Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thousands Participated in Confucius Birthday Ritual

Proceeding at the ritual

Today marks the 2557th birthday of Confucius. Like last year, grand ceremonies were held across China and Taipei, to celebrate the life, ideas and achievements of Confucius. This year’s ceremony stressed the message that mainland China and Taiwan share the same cultural root.

China Faces Social Security Fund Management Crisis
Among several implications, the recent sack of Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu also revealed serious problems of the management and supervision of huge social security fund collected in cities around China.

Mr. Chen allegedly involved in loaning 3.2 billion yuan (US$400 million) of Shanghai social security fund to a company to purchase stocks, which is illegal under current Chinese law. What happened in Shanghai is only one of many incidents of illegal use of social security fund by local governments. This week, a few experts warned in Beijing that China is facing bigger and bigger challenge to manage its fast accumulating social security funds.

As part of comprehensive social reforms in China, more money is being collected for social security fund to match its expanding coverage. Currently, the fund is supposed to cover pension, work injury, job loss, health care and maternity for millions of urban residents participating in social security plans. The policy is yet applied to rural population.

In 2005, the total amount of the fund reached 1,843,500,000,000 yuan (about US$233 billion), three times that in 2000, according to Xinhua. But illegal uses of the fund are also widely seen. Some of the embezzled money was retrieved, but some was no where to be pursued.

Despite central government’s request that pension fund should be managed by professional fund management institutions, many local governments are actually taking the control. They do not make transparent their management of the money, and often use it for high risk investments like stocks, or loan it to businesses having close ties with government officials, regardless the prospect of the investment or the solvency of the borrower.

In the case of Shanghai, pension fund was overseen by a government agency, and large amount of the money was invested in stock market or real estate, which is prohibited by the central government.

As a matter of fact, pension money has fueled the fast growth of Shanghai’s real estate business in the 1990s, but a large portion of the investment failed, Asian Times reported.

How to manage this huge money to increase its value is another thorny problem. China has yet found an efficient solution in that regard, partly due to the lack of a developed and sound capital market system. He Ping, an expert on social security suggests that the government could try to invest the money in high profit industries like electricity and oil.

Poor management and supervision of the fund has already created huge pension deficit, which could trigger social upheaval if the situation was not improved.

----by Josie Liu

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Public Stunned, yet Pleased by the Removal of Shanghai Top Official

City view of Shanghai

Millions of people commented on the Internet in the last couple of days, hailing the sacking of Chen Liangyu, former party chief of Shanghai, who allegedly involved in the city’s recent social security fund embezzlement scandal.

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party made the decision on Sunday to remove Chen Liangyu from office, including his post in the Politburo, and start an investigation on his role in the pension fund scandal. Preliminary investigation showed that Mr. Chen was involved in the embezzlement. He was also found seeking interests for illegal entrepreneurs, providing illegitimate benefits for his relatives, and shielding his staff’s misconducts, Xinhua reported.

The move was to the surprise of the majority of the public. “It’s sudden, but reasonable,” one wrote on the Internet. Most people did not expect such severe punishments for Mr. Chen, who not only had a position in the politburo, but also headed the largest and most prosperous city in China. He was also seen as a member of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s clique.

Many observers said Mr. Chen’s fall indicated President Hu Jintao’s final take-over of the full power, and the ending of Mr. Jiang's influence on national politics. Others said the move was more than power struggle, but was part of Mr.Hu’s plan to crack down on party and government officials’ corruption, which has been prevalent in almost every government and party branch across China, and deeply rooted in the political system. They saw this move as a hope for restoring a clean, integral political arena.

One observer wrote that Chen Liangyu provided a good opportunity for President Hu to demonstrate that he was willing to remove anyone who committed corruption, so as to admonish other officials. And the timing was good, too. The communist party is expected to go through major personnel changes when the party’s 17th national assembly opens next year. There are speculations that half of the members of the politburo standing committee will retire after the assembly. With a largely new politburo standing committee, which sits at the top of CCP hierocracy, it is easier for Mr. Hu to implement new policies, including a tougher surveillance system to tackle corruptions.

On Tuesday, an official from CCP’s central disciplinary committee said that last year, more than 11,000 party members were dispelled from the party due to corruptions, Xinhua reported.

----by Josie Liu

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vehicles and bicycles competing for roads in Beijing

Calling Back Bicycles

Environmental protection organizations in China issued a letter on Friday, calling on the public to ride bicycles, instead of driving cars, to get around, like they used to, because bicycle riding is “more fun, healthier, faster and more environmental friendly.”

For decades, riding bicycle used to be the main transportation for people across China. But as more and more people start to drive their own cars, not as many people ride bicycles any more. Meanwhile, fast growing vehicles are deteriorating urban transportation in almost all major Chinese cities, and conflicts between vehicles and bicycles on the road are escalating as vehicles start to run on bicycles lanes when their own are overcrowded.

Liang Congjie, delegate of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top policy consultative body, told the Beijing News that it no longer feels safe to ride bicycle on Beijing’s roads. Liang, 74, who is also a famous architect and environmentalist, stopped riding bicycle in Beijing only recently, after falling from his bicycle when attempting to avoid a suddenly-coming vehicle. “If vehicles in Beijing don’t yield to bicycles, it will be very dangerous to ride bicycles in Beijing.”

Why? Mr. Liang cited several problems, including: some newly built roads do not have bicycles lanes; existing bicycle lanes are occupied by fast growing vehicles or taken as parking spaces. “These circumstances undermined bicyclists’ right of the road, and damaged the transportation resources of bicycles,” said Mr. Liang.

On Thursday, Qiu Baoxing, deputy chief of China’s state administration of construction, told a city planning forum in Guangzhou that China should adopt a compact model for city development, not the wide-spread model of the United States, Southern Metropolis Daily reported.

According to state planning, total highway miles in China will exceed that of the US by 2035, making China the No.1 country in the world in terms of highway area and energy consumption for transportation. “This is something very formidable, ” Mr. Qiu said.

Bad Behavior of Chinese Tourists Censured

A list of bad behaviors of Chinese tourists in overseas sites was published Friday on the website of China National Tourism Administration. The denounced behaviors include littering, spitting, not flushing after using toilet, ignoring No Smoking signs, cutting in front of others while waiting in line, talking loudly in restaurants, hotels or on plane, sporting and joking at religious sites, speaking bad words freely, behaving rude, bargaining at stores that don’t bargain, and taking things not for guests to keep from hotels and restaurants.

Along with the increase in Chinese people’s income are the number of Chinese tourists traveling overseas in Japan, Korea, Europe and other countries. While demonstrating their ability to purchase merchandises, Chinese tourists also show their bad manners in many ways. The tourism administration asked the public to submit what they think as bad behaviors of Chinese tourists and published the list as a way of education. The administration also issued suggestions for improvements.

----by Josie Liu

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Confucius Birthday Ritual Supported by Chinese Public: Survey

People dressed in ancient costumes and following traditional procedures on a Confucius birthday ritual

More than 46 percent of those surveyed by said it is “very meaningful” to hold the birthday ritual to memorize Confucius, and another nearly 28 percent said the ceremonies “have some meaning.” About 26 percent said such ritual is totally meaningless. Meanwhile, 61 percent of the surveyed support the view that the sustain and protection of Confucius’ teaching is inadequate and that traditional Chinese culture is waning.

September 28 is seen as the birth day of Confucius, who was born in 551 BC. More and more places in China start to hold big ceremonies on this day in recent years to celebrate Confucius’ achievements in education, ethics, philosophy and other areas, as one way to celebrate traditional Chinese culture. Grand ceremonies again will be held this year in multiple locations in the mainland and Taiwan, and China’s state television is said to live the events.

China Internet Conference Kicked Off
Hundreds of big players of Chinese internet industry gathered in Beijing on Thursday for the 2006 China Internet Conference, held by China Internet Association. The meeting will focus on innovation pushed by the development of internet industry in China. Participants, including CEO of Chinese search enginee, Li Yanhong, president of Google China Zhou Shaoning and government officials overseeing the industry, will discuss a broad range of issues including Internet safety, technology development, ethical issues and business strategies.

Internet industry has seen fast grow in China in the past decade. Last year, online shopping users reached 22 million, and online trade reached nearly $1 trillion. While millions of Chinese now surf on the Internet, about 96 percent of Chinese cities and towns have internet connections, according to China News Service.

----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One fresco in a Mogao Grotto

Dunhuang Grotto Relics Facing Serious Damages

Experts have warned that more and more tourist visiting Mogao Grotto in Dunhuang, Gansu are bringing more harm to the precious and yet fragile fresco in the caves, Guangming Daily reported. Since 1979, more than four million visitors have been to the site, and there were over 300,000 visitors every year in the past five years and the number keeps rising. Experts say large groups of visitors cause temperature and humidity changes inside the caves, and leave a lot of vapor and carbon dioxide there, which erodes the fresco. Experts are trying to work out better approaches to protect the relics while keeping it open to tourists.

There are about one thousand grottos in Dunhuang, some made more than 1000 years ago. Most of the caves have statures featuring Buddhism figures and splendid fresco depicting images and stories based on Buddhism scriptures. The surrounding area of the grottos is mostly deserted, and the extremely dry condition has been helpful to protect the relics, which is listed as the World Cultural and Natural Heritage by UNESCO.

What Chinese Cities Have the Best Life?
Shenzhen, Qingdao and Hangzhou are ranked top three cities with best living quality in China, according to a report released in Beijing on Wednesday. Shanghai is listed the fifth, and Beijing did not make top ten, China News Service reported. Other top ten cities include Yantan and Dalian. The ranking was decided by experts’ survey and evaluation, as well as public votes via the Internet.

Law to be Established to Protect the Great Wall
A Great Wall Protection Regulation draft was passed on Wednesday by the State Council, China News Service reported. The new regulation will stress local governments’ responsibility in protecting the Great Wall sections within their region.

The Great Wall has been suffering damages in recent years, mostly caused by human activities, such as road construction and doodle on the bricks. There have been some local regulations dealing with protection of the legacy, but not one on the national level.

----By Josie Liu

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Villagers Confronted Police in Guangdong over Election Fraud
Hundreds of villagers from Shadui Township in the Guangdong city of Xinhui surrounded their township government and had physical confrontation with policemen on Wednesday. Some villager were injured and sent to hospital, Hong Kong Cable Television reported. Villagers said the government did not allow them to vote in the People’s Congress representative election because the government and villagers disputed over use of land. A township official confirmed the conflict but said it was only a “small problem.”

Last week, thousands of residents confronted policemen in front of the city government in Ruian, Zhejiang (see picture). The people claimed that the local government covered up the truth of the suicide of a local teacher and asked for reinvestigation.


Happiness Index Derided by the Public
After decades of measuring progress in terms of hard economic data, mainland authorities are set to chart the state of the nation's well-being with the introduction of a happiness index.

National Bureau of Statistics chief Qiu Xiaohua said on Tuesday that the happiness index will include people's feelings towards their living conditions, such as income, employment, social welfare and the natural environment, the South China Morning Post reported.

The new move was ridiculed by many on the Internet. One commentator wrote on the Chinese online chat-room Huashan forum that happiness as an abstract concept and could not be expressed by numbers.

Another wrote that feeling of happiness is only a subjective perception, which does no good to reasonable policy making, but instead, would confuse people and be a waste of social resources to do such surveys. “For example,” the commentator wrote, “a bagger got some hot soup in a freezing day would also feel ‘very, very happy.’ This is the so called ‘happy of poorness.’ ”

There are also comments, though not the majority, supported such measurement, calling it a tool to educate people that happiness does not necessarily associate with material and therefore could curb the trend of consumerism in China, which the commentator deemed as having positive impact.

“Ten Ugly Quotes of Officials” Censured on the Internet
No.1 “Children, don’t move, let the leaders go first.” (An official from local education commission told panic pupils when they were caught in fire in a theater in a Xinjiang city. More than 300 people died, most of them elementary school students in that 1994 catastrophe. )

No.4 “Stop it! I’ve seen too much of this.” (A local government official told a villager who got down on his knees to plea for help from the government in defending his rights.)

No. 5 “China is very safe, no SARS. Welcome to visit China.” (An official from China’ s ministry of public health told foreigners when SARS broke out in 2003.)

No. 8 “I though I’m a pubic official, and all my food, clothing and expense should be provided by the public.” (A corrupted Guangdong official said after being arrested.)

No. 10 “Who asked you to work? You go find them (the employers). The government doesn’t owe you money.” (A government official in Heilongjiang told migrant workers who appealed to the government to help them get their overdue salary.)

The list is widely circulated on the Internet in China, but the original author is not clear. In online chatroom, the list drew hundreds of comments, mostly expressing their anger, discontent and distrust of government officials.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Supreme Court Set Limitations on Press Access
National and commercial secrets, personal privacy and name, address and picture of juvenile suspects are among the information barred from publicity, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday. Instead, the court system in China will universally adopt a news release-spokesman approach to handle release of information, Xinhua reported. Judges are also prohibited from speaking to journalists without authorization.

As legal issues are receiving more and more attention from the media and society in recent years and sometimes trigger bitter debate about the judicial process as well as verdict of certain cases, the new move would limit the public’s access to court information through the media.

Makeover for the Olympics in Beijing
Iron fences installed outside windows facing major streets in Beijing will be removed, the Beijing government ordered on Tuesday. Such fences, installed to prevent burglary, are seen extruding residential and business buildings everywhere in China. Officials in Beijing deem such fences as impairing the city look and therefore necessary to be eliminated before the 2008 Olympic Games. Instead, inside-building fences will be installed, the Beijing Times reported, but no details of funding for such changes were provided.

Besides removing the fences, other projects will be carried out in the next two years to make the city of Beijing look better, including cleaning up the city corners and turning spaces below the city’s giant over-head bridges into parks.

----by Josie Liu

Thursday, September 07, 2006

On his Anniversary, Mao Zedong is Widely Remembered and Debated, Again
The 9th day of September is the 30th death anniversary of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong. A multi-million museum about him, funded by the government, broke ground on Wednesday and is expected to be finished next year.

Some mainland media published articles in his tribute, highlighting his great achievements and positive impacts on China’s history. While commercial websites like set up a special section to memorize Mao upon the anniversary, state-run news websites like that of Xinhua News Agency and China News Service do not adopt the same approach. Instead, Xinhua’s website set up a special section to memorize the Long March, a milestone movement in China’s revolution in which Mao played a major role. The official sites' downplay of the event indicates that under the intricate situation in current China, talks about Mao’s legacy and influence have become more and more sensitive or tricky and the government is cautious in dealing with the publicity in that regard.

Among scholars and the public, however, Mao is more of a figure of controversy, whose contribution and destruction to China are constantly debated.

Following are some Chinese websites featuring Mao’s death anniversary:

Chinese Economy Suffered Great Loss due to Pollution
Environmental pollution cost Chinese economy more than US$600 billion in the year of 2004, or 3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of that year, according to China’s first official report on adjusted GDP according to pollution costs. Pan Yue, deputy chief of China’s state administration of environmental protect, said the reported number was only a small portion of the real environmental cost, because technology limitations did not allow more comprehensive measurement, China News Service reported. Mr. Pan warned about China’s environmental crisis and its increasing impact on the country’s economic growth.

Advertising featuring National Leaders Prohibited
The central government has requested local governments to launch an inspection on local retailers’ illegal use of words, names or images of national government officials in promoting their products, Asian Times reported. After earlier crack down, images of China's country leaders are no longer seen on television, print media or billboard advertisements for commercial products, but some stores are still found using such images on site to help boost sales.
----by Josie Liu

Friday, September 01, 2006

What's New In China

New Reshuffle among Provincial Officials
The Chinese Communist Party is planning to change still more provincial party officials, Hong Kong based Ta Kong Pao reported. Shanxi, Henan and Fujian will soon welcome new heads to their party disciplinary commissions, not long after other provinces, including Chongqing, Hubei and Shaanxi saw the same changes. In Chinese political system, the disciplinary commission plays a key role in supervising party officials, who most of time are also government officials. The latest personnel changes are mostly aimed at strengthening such supervisions, analysts say.

Shanghai’s New History Textbook Draw Criticism
A new standard world history text for Shanghai high school students drops wars, dynasties and Communist revolutions, and instead tries to depict a more harmonious Chinese history and highlights economics, technology, social customs and globalization, an article appeared in today’s New York Times reported. In the new textbook, Chairman Mao Zedong is mentioned only once — in a chapter on etiquette. Authors of the new text said the alterations were not in line with politics but to “make the study of history more mainstream and prepare our students for a new era,” the New York Times reported.

This article was posted on a popular Chinese online forum and draw a dozen of responses, mostly denouncing the changes. One commentator called such changes “tragedy,” and another, “outrageous.”

This new text is currently only used in Shanghai high schools.

----by Josie Liu