-90s. The Committee believes the number 1.5 to be too low.”

The graph above illustrates that China’s population will reach its peak sometime between 2020 and 2023. The three lines represent low, middle and high-level estimates, with birth rates of 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6, respectively.
This graph represents the decline in children aged 0 – 14 over the next century, showed in percent.

Under the current One Child Policy, Population Studies academics believe China’s current birth rate to be the lowest it’s ever been.

Statistical data gathered from the One Child Policy committee, and provided by the Bureau Chief of Statistical Data Zhang Erli, Professors Guo Zhigang and others have determined the percent of the population affected by the One Child Policy in 1999. Throughout all of China, couples only allowed one child comprised 35.4% of the population, 53.6% of couples were allowed 1.5, 9.7% were allowed 2 children, and 1.3% were allowed 3 children.

500 Posts: Reflections on China’s Future

This is ChinaGeeks’ 500th post.

Originally, I had planned to celebrate this in the traditional fashion, with a barrage of upbeat statistics about readership and jovial promises about more exciting things coming down the pipeline. I still could, I suppose, but it just doesn’t feel like the time.

All day I’ve been ruminating on the story of Qian Mingqi and what it means for China’s future. I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic.

I believe it’s fair to say at this point that things are objectively worse in China than they were a year ago for most people. The economy may be growing, but so are prices, and salaries generally aren’t. Local governments’ budgets are so dependent now on profits from land deals that, combined with the wave of infrastructure being developed, more people than ever are being forced out of their homes, and many of them are unhappy about the terms of compensation.

Against this economic backdrop, the social situation has also worsened. The internet has brought increased freedom of speech, but with it, news of corruption and malfeasance has spread quickly, as has frustration with the increasingly obvious and draconian censorship ((You know it’s bad when even the country’s Premier is getting censored.)). Perhaps there’s no more evil happening than there was five years ago, but now when something happens, news of it is across the country within thirty seconds because someone there has a camera, a smartphone, and a Weibo account. People are growing jaded and, increasingly, angry.

This phenomenon is plainly evident in public responses to the case of Qian Mingqi, or to the case of Yang Jia before him. Empirically speaking, both men committed multiple counts of homicide. What Qian Mingqi did could even be considered an attempt at mass murder. Yet both men — murderers — have been embraced, by and large, by the Chinese internet as martyrs. Qian is even being compared to the revolutionary hero Dong Cunrui. Xia Junfeng’s case is a bit different in that his crime was allegedly committed in self-defense, but he too has become a kind of hero.

Most Chinese would, as I would, back away from actually endorsing the final, violent actions of Qian Mingqi or Yang Jia. But the fact that both figures have received such widespread sympathy is evidence that many, perhaps most Chinese people can relate to them and their stories. They may not agree with what Qian did, but they can understand how he got to that point. This is a decidedly bad sign.

After all, what Qian and Yang have in common is a history of mistreatment by the authorities, and when they attempted to redress their grievances through legal channels, they met with resistance, harassment, and ultimately failure. Their turn to violence arose from depression and desperation. Think about what it means that millions of people can relate to that well enough to take the side of mass murderers.

The Qian Mingqi-Dong Cunrui comparison is especially interesting because Dong’s death was (as he shouted before he blew up) “for a New China.” As the story goes, Dong’s sacrifice helped install the current regime. If people see Qian as a new version of Dong, what dream of China was he dying to protect (or project)? Whatever the answer, I feel quite certain it is not the China of Hu Jintao.

Perhaps I’m too involved in “dissident politics” to see what’s really going on. Or perhaps, as I’m sure some of our more fervent commenters truly believe, I’m actually employed by the NED or some other “Western anti-China force.” But everything I see, from the internet to my daily interactions with regular people, is telling me that things are getting worse and people are not happy. The atmosphere is very different from the way it was even a year ago. Some of that may just be me, but not all of it; even the apolitical Chinese people I know seem to be feeling it.

Debating this is pointless; debating it with people who haven’t been living in China for the past year is especially pointless, so don’t expect me to do that. But whether or not they admit it, I think even the naysayers can feel it this time. All you have to do is log on to Weibo, search for Qian’s name, and start reading the comments. Or search for “inflation”, “demolition”, or the name of whatever food has been discovered most recently to be poison. People, lots of people, are very angry.

Or, as veteran China watcher @niubi put it this afternoon:

[I’m] worried my thesis that weibo/internet wont lead 2 gradual change but something more explosive may pan out. Lot of anger, summer just starting.

Indeed. Of course, no one knows what this summer, or the years beyond, will bring. But there seem to be plenty of signs that things could get even worse than they already are. And the government, for its part, remains steadfastly dedicated to the idea that everything can be fixed if they can just continue developing the economy.

Even if they can, I have serious doubts that they’re right about that — cases like Qian Mingqi’s are caused by the lack of rule of law, not because Qian didn’t have enough money. But even if these problems were all caused by economics, with inflation continuing to wreak havoc on consumers’ wallets, it seems dangerous for the government to be banking all their credibility on development.

I have no doubt that China will continue to develop, but if the current situation continues, development could actually be worse than if the economy were to recess. Now, people are left to wonder why the GDP is climbing by 9% and prices are doubling but their salaries are staying the same. Mix that question with a hearty dose of tales of corruption fed via Weibo, and it’s no wonder that Weibo users — lots of them — are calling for executions of government officials every time a new food product turns out to be unsafe.

Looking back over the history of this blog, the change in mood is evident enough. Few current readers would likely believe that just a few years ago, I was an adamant defender of the Chinese government on many issues. This was before I had lived here, of course, and I felt that other “Westerners” just didn’t understand the Chinese perspective. Six months in frozen Harbin talking to an ex-cop had disabused me of that notion by the time this blog started, but even then the posts were much less depressing then than they are now.

Admittedly, my interests have skewed in a very particular direction. But, at the risk of stealing a thought from Stephen Colbert, so has reality. Many of the people I was following closely and citing as examples of China’s new open society when I started this blog are in prison now. Others have been detained, harassed, or otherwise cowed into silence. Many of the positions I once held have simply been crushed by the overwhelming weight of reality, and the more people I talk to, the worse it gets.

It seems like pretty much everything is worse, and to be perfectly honest, it’s fucking depressing.

Of course, we soldier on, both on this blog and in life. Our film continues, our writing continues, and China continues. But where are we all going? Three years ago I was sure we were headed somewhere good. Now…I’m worried.

I hope history proves this entire post completely, laughably wrong. We are, it seems, coming to a crossroads, and even the Party knows it. A conflict is coming. Whether it will continue to be played out in newspapers and PSB interrogation cells or whether it will spill out into the street is anyone’s guess.

But we know where Qian Mingqi wanted to take it. And from the reactions to his attack, it seems plenty of people are at least willing to consider following him.

Here’s hoping the future is safe and free for everyone, however faint a hope that may seem.

A Note of Thanks

This blog could never have come so far without the help of a number of people but chief among them are the folks who, like me, have toiled away at this thing for no pay and little in the way of other rewards. Please take a second to read my thanks to all of them and, if you haven’t already, enjoy some of their fine work (listed in order of the number of posts they’ve published):

三水 took risks beyond what any of the rest of us faced, and put immense time and effort into our Chinese version, which was ultimately destroyed by the GFW block put on this site this past fall. S/he has also helped out on many other projects, sometimes putting her own safety at considerable risk to do so.

Chris Hearne was the first person to step in and help out when this blog was still in its early days, and without his help it may never have lived beyond them.

Andy Yee quietly and regularly submits pieces that are so well researched and translated they make me feel uncomfortable about my own work.

K. E. David has also come through with crucial translations at moments when the blog desperately needs updating and I have got absolutely nothing to offer.

Alex Taggart is a fantastic writer and, it’s worth adding, a remarkably good singer in KTV situations. Beyond the blog he has offered his help and counsel on a number of related projects and (I hope) will continue to do so in the weeks and months to come.

Michele Scrimenti has translated some fantastic pieces and been of great help with other projects, including our film. He’s a pretty kickass KTV singer too, and together he and Alex make me feel very bad about my own vocal abilities.

K. Drinhuasen, like many of these other folks, writes pieces that make my own posts look short, lazy, and poorly-written. And like the rest of the Beijing crew, she’s shared drinks with us and offered her help with a number of side projects.

Max R. has only written a few posts — I think he’s too busy with chinaSMACK most of the time — but they’ve been good ones, and we were lucky to have them.

Beyond these people, we’ve had a number of guest posts over the years, and of course the vast majority of our website we owe completely to Chinese writers. Many of the people we translate show incredible courage, resourcefulness, and dedication, and they are the reason we continue to write this blog.

Personally, I am particularly inclined to thank people like Wang Keqin, Zhang Wen, Zhao Shilong, Li Yinhe, Han Han, and the entire editorial staff of Southern Weekend for their gutsy, heartfelt pieces, which are almost always worth translating. These are just a few names though; there are too many who deserve recognition. I am grateful to all of them to have had the pleasure of reading their words and translating them over the past two and a half years. I hope I’ve done them at least some justice.

Then, of course, there is you reader/potential commenter. Without your readership this site would have been dead long ago. I still don’t really know why so many people have come to read this site, but I hope you continue to enjoy it (or hate it, if that’s why you come here) and I hope more of you will share your thoughts and add some diversity to our active-if-divisive comments section.

So, thanks to everyone. It doesn’t really feel like a time for celebration, but perhaps it’s still a good time for gratitude.

“Shocking Words” and Government Whining

In recent years, some of Chinese officials’ most famous sayings haven’t come from speeches or Party-line propaganda. No, many of them are off-the-cuff responses to questions that live forever in infamy on the internet, where people laugh and shake their heads. These sayings are called leirenyu 雷人语, or “shocking words”, phrases often spoken by government officials and most notable for their insensitivity, out-of-touchness, and general lofty arrogance.

In fact, there are lots of 雷人语, and not all of them are government related, but some of the most famous ones are. Right now, the newest saying on the block comes courtesy of a high-level official in Jilin who was caught on audio tape complaining about how common people always want “fairness”:

Government leaders should ride on horses and in sedan cars [i.e., should receive special perks and treatment]. The common people want fairness? ((or, “equality”)) How truly shameless!”

Clearly, the department leader has no sense of irony, but netizens certainly do. The phrase exploded on the internet and quickly became big enough that it was even getting news coverage (it was also a trending search on Baidu for several hours this morning). You can read more about it, plus hear the full audio recording, where he says a bit more, here.

It is a phenomenon that speaks simultaneously to China’s remarkably open (even though it’s also remarkably closed) internet and to the ever-widening gap between “the people” and those who govern them. Of course, politicians everywhere say dumb things ((Just Google “Dan Quayle”)), but sometimes it seems like Chinese leaders lack the filter that most foreign politicians have that prevents them from saying things that betray their immense sense of entitlement. Of course, that’s probably because they don’t need it; since Chinese leaders aren’t elected by the people, there’s often no real reason for them to care what people think of them.

Anyway, since they’re kind of fun, let’s enjoy a few more dumb quotes before we get to the point, shall we? These “shocking words” are all from this years’ two meetings, a time when Chinese politicians have unprecedented media access and thus ample opportunity to make themselves sound stupid and/or callous.

“We shouldn’t encourage the children of farmers to go to college.” -Wang Li

“There should be a big gap between the rich and the poor!” -Hu Kailin

“If post-80s guys can’t afford to buy houses, then post-80s girls can just marry 40-year-olds. And if post-80s guys have the means, waiting till you’re 40 to marry a 20 year old girl isn’t a bad choice at all.” -Liang Bei

“Rising housing prices is fundamentally a currency problem; the common people just have too much money [and that’s what’s causing the prices to rise].” -Ma Weihua

“We should really raise the price of fertilizer and pesticide so that they [farmers] can’t afford to buy it. Farmers should be waking up early every day carrying baskets to collect poop off the ground.” -Wen Simei

“The reason Spring Festival train tickets are so difficult to purchase is that their price is too low.” -Luo Jinbao

“The higher the income tax [minimum standard], the fewer the beneficiaries.” -Hua Sheng

And, because it’s one of my favorites, here’s one classic from 2010:

“When [Chinese] athletes win a gold medal, they can’t thank their parents first!” -Yu Zaiqing

(I’ll give you one guess as to who Yu thinks they should thank first: it begins with the letter G and it rhymes with “blovernment”.)

Anyway, all of this brings to mind another “shocking words” scandal from a couple months ago that didn’t get much play in international circles (as these things generally don’t). In an interview where a reporter was asking about a forced demolition case, Wang Hongyi, an official representative of the company who did the demolishing (he was also, coincidentally I’m sure, the former vice-director of the Changchun land administration department) responded:

“Everything about demolition in this country is chaotic, you should go talk to someone from the People’s Congress about that […] you should be reporting on how [the new development we’re building] was developed. You should be reporting how the people make things difficult for the government, causing trouble and extorting the government. You should be reporting how the people don’t cooperate with the demolitions…”

You get the point.

This attitude is actually increasingly common, though, and not just in 雷人语 that become the butt of netizens’ jokes. Actually, the same whiny attitude is evident in frequent official editorials in papers like the People’s Daily or the Global Times that all share the same general message: the public just isn’t doing what they want them to.

Increasingly, this is aimed squarely at the internet. While government leaders are clearly quite proud that domestic services like Sina Weibo are taking off beyond their foreign competitors ((Turns out that’s pretty easy to accomplish when your foreign competitors are blocked, but whatever.)) but they’re increasingly sour about the stuff people are actually saying. The gloating about how “free” China’s internet is has given way to stern warnings that public opinion needs to be “controlled”, how the net doesn’t represent the mainstream, how internet users are low quality, and how the internet is downright unfair to people with pro-government opinions. There have been a number of Global Times op-eds with this message over the last year, though I’m having trouble tracking the links down at the moment. Anyone who reads the paper regularly has surely seen them, though.

You see, society is great. It’s just that those damn common people keep ruining things for the government, who is doing a super-great job and who are truly the unsung heroes of China ((You know, unless you count all that “red songs” stuff)). In fact, common people are even responsible for the recent epidemic of food safety issues, according to some officials!

Anyway, it’s probably no surprise that many people in the CPC, which has enjoy uninterrupted rule and little domestic criticism over the past sixty years, are feeling a bit entitled about their position at this point. But it’s still astonishing in a way; how deluded do you have to be to have total control over a country’s finances, military, communications, etc. etc., and still feel you’re the one being treated unfairly because regular people are saying mean things about you on Weibo.

Things continue to get worse, so I don’t expect that the criticism will stop anytime soon. Domestic airlines just announced that their fees will be going up for all flights because of increased fuel prices, and food prices continue to rise. Ever eager to do their part for the motherland, some Kunming chengguan even beat up some singers yesterday. The criticism will certainly continue. Officials will have to choose whether they want to continue spending so much time and money shutting people up. Hiring thugs to intimidate and threaten, deleting microblog posts, videos, blog posts, text messages, policing public speeches, harassing journalists….at some point, it would probably just be easier and cheaper just to fix the problems everyone’s complaining about, right?

A Murder and Protests in Inner Mongolia

Today on Twitter I saw several interesting messages from @siweiluozi (a must-follow, by the way, and read his blog too if you don’t already) about an incident in Inner Mongolia that apparently led to rather large scale protests the past few days, with the largest being early this morning Beijing time.

What exactly were they protesting, though? I decided to dig more into it. The following is culled together from a variety of sources, and parts of all of it may not be accurate.

The 5/11 Incident

((One of the mysteries I have yet to unravel is why it’s called this since the incident in question reportedly happened on 5/10))

From this blog post, which is private but available via Google Cache:
On May 10, 2011, a vehicle struck and killed a Mongolian herdsman in Xilinguoleimeng, Inner Mongolia. The vehicle belonged to the Spring City Group [a coal mining company] and it was on Mongolian grasslands in defiance [of policy…] destroying the grasslands and having already killed some herdsmen’s cattle and sheep. Repeated attempts by the town government to dissuade [the coal miners from doing this] were ineffective, so the herdsmen tried to block the cars themselves. But one car directly struck a herdsman named Morigen and then dragged him for around 150 meters. He died right there. Two other cars were even blocking police cars that were trying to intervene! The town government is currently thoroughly investigating this incident!I hope the government can handle this case in accordance with the law.

This blog, in non-native English, has a slightly different account of the incident (unedited):

On may 10th, 2011, a village mongolian herdsmen met some Chinese Coal Company clerks, they drove four trucks, and negotiated with them about the problem of indemnity(pay) of mineral land, which belong to mongolian herdsmen, where product minerals.

At about 12:00pm, the negotiation ended with no result. Suddenly, the Chinese Coal Company clerks drove their trucks and shouted “How much money does a mongolian herdsman’s life worth? At most 400,000RMB, drive trucks to kill them and then throw money. Let’s kill! Go!”. Chinese Coal Company clerks said it and then hit to death Mergen, a mongolian man. The four trucks drove over Mergen’s body one by one. When the murder happened, a group of Chinese policeman were present and they kep silence. After this murder, the Chinese Coal Company trucks drove far away soon and never went back, many minutes later, the policemen started to chase after them and then be threatened to go back. That’s all! What a tragedy!

The Protests

Apparently, the government wasn’t resolving things fast enough, because people started taking to the streets, protesting not just Morigen’s death but also the general treatment of Mongolian herdsmen over the years. The Boxun article quoted below also features this Youtube video, of some smaller-scale protest activity on 5/23.

The video itself isn’t particularly informative because there’s no (useful) sound, but in the video’s description, it says that news and opinions about this event were being blocked and deleted online, which may have contributed to what appears to be the increasing anger of the local community, and especially the ethnic Mongolians.

From this Boxun article:
Today [5/25] in the morning when people were going to work, a crowd of over 1,000 mostly comprised of ethnic Mongolians and students from the Mongolian language middle school marched publicly to the government offices in Xilinguoleimeng to offer a petition and protest regarding the killing of ethnic Mongolian Morigen by a Han Chinese driving a coal transport vehicle, as well as the more than sixty years of mistreatment of Mongolian herdsmen.

The above information was leaked to a [Boxun] reporter by a person from Xilinguoleimeng who is currently in Japan researching a Ph.D. He said his family had participated in the protest today. […]
[Participators said] that more than a thousand people gathered at the government office, and asked the leaders to come out to speak with them and to accept the petition. A Han Chinese vice-director came out and met with them and spoke to them in Mandarin, which made them very unsatisfied, and they demanded he go back inside. Finally the tribal leader and vice-director Siqinbilige came out personally and accepted the petition. Then the protesters left. According to locals, this is the biggest Mongolian ethnic rights-protecting protest activity in the area since the cultural revolution.
According to Morigen’s family, his remains were suddenly cremated around 3 A.M. this morning, and the ashes were buried on a hillside with no tombstone, just a small mound of earth. All the later developments were over by 6 AM, and by the morning the armed police and PSB officers had left the vicinity of the government building […] and it seems the government office has now returned to business as usual.

The sudden cremation and burial of Morigen was something the government had agreed on with his mother and widow, but his other relatives disagreed. Additionally,the government gave the family a building of 70 square meters, 560,000 RMB, and Morigen’s child and widow 1800 RMB/month for living expenses.

More on the compensation angle from this blog post:
At noon on Sunday May 22nd, the government of Xilinguoleimeng Xiwuqi ((锡林郭勒盟西乌旗 Obviously the name of a place, but I know nothing about Inner Mongolian geography,perhaps someone more knowledgeable can help)) in Inner Mongolia sent two people with a case containing 560,000 RMB in cash to comfort the bereaved family of Morigen ((Again, this is just the pinyin of the Chinese 莫日根, not sure of the proper spelling)). They gave 170,000 to Morigen’s mother, and the other 390,000 was given to his widow. Mr. Morigen’s family and neighbors all told a Boxun reporter: “This is really out of the ordinarity, we’ve never heard of a situation being resolved this quickly.” They all said they had heard that the compensation of victims for traffic accidents was usually not more than 300,000 RMB, and that one generally had to wait until the court had ruled on the case to receive the money, so they never thought it would come this fast.

Conclusions

That appears to be where the case is now. It’s not clear yet whether locals will be satisfied with this resolution, or whether or not any of the men driving the cars have been or will be punished. It’s also not immediately clear what other requests were in the petition presented this morning by protesters, and whether or not they were granted.

Anyway, if nothing else it seems that after a few days of protests, the government was eager to resolve things quickly rather than just arrest everyone, which is good I guess. I still feel like there are large parts of this story missing (perhaps because they’ve been deleted), so I don’t want to comment much more one way or the other.

I did notice, though, that this is not quite as local an issue as one might originally think. A search for Morigen’s name on Sina Weibo returns the old standard: “In accordance with the relevant legal procedures and policies, your search results cannot be shown.”

If anyone does know and wants to help fill in the blanks, or can confirm some of the real spellings and place names, please do in the comments. More likely spellings appear in that English blog post I linked to, but it’s also full of typos and grammatical errors, so I wasn’t sure whether I should fully trust the spelling.

UPDATE: The South China Morning Post now has a story on this event. Like all their stories, it’s behind a paywall, but here’s the article, which is likely as authoritative a version of this story as we’ll ever get:

Protests after herder is run down by coal truck

Hundreds of ethnic Mongolians protested outside a local government headquarters in Inner Mongolia on Monday, with hundreds of middle school pupils taking to the streets the next day, after a herder was allegedly killed by two Han Chinese truck drivers, a rights watchdog and online postings said.
Unrest is rare in Inner Mongolia, a relatively stable minority region.

According to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre, protesters gathered outside the main administration office of the Right Ujumchin Banner, while hundreds more were blocked on their way. A banner is the Mongolian equivalent of a county.

The rights group said campuses were guarded by police to prevent student protests. But bloggers who posted online accounts with pictures yesterday said the incident had provoked hundreds of middle school pupils to march to the city-level Xilinhot government office on Tuesday.

The demonstrators were protesting against the brutal death of Mergen, an organiser of the banner’s Mongolian herders, who tried to stop coal-hauling trucks from taking a shortcut across fragile grazing land, the centre said.

The centre posted photos of Monday’s demonstration and others said to be of Mergen’s body. It said his head had been crushed under the wheels of a 100-tonne coal hauler driven by two Han Chinese drivers on May 10 and his body dragged by the truck for 150 metres.

Xinhua yesterday confirmed the brutal killing of Mergen, although local officials reached yesterday played down the demonstrations.

Xinhua quoted Shen Wenyin, deputy chief of the Xilingol League government as telling a press conference on Tuesday night that Mergen had been dragged by a coal truck as he attempted to block it. Shen said two Han Chinese drivers, Li Lindong and Lu Xiangdong, had been arrested by police after they fled in a taxi.

Shen confirmed that there had been another fatal coal mine dispute in the league’s Abag Banner – which online postings said had further provoked the protesters in the past two days. Shen said residents in a mining area in Abag had tried to stop operations at a nearby coal mine on May 14 because of noise, dust and water pollution. One of them, Yan Wenlong, 22, was killed when Sun Shuning, a worker, drove a forklift truck into Yan’s car. Sun was arrested for intentional homicide, Xinhua reported.

Wu Zhu , the head of the township government overseeing the village where Mergen lived, confirmed that “some locals” had taken to the streets over Mergen’s death. But he said: “Maybe it is not that appropriate to put it as `a protest’: they simply asked for compensation.”

Wu said police had been sent to restore order and that the area was calm yesterday.

Rising political star Hu Chunhua , widely believed to be a close ally of President Hu Jintao , is party boss of Inner Mongolia.

In Brief: On “Gutsy” Protest

This may be pretty much definitely is the nit-pickiest ChinaGeeks post ever, but something about this article just irks me.

It has nothing to do with the artist, or the protest itself. I think this is really quite clever; it manages to make a very clear point writ large without any kind of property damage. Moreover, readers of this blog know that I support Ai Weiwei’s release and consider his imprisonment a sham even though I don’t agree with everything he’s said and done with in the past.

My issue with the piece, really, is right here:

“It’s incredibly gutsy for Pavon to have gone right to the source to protest so directly.”

Come again? In what way is this “gutsy”? Doesn’t gutsy imply some kind of risk or bravery. I applaud that Pavon stood up for Ai Weiwei, but come on, what is he really risking here. At worst, his crime is projecting unwanted light onto the side of the Chinese embassy, and I doubt he faced any repercussions beyond a New York cop telling him to knock it off and move along.

Again, I know this has nothing to do with Pavon himself, who I doubt would call this piece of protest art gutsy. But I’ve seen rhetoric like this in a couple other places too, and I think it’s time to stop fooling ourselves. Honestly, if you’re just some random Westerner, protesting Ai Weiwei outside China isn’t brave. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, but let’s be serious: what possible repercussions could you face? I’ve made a list:

  • Nothing
  • Blacklisted from being granted Chinese visa

Of those two things, the second is pretty unlikely, as it requires the Chinese government to care enough about your protest to spend time digging up your info and relaying it to the relevant departments of government that would need it. Most Ai Weiwei protesters abroad will probably find themselves sufferers of the first consequence on the list, though.

Which is fine. You don’t need to come to China and get arrested to make a point, and in fact, doing that would be kind of dumb. But let’s recognize that, especially when compared to the many Chinese people who have seriously risked their freedom by showing support for Ai Weiwei, these foreign protesters and supporters may be right, but they’re not really all that gutsy.

In Brief: Interesting Graffiti

Graffiti in China is pretty rare. When you do see it, it tends to be of the “low budget advertisement” variety; phone numbers scribbled on walls along with promises to provide services ranging from forging official documents to refilling the coolant in your air conditioners. So imagine my surprise this past Saturday when I spotted this right in my own neighborhood.

"Calling on the government to pay attention to the people's suffering"

In fact, the entire outer wall of a construction site near my apartment in Beijing is coated with these slogans, written in thick black paint and characters large enough that they can be easily read from a good distance away. The construction site is the size of a smallish city block, and the graffiti has now been up, apparently untouched, for two days (and counting).

I have no idea who wrote it, and their specific beef is pretty unclear. There are lots of references to things that harm “the environment” and “the people’s health”; the writer clearly has an issue with the construction project in question, and apparently the way the government has handled it.

As much as anything else, I’m posting this here because I’m wondering if anyone else knows any specifics about the case. If it’s got someone riled up enough to spend a whole night (presumably) writing graffiti, it might be something I should be concerned about that. Anyway, aside from that I just thought it was interesting to share; like I said, one very rarely sees this sort of “political” graffiti, at least in this neighborhood of Beijing.

Obviously though, it’s just one example of something one person did, so I don’t want to suggest it represents any kind of larger movement. I doubt it. Still, interesting, and interesting that after two days they still haven’t painted over it. If nothing else, you would think the construction company would want to cover it up quickly on the grounds that having big messages that say “Stop hurting the people” right next to your logo is probably bad for business….

VPN Review: ibVPN

Readers of this site know that I don’t often post reviews of things here. However, with the internet in China getting less reliable by the day — or so it seems — it seems increasingly pragmatic for the discerning internet user (read: people who enjoy the internet rather than the Chinese shanzhai internet lite) to have two VPNs. Madness? Maybe. But a little backup is a good thing.

Also, let’s get this out of the way: I get a free account with ibVPN for posting this review. Yup, I have sold out.

Anyway, there are two basic things that are important with a VPN: how it works, and whether or not you can set it up.

Setup:
The first thing I tried to do was set up the OpenVPN ((A VPN client software)) version of ibVPN ((a VPN service provider)) — they also offer PPTP which is reportedly easier to set up, but I like my net traffic secure, so OpenVPN it is. I downloaded some files, shifted some folders around, and after a little while, I had the VPN up and running. It’s not too difficult, but it’s definitely not the sort of one-click installation Mac users might be used to either. Like I said, the PPTP is supposedly easier to set up, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the security.

After I had OpenVPN set up, I tried to connect to several different connections. None of them worked. I also kept having to enter my password three times to connect to each one, which seemed really bizarre. That may be because of my computer’s security settings, which are pretty strict, but I’ve never had to enter my password three times to change any other connection settings. Anyway, finally I tried the bottom connection on my list, Washington, US. That worked (see below for more details on performance).

I did, briefly, also try to set up ibVPN on my PC at work. It went horribly, and I gave up pretty quickly, but I don’t think this is ibVPN’s fault. My work computer is a finicky, evil machine that seems to have been programmed primarily to stop me from doing whatever I’m trying to do at all costs. I assume that like with Mac, setting up ibVPN on your PC is very possible, but it takes a bit of fiddling, as these things often do.

Performance:
This is what really matters. After all, you only have to set a VPN up once, but its speed and ease of use affect your day to day browsing. On this count, I must say ibVPN performs quite admirably. I’ve been using it for over a week now, and it’s fast enough that I have taken to just leaving it on more or less all the time.

What’s really amazing is that even things that aren’t blocked seem to load faster if their servers are abroad. For example, The Daily Show (not blocked), which I try to watch online every day, has been very finicky recently if I turn off the VPN, but strangely turning ON the VPN seems to make it load faster and stream more smoothly. The same is true with Youtube; videos just stream. It’s like being in the US…

…To a point. ibVPN is not a miracle worker, and higher-def stuff is slower. On Youtube, 240p tends to stream right out of the gate, 360p is hit-or-miss, and anything higher than that probably requires a wait time, as do generally higher-quality streaming sites like Vimeo. Still, streaming from Youtube even at 240p is impressive given that it’s blocked in China and that my internet connection speed is definitely nothing to write home about.

Of course, things in China fluctuate fast, as do connection speeds. There’s no way to be sure that a month from now, China won’t have shut down all VPNs forever. So with the caveat that no one knows what the future holds, I recommend ibVPN for those considering a backup to their current VPN (since this site is blocked, I’m assuming you all already have one). It’s worked great for me so far — once I got it set up — and it browsing with it makes the internet feel more like it is at home.

Now if only someone could come up with a VPN to fix the horrible design on all the Gawker blogs! Am I right? Guys? …..guys?

Click here to purchase an ibVPN account.

In Brief: Ai Weiwei’s Mainstream Appeal

People on both sides of the “aisle” — which is starting to feel more like a chasm than an aisle, by the way — have, for different reasons, long suggested that Ai Weiwei’s mainstream appeal in China is limited. Moreover, some have suggested that Ai’s profile is too low for many people to care that he’s arrested.

But this morning, I noticed something quite shocking. The Chinese phrase “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei” was the 8th most-searched term on Baidu’s hot topics list. See the photo below, courtesy of @goldkorn who had the good sense to grab a screenshot before it was deleted.

Baidu's top searches as of around 10 A.M. this morning

Now, first it’s important to establish what the Baidu hot topics list actually is. It’s essentially a real time list of the hottest search terms with time-sensitive relevance. So, Ai Weiwei being at #8 on this list doesn’t mean he was the 8th most searched for thing on all of Baidu, it means he was the 8th most searched for thing on Baidu after the things that get searched for every day (Youku, NBA, etc. etc.) are discounted.

Still, this list is something I’ve been reading every day for the past several months, and it’s a pretty great indicator of what news stories are the hottest on any given day on the mainland. It is also, of course, censored. For that reason, I was doubly shocked when I saw Ai Weiwei’s name — I didn’t expect that many people to be searching for him, nor did I expect his name to be able to appear on this list.

The latter was, apparently, an oversight. Shortly after I noticed this and reported it on Twitter, the list was updated and Ai Weiwei was nowhere to be found. Clearly his initial presence on the list was just a temporary oversight on the part of Baidu’s censors. But what of the fact that he was getting searched for enough to appear there in the first place?

Regular Baidu searches for his name turn up fairly “harmless” stuff, as you would expect. There’s no reference to his activism or to his arrest and continuing detention ((Which, I recently learned, could be totally legal. Apparently under Chinese law you can be kept under house arrest indefinitely without charges or any need to notify the family of your whereabouts. This is true because most house arrests occur in one’s own house, but many have speculated that since Ai’s detention would be illegal at this point under Chinese law any other way, he may be officially under “house arrest,” but at a “house” that was chosen for him by police. That way, they can legally hold him as long as they want without charging him, and they don’t have to tell anyone where he is. Fun!)), which isn’t surprising given that Baidu’s search results are censored. But since almost all of the items on Baidu’s list come from news stories, I also checked Baidu’s news search and found this story, which is probably what sparked the spike in searches for Ai Weiwei.

As readers of Chinese will quickly see, it’s actually a story about economics, but a ways down the page there is an interview between a reporter and a representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in which the reporter asks this question:

“Many people in Europe are concerned about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and I don’t know where he is either, can you tell us whether or not he is alive ((Presumably the interview was conducted before Ai was allowed to meet with his wife briefly earlier this week)), and what kind of charges he will face?”

The Foreign Ministry official’s answer is exactly what you’d expect, and I’m not going to translate it because you can read it in the Global Times in English basically any day of the week.

What’s interesting about this story is that a question about Ai phrased in that way is allowed to appear online uncensored, and morevoer, that such a question, halfway through an article about economics, would attract so much attention that the term “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei” would suddenly be propelled to the top ten of Baidu’s hot topics list.

Of course, there’s no way to be sure that article is what did it. But there are no other recent articles on Baidu about Ai Weiwei, and no other considerable reason that that search term would suddenly show up today.

In any event, it seems to indicate that Ai’s domestic profile (and the domestic profile of his arrest and detention) may be significantly higher than everyone — his detractors and his supporters alike — originally thought.

UPDATE: Fascinatingly, Ai Weiwei has also appeared — twice — on the weekly trending topics list, which isn’t something I look at. His name “Ai Weiwei” made the top ten weekly trending searches on May 14th and May 15th; screen captures of that as well as more analysis are available at ZaiChina (in Spanish, but Google Translate is your friend). Thanks to Daniel Mendez of ZaiChina for pointing this all out in the comments here.

Police Violence, Public Anger, and the Local as National

I guess it’s just one of those days. This morning saw the rise of incident 1, which was the most-searched for item on Baidu when I checked. This evening, news of incident 2 is spreading quickly via a Youku video, although it’s clearly in danger of being deleted.

Incident 1: Hunan Traffic Cops Beat Driver for No Reason

This morning, Baidu’s hottest topic was this, a story of completely unnecessary violence on the part of traffic police that finally attracted a mob who flipped a police car in Hunan. I don’t have time to translate the entire article, but here’s the summary of it I wrote this morning for The World of Chinese, slightly expanded:

Traffic cops [交警] in Hengdong, Hunan, appeared at an intersection where they generally do not in large numbers. Several cars passed through the intersection with problem. Suddenly, a BYD F3 drove through the intersection and they flagged it down. The driver stopped on the street on the other side of the intersection, at which point the traffic cops dragged him out of the car and started beating for no apparent reason. When his mother came over, groveling on her knees and begging the cops not to hit him, they started beating her, too. The same thing happened to the driver’s wife when she came out. This attracted a large crowd, which surrounded the cops and asked them to stop. The police then began threatening the crowd, and continued beating until both the driver and his wife had been knocked unconscious.

At this point, someone called the actual police [保安], and the traffic cops told them that the man had been driving drunk, but this was quickly proved to be false. Then the traffic cops said they hadn’t beaten anyone and blamed the violence on a local bully/gangster. Onlookers started laughing at this point, as hundreds of people had seen them beating the man. Although the traffic cops themselves were unharmed, at some point the crowd of onlookers got angry enough to flip a police car onto its side and, from the look of this photo, rip the lights off as well.

Eventually it turned out that the intersection was meant to be closed for the military to pass through, but the traffic police had not informed anyone of this or put up any signs about it being closed. According to the article, the traffic police in this country are already notorious for being unfair, violent, and generally disagreeable.

Incident 2: Harbin Chengguan Beat Street Vendor (?)

Meanwhile, this video is currently spreading through Chinese social networks. It’s a couple days old but appears to be just getting noticed now, approaching 200,000 plays and climbing at a rate of about 10,000 views every 15 minutes at the moment. At the moment, it seems to be spreading mostly through Harbin networks, as the incident happened in Harbin ((I used to live in Harbin and many of my Chinese friends are from the area, which is how I got clued into this.))

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMjY0Nzc2Nzg4/v.swf

The video is extremely chaotic, loud, and shaky, so it’s very difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. The my interpretation is something like this: Before the video starts, Harbin chengguan obviously got into some kind of dispute with the man who they start beating when he follows them at the beginning of the video. Based on some of the comments, it appears the chengguan may have taken the man’s money too, but there’s no clear shot of them doing that in the video. There’s already a large crowd, so obviously whatever they were doing was drawing a lot of attention. Shortly after the video starts, they are clearly gang-beating someone, perhaps several people quite violently, and appear to throw some punches and kicks at onlookers who get too close, although it’s very difficult to see clearly.

The crowd, which is quite large, is mostly hurling abuse at the chengguan. One of the more audible things I heard screamed at one point was “Are you guys chengguan or gangsters?” There were also lots of curses in both Mandarin and in the northeastern dialect.

The chengguan eventually seem to realize things are way out of their control, but the crowd follows them, not physically preventing them from moving but also not letting them get away, and continuing to hurl abuse at them. The video ends when they get to a police station. Several witnesses and victims go into the station to give statements, as does the cameraman. The crowd stays outside the station doors, blocking traffic and watching. A very loud young woman shouts at them repeatedly that “everyone” should go into the station, since they all saw the event, and to ensure that the chengguan don’t “get away.” Unsurprisingly, the police are not big fans of that plan — there’s no way the 1/10th of the crowd could possibly have fit into the station anyway — and try to talk both her and the crowd down. That’s where the video ends.

I have no idea how this situation was resolved, the video cuts off and there don’t appear to be any news stories about this event that I was able to find via Baidu. By tomorrow afternoon, I expect the video will either have amassed half a million (or more) views, or it will be completely scrubbed from the internet.

Translated Comments

These are some comments from the Youku video, so they only pertain to incident 2.

“It’s true, no one has it easy…these days, actually, the situation is that low-level people harass the people who are even lower than them ((This is a reference to social/economic class, not character; what the commenter means is that the chengguan aren’t people with any real status either.))”

“What a tragedy, even the battle-capacity of chengguan has gone done, how are we ever going to retake Taiwan now? There’s so much left to do.” ((This comment is almost certainly sarcastic.))

“Rise, people who are no longer willing to be slaves! ((This is a line from the Chinese national anthem))”

“Whose money are those fucking chengguan taking…”

“I really want to know who that woman [who is yelling in the video] is…especially during that last bit, haha, it’s like that part in Let the Bullets Fly where Jiang Wen is shouting at the mob of commoners, and no one moves an inch, then he says Huang San is dead and everyone goes at once.”

“[In response to the above comment] the People need a wake up call….”

“That woman talking is just a stupid cunt, blah blah, get them, everyone go inside, it’s all just blah blah blah….and that guy next to her, what a lout.”

“After a century of slumber, my countrymen are finally awakening. Watching the girl at the end calling for everyone to go in, and then seeing no one at all enter, my heart grew cold. It’s like in Lu Xun’s story “Medicine” where the numb Chinese watch as the martyr is executed in front of them. Everyone is just watching as though the matter doesn’t concern them. But people are slowly waking up to reality. The first line of our national anthem teaches us this; everyone chants the anthem numbly but have you ever thought about what it says carefully? Rise, ye who are no longer willing to be slaves, let our blood and our bodies become the new Great Wall. ((This comment was originally written in traditional characters, so there’s a decent chance it was written by someone from Taiwan or Hong Kong.))”

“[In response to the above comment] Well said! Are you Chinese? If you are, vote up!”

“To the girl that is talking, are you afraid that China isn’t in chaos? It’s because of people like you that Chinese society is not harmonious.”

“[In response to the above comment] What’s wrong with protecting the rights and interests of citizens? What is called “unharmonious”? She was doing it in the interests of everyone, do you get it? Always standing on the edge, sleeping a deep sleep, that is “harmony” that’s what cowards like you do.”

“The level of a nation’s civilization is not in whether or not it can host the Olympics, whether or not it can put on a World Expo, whether or not it can host the Asian games, or in how much trash American national debt it can buy. It’s not in the number of millions of people who can travel abroad, it is in letting citizens sit at home without fear of burning to death, letting vendors sell their wares without fear of being slapped around, letting people walk without worrying about being run over by Li Gang’s BMW, and letting people eat without worrying about being poisoned.”

My Comments

There are tons more comments on Youku, but that seems as good a place to stop as any. In the time it took me to translate those, views of the video jumped by another 20,000, and another 40 or so comments were posted. Local “mass incidents” like this have been happening for years, of course. The difference is that now they’re all broadcast on the internet, and (mostly) interpreted by netizens within a national context rather than a local one.

Note how many of the comments above — chosen more or less at random, I basically just translated a couple full pages that were at the front of the comments thread — refer to this as though it were a national issue, or indicative of a larger national issue, rather than just a local scuffle ((Comments about the character of Dongbeiren nonwithstanding)). China is big enough that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in one’s backyard too often, but clearly people who surf the net are starting to feel like they’re seeing the same thing over and over again (probably because they are). These “local issue” protests aren’t really local anymore. No one in Beijing is going to take up arms against Harbin chengguan, of course, but the actions of people in Harbin or Hunan are now interpreted as reflecting not just local issues, but national ones.

I believe that is a significant shift from the prevailing mood, say, ten or fifteen years ago, and one that we can almost certainly attribute primarily to the internet. The consequences of this shift in national policy are not yet evident, but I expect them to be. This, I suspect, is one of the things about the internet that makes the government so nervous.

I’m sure I will be accused of taking these comments “out of context” or picking only the ones that serve my Western imperialist agenda ((like all Westerners would do, as we were trained by our Western government.)), but go browse the comments on the Youku video yourself, assuming it still exists by the time you see this — it may well not. There is a very clear mood there that’s reflected in the comments I translated above. I’ll leave the extrapolation and a better explanation of my theory to the comments for now; this post is already way too long.

Southern Weekend on “Secret” Organic Food Supplies for Government Departments

It’s no secret that food safety is a huge problem in China right now. And while it may be a “secret”, it’s really no secret that the government gets its food from walled-off supply compounds where guaranteed organic produce is grown and shipped several times per week to the relevant departments. Perhaps in light of the recent high-profile food disasters, though, the government is feeling a little touchy, because this investigative report by Southern Weekend reporters was quickly deleted from their website. Luckily, Baidu cache has preserved a copy (at least for now). (h/t to Twitter users BendiLaowai, Kinablog and Vocui for the story and above links).

Also via BendiLaowai, a poignant reminder of the kind of food quality problems that exist for regular folks. Melamine milk parent Zhao Lianhai recently tweeted this message about another parent’s child who is still suffering from the contaminated milk scandal that covered the front pages several years ago:

“Zhou Xiong’s child Zhou Yizhe’s situation is very bad, one of the kidneys has already shriveled to the point that it’s totally gone, and the other required surgery, so the child is now living, but in pain. The kid’s future is also very unclear, I invite more people to pay attention to their case and to help out.”

What follows is a partial and very quick-and-dirty translation of the Southern Weekend article mentioned above. If I get time later, I will try to fill in more. Check the original Chinese when in doubt; as I said, I had to do a pretty rushed job on this one.

Translation

Two meter walls and iron railings on four sides, five PSB officers standing guard…if locals hadn’t informed us, it would have been very difficult to find this place, called the “big customs shack,” ((“海关大棚” any ideas on a better way to translate this?)) and it would have been even harder to figure out that it was a special storehouse of vegetables for Beijing Customs [officials]. The full name of the “big customs shack” is “Beijing Customs Vegetable Base and Countryside Social Club.” It covers over 200 mu of land in Beijing’s Shunyi district.

Insiders said that the base has been working with Beijing Customs for more than ten years, and that vegetables from here are only provided to Beijing Customs. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday a truck from Beijing Customs comes and takes away produce. Each load consists of at least 1000 jin of vegetables. The “big customs shack” is only one of many bases that provide the government with a special supply of food, and according to what a Southern Weekend reporter has learned, Customs isn’t the only department with a base in Beijing’s Shunyi District. Provincial-level governments across the country [also] have their own special food suppliers.

These special food products can be called truly “green” ((i.e. organic)) food, and their “safety” is paramount. On May 1, 2011, a Southern Weekend reporter penetrated the tight security of the “big customs shack”.

Entering the door and passing by some flower beds, you can see a reception area that looks exactly like a villa from the outside. Glass windows reach down to the ground, and a fish pond sits nearby. Green surrounds it on every side, and peach and pear trees are already ripe with fruit.

Inside the base, 64 rows of vegetable shacks are neatly arranged. By the door of each shack is a room for one worker, furnished with a simple bed and a stool. On the wall is a poster that reads: “Use safe intervals in the application of pesticides to produce vegetables.”

Between the two large shed groupings to the east and west, there is a drainage ditch that runs north-south and a path for freight trucks to pass through for shipping the vegetables. Aside from a few workers from the Northeast, the rest of the workers at the base are all local. Generally, one worker tends to four sheds and if they’re not there, the doors to the sheds are locked.

In the industry, it is frequently said that farmers don’t eat the crops they grow because the crops are grown using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. But the workers at the “big customs shack” slap their chests and guarantee, there’s definitely no problem [eating these vegetables], “we grew them all ourselves so relax!”

The Southern Weekend reporter saw “big customs shack workers picking cucumbers and eating them without washing them, or even disposing of the burrs, they just bit right in. ((This may be somewhat inaccurate as I know nothing about growing cucumbers; in any event the point here is that the workers were eating vegetables straight out of the ground without worrying about washing off any chemicals.))

To prevent chemical contamination, nearly all of the fertilizer [at the base] is organic fertilizer, the excrement of chickens, pigs, cows, and sheep. Even when pesticides are used, they are organic pesticides […] “What we plant are all green, environmentally harmless vegetables,” a person at the base told the Southern Weekend reporter. These vegetables include cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, winter squash, string beans, cabbage, spinach, Chinese cabbage, and other common greens. “Whatever we plant, they (Beijing Customs officials) want.”

Special food supplies: Not just in Beijing.

Actually, the “big customs shack” is just one example of a special food supply [for the government]. These supply stores are not just in Beijing, and they aren’t just for fruits and vegetables, either.

One method for maintaining a special supply of food is that some departments own a special plot of land, and all the crops grown in this area are used in the dining areas of the government departments. A scholar who wished to remain anonymous told Southern Weekend that two years ago when he was eating a meal at the Shaanxi Supreme Court’s dining area, he was told by someone in the industry that the Court had its own official farm thirty kilometers outside of Xi’an, in Hu County. The farm had special managers who guaranteed that all the fruits and vegetables were completely free of contaminants and safe to eat.

[…]

Comments

The article continues with a number of other specific examples, a brief investigation into the history of special food supplies in the PRC, and a discussion of how suppliers of these special food centers can use that status to ensure their products sell for higher prices in the regular food markets, as well.