Tag Archives: Beijing

‘Greening’ Beijing

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I got excited about something going on in Beijing. But I think this is a good idea, full stop. I wish I got to say that more often. Here’s the skinny:

The Beijing municipal government has already announced plans to improve the quality of the city’s air by covering 100,000 sq m of roofs with greenery by the end of this year. “Plants and water have been proven to be one of the most effective measures to degrade and dilute PM2.5,” says Tan Tianying, president of Beijing Green Roof Association.

Plus, as you can see from the image I stole from the China Daily, it also looks good. And if the government is serious about it, it certainly has the resources to implement it on a scale and with a speed that could make green roofs a new trademark of Beijing. It could clear up the air and make many sections of our fair city look a bit less oppressively Soviet. It’s win-win. In fact, about the only thing I dislike about this plan is that green is not a verb.

But, alas, there are some issues with this plan that are not grammatical:

Alas, he’s not wrong. Seemingly by most accounts, China (and the rest of the world) are heading towards serious water shortages and Beijing is such a dry city that an awful lot of water would have to be pumped up to the roofs to maintain gardens for any period of time.

Still, there’s got to be a way to do this. Personally, I’d be willing to cut down on my water consumption by doing things like washing clothes less if the tradeoff was a cooler Beijing with cleaner air and more trees to look at. So here’s hoping this goes well and the government can find some way to expand it without destroying Hebei or making the consumption of water illegal.

My apologies for the lack of updates of late. I’ve been quite busy with work and the film, and most of what’s been going on in Chinese politics has been covered so well and so quickly elsewhere that I haven’t much to add, anyway. Most of my Chinese internet-type reporting is now going to Tech in Asia. That said, I will try to keep this site updated more frequently!

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….

Surveillance, Stability, and How Everything is Terrible

UPDATE: It’s a burden being right all the time. According to this official government release (via the New York Times), the purpose of the cameras being added in Beijing has nothing to do with safety:

“The goal, the [Beijing government] Web site ((Seriously, New York Times? You’re too cool for AP Style?)) stated, is to “directly and effectively monitor” the content of performances on behalf of various government agencies.”

***

Amidst the kerfuffle about another Global Times piece from the Beijing Metro section, you’d think more people would be watching their pages from day to day. But since they aren’t, it falls to me to share this really depressing news with you:

The culture industry is the latest to fall under the authorities’ watchful eyes, quite literally, with the debut of yet another surveillance project Wednesday.

The capital is planning to inject 5.57 million yuan ($847,754) to establish a massive remote surveillance system covering all the capital’s entertainment venues, according to the Municipal Bureau of Culture Wednesday.

The bureau is seeking bids this month for a system combining audio and video monitoring and emergency services coordination.

When complete, the bureau will be able to use the system to “directly and effectively monitor” all performances in cinemas, theaters, music clubs and even arcades, store and manage all video materials and share the information they obtain with other government departments as needed, according to the bidding document.

Apparently, the authorities have finally figured out that people are committing thoughtcrime in private and are taking the first steps towards putting a stop to it, which is to put cameras and microphones anywhere people might congregate (that doesn’t already have cameras and microphones).

Actually, no one will clarify the purpose of this surveillance, but I imagine that when the government gets its PR game together, this will be presented as a safety measure. How that would work, I don’t know ((What I mean by “I don’t know” is “It wouldn’t.”)), but that’s not the point. Regardless of what the stated or even intended purpose of this system is, putting surveillance systems inside cultural centers is creepy. And it gets even creepier:

This project is the third surveillance plan announced recently by the city. On Tuesday, State authorities proposed a nationwide database to gather information on the assets, income and families of all individuals in order to curb corruption. And last week, the Municipal Science and Technology Commission announced that China Mobile’s Beijing branch plans to track cell-phone users’ positions to study transportation patterns and in turn combat traffic jams.

So, when you’re in public, cameras and phones track your precise location. When you’re at a bar, nightclub, movie theater, or concert, cameras are watching you. Not a problem, if you trust your privacy, safety, and freedoms to China Mobile and the stability-maintenance arm of the PSB. However, I think many people — myself included — don’t trust them.

But is this really a big deal?

“I think mass surveillance helps deter anti-social behaviors,” Tian Yangang, a Beijing lawyer told the Global Times, adding that one need not worry too much about privacy in a public place like a theater.

Does surveillance help deter anti-social behaviors? Because there are plenty of cameras around Beijing, but people still spit, curse, and push people out of the way when getting on to buses and subways. It probably does deter actual crime, but how often are serious crimes committed in movie theaters or at concerts? Often enough to warrant legally-mandated, government-monitored video and audio 24-hour surveillance?

A theater is not a public place, it is a privately-owned establishment. And I for one have no doubt whatsoever that this initiative is about rooting out and putting a stop to bands, artists, and filmmakers who get away with politically edgy material by performing it in private clubs.

Now, add that development to the recent GFW upgrade that has blocked several VPN services (I know for a fact Freedur and Witopia have been targeted, albeit without total success) and Gmail ((I’m not sure what exactly they’ve done to Gmail. It works sometime, but it’s so slow and unreliable as to make it essentially unusable most of the time.)), the recent beatings and detentions of numerous foreign reporters, the recent declaration that China will under no circumstances do anything that might challenge the Party’s death-grip on power, etc.

I asked way back in December if things were getting worse. It seems pretty clear they are. And for those of you this-is-what-Chinese-people-want advocates, here’s some food for thought. This story was originally reported by the VOA, but its statistics come from a poll conducted by China.com.cn, which is a Chinese government-owned portal):

In a China.com.cn poll of 1,350 netizens, only 6% reported they were “happy”. Only 36% felt their lives had improved over the last five years. Additionally, according to a Gallup poll conducted from 2005-2009, China ranked 125th out of 155 countries in terms of whose people said they were the happiest (Denmark was the happiest country, apparently, with 82% of its people reporting happiness).

But the first is an unscientific poll, to be sure, and the second one was probably conducted by wily foreigners bent on using their science to promote anti-China forces! Well, here are some hard numbers for you:

Even though China has a large GDP, this is simply due to the fact that it has a large population. On a per-capita basis, the country ranks 99th out of 183 nations. It is no surprise, therefore, that wages are low.

But salaries in China aren’t just low, they are abnormally low. Typically, a country’s minimum annual wage is 58% of its per capita GDP; in China it is 25% of per capita GDP, good enough for 158th place out of the aforementioned 183 nations.

The gap between the GDP and minimum wage rankings – 99 versus 158 – is perhaps the most telling statistic. For the majority of countries, there is a close correlation between the two rankings; the disparity in China’s case points to grossly inequitable income distribution.

This is borne out by the Gini coefficient numbers, a widely accepted measure of economic disparity. China’s coefficient is 0.47 on a range of 0 (perfectly equal) to 1.0 (perfectly inequal), putting it 83rd out of 134 countries measured.
According to Gini, China’s level of income inequality is higher than in almost every industrialized country in the world.

Past studies have blamed the income disparity on the rural-urban divide, the development divide between coastal and interior regions, and even foreign purchases of Chinese products. These factors may be responsible to some degree, but so too is the government.

[…]

Recent studies have shown that:

• Wages of civil servants are abnormally high. The average salary of a civil servant in China is six times the minimum wage, compared to a global average of two times.

• Management level salaries in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are abnormally high. The average SOE manager in China makes 98 times the minimum wage, compared with a global average of five times.

• Within the state sector itself, wage disparity is abnormally high. An SOE banker on average earns 3,000% more than his counterpart at a construction company, compared with a global average disparity of 70%.
The pressure is compounded by costs of necessary items being abnormally high relative to wages.

• The UN recommends that it should be possible for an average worker to purchase a home with three to six years of annual income. In Beijing, it is estimated that the average worker would have to toil for 74 years just to buy a place in a suburban multi-story condo block, unfinished, unfurnished and without any amenities.

• The cost of electricity is a good index of the basic utility costs for urban residents. The average cost of 1,000 kilowatt-hours as a proportion of the average monthly wage in the US, South Korea and Japan is 2.67%, 3.19% and 8.19% respectively. In China, by comparison, it is 30.68%.

• The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the average Chinese family spends 28% of its total monthly income on food. While this compares favorably with other developing countries, the number is far higher than America’s 6.1%. Food prices remain the key driver of inflation in China, rising 10.3% year-on-year in January as the newly revised consumer price index rose 4.9%. The figure is well above the traditional central government target of 3%, and even above its revised target of 4% for 2011. This makes wage growth an even more pressing social issue.

So yeah. What was that about how stability makes everyone rich and happy?

The 9.18 Protest: a Show of Force

Much like Tom Lasseter, I had never been to a protest in China before yesterday. Unlike him, though, I’m not a professional reporter, and I got to the scene late, so I was mostly confined to the outskirts with the Chinese media, some expelled protesters, and a few curious onlookers.

I happened to have a camera, and created this video. Nothing about it is particularly good from a videography point of view–virtually everything that could go wrong did at every stage of its production–and to top it all off I got the date wrong. Not the most auspicious start to our plans for adding video content to this site. But I’m going to post it anyway, because I think there are aspects of it you will find interesting.


(Here is a direct link to the video on Youtube. If you live in China, you will need a VPN or some kind of proxy to see it.)

It was especially idiotic of me to get the date wrong, considering that it wasn’t exactly an accident the protesters chose September 18th.

But, as Mr. Lasseter said, it wasn’t much of a protest. It was rainy, there weren’t many people there, and I don’t think Japan is going to leave the Diaoyu Islands or return the Chinese captain just because somebody baked a cake.

Han Han recently wrote a blog post on the subject that was quickly deleted in which he expresses his thoughts on the protest:

People without their own land fighting for someone else’s land; people who aren’t respected demanding that someone else should be respected…how much per kilogram do people like that cost?

But anyway, protesting [something like this] is safe, fun, and makes you look cool. The key is that after the protest is over, you can still work and study as usual, in fact it might even look good on your resume.

[…]

Anyway, none of that is important, what’s important is that if I was allowed to protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping today, I would gladly protest for the Diaoyu Islands or the Olympic Torch tomorrow. But it’s a paradox, because in a time when you could protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping, you wouldn’t have problems like the Diaoyu Islands or [people trying to snuff out] the Olympic Torch to protest about. Protests of external issues are meaningless to a people who can’t protest peacefully about domestic ones, it’s all just an act.

What was impressive was the show of control put on by the police, especially given that the protesters were there in support of the official government line. By the time we got there in the afternoon, police had cordoned off at least a one-block radius in every direction around the Japanese embassy. The streets to the north and east of the embassy, outside of the police tape, were lined with PSB officers, one standing every five feet or so for several blocks. There were easily a hundred of them, and obviously many more inside the police tape.

At the northern entrance to the cordoned-off area on Ritan Road, People’s Armed Police officers in green camouflage guarded the area, but most of the other police there were regular PSB officers, milling about and sometimes photographing or filming the crowds outside their lines. Police vehicles were entering and exiting the scene regularly.

By the time we got to the Western approach to the embassy, where a small crowd had gathered on the intersection of Xiushui St. and Xiushui North St., there were reportedly no protesters left inside the cordoned off area, just some Western reporters and a whole lot of police. It was a show of force, a demonstration of control.

The reporter you can hear in the video above was not the only one complaining bitterly about how the Chinese media wasn’t allowed in. After our camera was turned off, another reporter came up and asked how to get in. “Good luck,” the first reporter said, “they’re not letting anyone Chinese in.” “I’m from Taiwan,” the second reporter said, but he, too, stayed outside the lines. A team from another domestic media outlet circled the scene with us (coincidentally), filming down each street towards where the protesters had been, but were never allowed to pass through police lines.

As I spoke to the protester you hear in the video, one of his friends circled us, photographing me repeatedly. I have no idea why, but it underscored the mood amongst the crowd at the Western entrance — angry, suspicious, and mostly all armed with cameras.

The police, on the other hand, were calm. They directed people around the blocked off area, they stared, and they waited. After all, there were so many of them that nothing was going to happen. And there’s only so long one can spend filming police cars before it’s on to the next story.

Han Song: What if a Big Earthquake was to Happen in Beijing?

In his latest post, science fiction writer and subversive blogger Han Song considers the possibility of a major earthquake in Beijing.

Han Song’s style is a little disjointed at times, and this post swings from fantasy and dissidence to history and geology. His assessment of the situation is thought-provoking, if a little 2012. Below is a translation of the post, followed by some highlights from the comments.

Translation

Following the earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai province, earthquake experts have corrected themselves, saying that the earth is entering an active period, and that from now on there will be an increase in major earthquakes (earlier, they said that the earthquakes that are happening now were normal).

Whilst paying attention to the relief efforts and the death toll of the Yushu earthquake, I can’t help thinking, could an earthquake possibly hit northern areas, even Beijing? It’s been calm there for many years now. Beijing’s anti-earthquake measures are said to be of comparatively good quality, but I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the build quality of today’s housing.

The population of Beijing is close to 18 million. If 1% were to die in a disaster, that’s still 180,000. I hope you’re not one of these.

In the past few years, Beijing has performed as a hub for the co-ordination of disaster relief efforts. The relief from earthquakes, blizzards and droughts in successive years has all come from Beijing. If Beijing were to be destroyed by an earthquake, especially if ‘big brains’ [presumably governmental leaders and other major decision-makers] were to perish, then the functions of important departments would be lost. Such a situation would be very scary.

Thinking about the scattered bodies of provincial, departmental and bureau cadres, perhaps we can’t call such a situation “scary”.

Of course, the falling of the new terminal building at Capital Airport, the National Grand Theatre, and the new CCTV building would be scary scenes.

Moreover, Beijing is the main force behind the building of a ‘harmonious society’…

But at that time, we would have to think more of Beijing’s common people. In these times, buying a house in Beijing isn’t easy.

In particular, Beijing people don’t respect nature very much these days. At night, it’s even difficult to see the stars in the city. The headquarters of Science-Fiction World and Aomi [China’s two most famous science-fiction magazines] aren’t even in Beijing.

But Beijing has the People’s Daily. So, Beijing needs to do some advance preparation. Actually, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to live in one of those shipping containers that have been spreading around on the internet.

Beijing is located at the confluence of the Yanshan and the central Huabei plain seismic zones, and is also close to the Fenwei seismic zone and the Tanlu Fault; it’s a big earthquake zone.

There was a level 8 earthquake in Beijing in 1679 (the epicentre was in the region of Pinggu and Sanhe). There was no accurate death toll statistic taken at the time, but historical records mention: “officials were unable to calculate successfully the earthquake death toll, entire families were lost”, “mountains of dead bodies, identification impossible”, “the foul stench of the dead filled the air” […] “a military commander named Li entered the city with 87 men and found lodgings. The hotel collapsed entirely; only 3 survived”…

Other relatively strong Beijing earthquakes include a level 6.7 quake that hit Beijing’s southern suburbs in 1057, a 6.5 quake in Juyongguan in 1484, and a 6.7 quake in Tong County in 1665, among others. This doesn’t even include a series of earthquakes in Hebei, near Beijing.

According to the history books, since records began, the area of Beijing (including Hebei) has suffered 592 earthquakes (the last occurring on March 4th 1957), 67 of which were level 7 or above (the last being the July 28th 1967 earthquake in Tangshan).

Some say that Beijing’s big earthquakes took place over a period of 300 years, and after the Tangshan earthquake there will not be another. Oh, I hope so. But experts have also said that it’s impossible to predict earthquakes, so no-one dares to guarantee it.

Don’t say that I’m ‘motivated by a desire to see the world in chaos’, it’s just ‘living in peace while preparing for war’, and [promulgating] common knowledge.

Comments

Wang Gangqiang:

Recently, sometimes there’s an earthquake, sometimes there isn’t. How powerful the earthquake was, we only know when it’s over.
How many quakes there have been, everyone will be told afterwards, everyone please relax!
Those who are scared can go and sleep outside, those who aren’t can sleep in their homes, and maintain the normal order of their lives. Don’t spread rumours out of boredom, you’ll terrify us all.

Song Yu’an:

“Living in peace whilst preparing for war”, highly necessary!

Guest:

Last time you said “it’s appropriate to die in Shanxi”, then there was an accident in a Shanxi coalmine. Don’t make me afraid. My daughter is 6, I’m now having to teach her how to run away quickly if there’s a murderer in her school, how to run downstairs if there’s an earthquake, it’s scaring her so much she’s afraid all day. Last time she prayed to Buddha that there wouldn’t be an earthquake. Now she’s very angry with her Buddhist ancestors.

Song Yukun:

Is the world waking up? I pray that this blogger’s delusions don’t become reality.