Saturday, December 23, 2006

Dalai Lama Giggled His Way on American National TV

The Dalai Lama and Barbara Walters
(ABC News / Rob Wallace)

In a rare appearance on American national TV, the Dalai Lama talked with famous TV journalist Barbara Walters about his belief in heaven, and even received a kiss from her in a program aired Friday night on ABC.

The program, “Heaven----Where is it? How do we get there,” was ABC’s special presentation, in which Ms. Walters talked with religion leaders from around the world in search for the idea of heaven in different religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.

To do the show, she recently traveled half way around the world to a remote comer of northern India, where the Dalai Lama is living in an “out-of-the-way village.”

Standing in front of a two-story white villa, Ms. Walters saw the Dalai Lama slowly stepped down the stairs in his lama robe, with smile on his face.

“Welcome,” the Dalai Lama greeted Ms. Walters in English, and grabbed her hands and held them for a while, like meeting an old friend who he hadn’t seen for a long time.

Ms. Walters called him “your holiness” and thanked him for allowing them to visit him, something the religion leader does not do very often. Their talk, as aired last night, was purely spiritual, touching nothing about politics.

Besides discussing Buddhism belief of heaven, the show also provided a glimpse of the famous lama’s personality.

Using his somewhat awkward, sometimes broken, but still understandable English, the 71-year-old Dalai Lama told Ms. Walters that he was not living God as many of his followers deemed him.

“No. Certainly [I’m not God],” he said and giggled. He took off his glasses and said if he was God, he would not have to wear glasses to be able to see well. He said he was a teacher, teaching Buddhism.

Not only that he was not God, the Dalai Lama said he had not reached the stage of being enlightened, either. In other words, he saw himself still far away from the highest status of Buddhism pursuit, Buddhahood. Instead of knowing everything, he told his American visitor, he could not tell what was going to happen the following night, and he forgot what happened the day before.

“I always consider myself as another human being. Nothing special, nothing more,” he said.

The Dalai Lama also acted more like a caring teacher than a mighty religion leader, who some people believe to even have super power.

He giggled throughout the interview, which made him look very easy-going, happy and amiable. Ms. Walters thus described him as a “charming and charismatic leader,” with “an infectious giggle.” Despite English talk and lama dress, his manner was very similar to those highly-esteemed figures at his age in China. He also had an optimistic view of today’s world, concluding it is “close to heaven.”

Talking with pretty high spirit, the Dalai Lama appeared to be very energetic. He was even not reluctant to show a little bit naughtiness.

At the end of the interview, when Ms. Walters asked him whether it was possible to kiss him on the cheek, he said “okay” without hesitance and accepted the kiss, again, with a laud giggle. And then, he volunteered to show Ms. Walters the New Zealand-style kiss by pressing his nose against hers. While doing that, the two broke into big laugh.

----by Josie Liu

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Retired Provincial Leader Targeted for Pleads

Mao Zhiyong, former party secretary of Hunan province, has not enjoyed much peace as he hoped since he chose to retreat to his rural home village and live a farmer’s life three years ago, after stepping down from office.

His after-retirement life was recently featured in The Beijing News, which apparently has been very busy.

The 77-year-old man has an impressive political resume, including 16 years as the party secretary, the top official of Chinese province, of his native Hunan province, another three years in Jiangxi province in the same post, and several years as the vice chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Such a strong background makes people in the village and nearby believe that Mr. Mao is a powerful figure.

Local officials come to his home regularly, seeking advices on local issues. Using his resources and connections, he managed to have a Hong Kong businessman to take over a pig farm in the village, which created new jobs and businesses, and helped villagers to make more money.   

Not only better economy, he also attracted appealers from local and outside towns, who hoped Mr. Mao could help to claim their rights or seek justice. But the best Mr. Mao could do is no more than writing a letter to responsible officials, asking “please deal with [the case] in accordance with due policies.” On lucky days, the note could generate some feedbacks from Hunan and Jiangxi governments, where Mr. Mao once served as the chief.

To make sure that his life would not be disturbed too much, local police set up a guard booth near his home to provide 24-hour protection.

Mr. Mao’s return to rural village made big news three years ago, since it is not usual for such a high-ranking official to leave prosperous city and settle down in relatively backward country side. He wanted to go home, farming and raising chicken, because in the village, “the water is good, air is good and vegetable is good,” he said.

The attention he received in his home town, however, is predictable. High-ranking officials always trigger big excitement among lower officials as well as common folks in China, as in many other places around the world. Besides, they often possess substantial political influence even after they retire.

It’s also no wonder that appealers with all kinds of sad stories and broken rights would try to seek help from this retired former powerful, since they often fail to get much response from sitting officials.

----by Josie Liu

Monday, December 18, 2006

Wedding Ceremony a Growing Business

Wedding hosts are gaining popularity, and money, in China

Chinese people spend as much as 300 billion yuan (more than $38 billion) every year on wedding ceremonies, which has helped to boost a new business.

Meanwhile, as more and more new couples start to hire professional wedding planners and wedding hosts, wedding planning and hosting has become a booming new occupation in many Chinese cities.

As part of the new trend, a national wedding host competition is to be held in Chengdu, Sichuan on Wednesday. Shi Kangning, an executive for this competition, told Xinhua that over 100,000 wedding hosts now take on wedding stages all over the country.

There are about 10 million new couples tying the knot every year in China, each spends 3000 yuan ($380) for the wedding on average, for things like wedding banquets, jewelries, and wedding photo shooting, Mr. Shi said. He himself is a successful wedding host, and among the earliest who ran their own wedding ceremony companies.

----by Josie Liu

Friday, December 15, 2006

Richest Writers in China

Mr. Han Han

Mr. Guo Jingming

The most popular writers in today’s China have made their way into the millionaire club, by selling their books and earning eight-digit-number royalty.

Chinese Business Post recently surveyed publishing companies, bookstores and writers, and came up with a list comparing some writers’ royalty income for their works of the past decade, calculated by multiplying published copies, cover price and royalty rate of each work. The survey adopted an average royalty rate of 10 percent for the calculation.

The writer with the highest royalty income, 14 million yuan ($1.75 million) is Yu Qiuyu, of Shanghai. The best sellers among his works are collections of essays about his thoughts and reflections of cultures, Chinese and foreign. Eryuehe, a novelist, is ranked right behind Mr. Yu, claiming 12 million yuan ($1.5 million) in royalty gain.

Noticeably, two young and edgy writers, Han Han and Guo Jingming, earning 9.5 million ($1.2 million) and 8.5 million ($1.1 million) yuan respectively, are among the top five, beating old generation literature icons like Mr. Wang Meng and Jia Pingwa.

These two young men were born in the 1980s and started to publish when still teenagers. Appreciated by many, especially young adults, as the voice of China’s new generation, they are different from writers of older generations in many ways, such as not shy to boast their personalities and applying cutting-edge writing styles.

It is also interesting to see Anni Baby, who gained her fame by writing on the Internet, be listed at 11 in the fortune list of contemporary Chinese writers. Many of her works having debut on the Internet were later published in paper books, which earned her nearly $1 million in royalty.

Not surprisingly, most of the top 25 richest writers in today’s China made their fortune by writing fictions, a genre enjoyed by most of the reading population in China. There are only five women among the top 25.

Like many other businesses in China, book publishing and selling has marched into market economy and allowed writers of good-selling works to become millionaire. But these writers are still minority. Most of people who try to make a living by writing, however, are not making big money, the China Business Post report says.

----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Warning: Non-direct-interest Conflict Growing in China

The number of social riots in China has been increasing in recent years

China is seeing a dangerous trend, the increase of non-direct-interest conflict, where many participants of protests or clashes with the police actually have nothing to do with the issue at question itself, but only use the participation as a way to let go their anger or doubts toward the government.

The problem is discussed in an article published in the December issue of Baixing magazine, an out-spoken media outlet based in the mainland.

In recent years, it is not rarely seen that some small quarrels in the streets evolved into large-scale riots involving tens of thousands of people, many of whom had no specific interest pursuits in the protest.

The trend is manifest among migrant workers in Guangdong, for example. Those who had specific interests at stake and those who did not often mixed together in protests. Often times, it was spectators, not the protestors, who threw stones at the police, the article says.

However, the phenomenon is far from simply people’s meddling, but rather demonstrates the conflict of interests between different groups, if not necessarily individuals, the article goes on to point out.

For instance, a farmer selling vegetables on the road side without authority permission was asked to leave by some city inspectors but refused to do so, and a fight broke out between the two sides. Hundreds of people walking by started to join the fight, mostly sympathetic with the farmer and criticizing the inspectors for not allowing the farmer to sell his products and to make a living. Among the crowds might be people who had similar experience of being pushed around by authorities and held the feeling of being oppressed. Therefore, non-direct-interest conflict is “group-to-group conflict; is the formation and division of social stratus,” the magazine article says.

“Due to past unfair treatment [from the authorities], [people] accumulate antipathy over time and feel themselves being the obvious or potential subject of persecution, and therefore try to let the feeling off their chests when there is a chance,” especially when they do not have sufficient channels to complain or defend their interests, says the article.

The peculiar conflict is characterized by an attitude that “nothing [done or said by the government] is trustworthy,” the magazine says. It warns that the problem, if not dealt with properly, could eventually harm the foundation of government ruling, because it sends a dangerous signal showing antagonism between government officials and the public.

The article attracted many discussions after it was posted on the Internet last week. Most of the commentators expressed their sympathy toward such non-direct-interest conflict.

Some say it is the result of non-electoral designation of government officials, and a way for the public to express their opinions. Some interpret it as the manifestation of the increasing class conflict in today’s Chinese society, the conflict between those who have privileges and the mast majority of plain citizens, or lao bai xing. There are also voices haling such public involvement in conflicts, calling it people’s awakening and social conscience.

----by Josie Liu

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

China Faces Challenge of Taking Care of the Elderly

China’s aged population will reach its peak at 437 million in 2051,and the best opportunity for China to get ready for taking care of the elderly is before 2032, or, the country will deeply regret, said a government official on Tuesday.

There are currently 16 million people in China aging 80 or older, according to a government report released on Tuesday. At the end of last year, people over the age of 60 amounted at 144 million, or 11 percent of the total population. Shanghai, China’s most fluent city, tops the list with nearly 20 percent of its population in the 60 plus age group.

With 3 percent annual increase of aged population, by 2051, people over 60 years old could be twice as many as children, claiming 31 percent of China’s population.

Despite such a heavy burden of taking care of seniors, China’s social services for old people, such as health care, legs seriously behind the needs.

Meanwhile, China’s pension deficit has reached 8 trillion yuan ($1 trillion) by the end of 2005, according to government statistics.
----by Josie Liu

Related article

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Debate: Loong or Dragon

top: a China long
bottom: a dragon

A scholar’s proposal of abandoning long, or Chinese dragon, as the symbol image of China triggered a hot public debate about this thousands-of-years-old emblem, particularly its English translation.

Early this month, Prof. Wu Youfu, a top administrator of Shanghai International Studies University, said in a local newspaper story that long is not suitable to be the symbol of China’s national image, because dragon is seen in the western world as “a monster full of arrogance and offensiveness.” He suggested that the symbol should be something resonating China’s peaceful rise strategy and avoiding westerners’ misconceptions about Chinese culture. Prof. Wu is also leading a research project on renovating China’s national image.

Soon after these comments were published, Prof. Huang Ji of East China Normal University, also in Shanghai, criticized Prof. Wu’s proposal as “ridiculous.” Nothing is wrong with long, according to Prof. Huang, and what went wrong is the English translation of long as "dragon."

It is dragon that is seen as “full of arrogance and offensiveness,” not long, and “a lot of Chinese scholars studying the English language have written articles to point that out,” Prof. Huang wrote in his blog on He made a different proposal: not to change long as China’s symbol, but change the translation from dragon to long, or loong. The alternative translations are already in use in some cases.

Dragon, according to English dictionaries, is a mythical monster with wings and claws, which spouts fire and is often associated with evilness or fierceness. In contrast, long in traditional Chinese culture is an auspicious symbol and mostly a positive notion, indicating opulence, happiness and good power. It is translated as dragon probably because the two imaginary creatures both have snake-like bodies, Prof. Huang told
Long is the mark of China’s image, as well as the embodiment of recognition of China and the Chinese civilization for all Chinese people around the world,” Prof. Huang wrote. Abandoning long and using different things as the national symbol, as proposed by Prof. Wu, would “lead to confusion in recognizing the mother land.”

On the Internet, the mast majority of commentators harshly denounced Prof. Wu’s proposal, except for few comments supporting his idea on the basis that long was for a long time only the symbol of China’s ancient emperors.

Many people expressed their anger at Prof. Wu’s idea.

“As the symbol and image of China, long has been connected in flesh and blood with Chinese history and civilization, with every single Chinese people, for a long, long time, without interruption,” one person commented on the Internet. “To get rid of long is to cut the root!”

Some people were particularly angry at the fact that Prof. Wu’s proposal was based on the concern of westerners’ possible “misinterpretation” of the image of long. Some even went so far as to label Prof. Wu as treachery. “I despise people like Wu Fuyou,” one poster wrote. “People like that don’t deserve to be Chinese,” wrote another.

In an online survey on, over 90 percent of the participants supported long as the national symbol, and over 80 percent agreed with changing the translation.

Wedding in Ancient Outfits

A young couple in Fengjie, Chongqing held a wedding on Monday following traditional rituals, and dressed in hanfu, the outfit worn by ancient Chinese. To show case their traditional dresses, the couple strolled around their hometown, attracting thousands of onlookers.

Hanfu, the ancient style outfit, has become increasingly popular among Chinese youth since it was reintroduced into people’s daily life about four years ago. In addition to being attracted by its unique beauty, young people love and wear hanfu in occasions like traditional holidays and weddings to demonstrate their will to retrieve traditional Chinese culture.
Several websites and social groups are also formed to promote hanfu, along with other Chinese cultural heritage and traditional values.
----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Coal Shortage Left Thousands in Cold in Urumqi

Wrapped in a comforter to keep warm in dorm

More than 10,000 people in Urumqi, Xinjiang, found their home freezing after the heat was stopped on Saturday. A coal-burning furnace providing heat for the area stopped working after heat company workers fed it with coals of poor quality. The company purchased these bad coals from some small coal mines, when its contract coal provider was short of supply, Xinhua reported.

The heat break lasted for nearly 96 hours, leaving thousands of people fighting cold in rooms of temperature lower than 10 degree Celsius, or about 50 degree Fahrenheit, while the out-door temperature was way below the freezing point. Some electronic heaters thus were sold out in many local stores during these days. The heat was resumed late Wednesday night.

China has been in constant shortage of coal supply for recent years, largely due to huge demand of coals for generating electricity to feed energy hungry factories of all kinds. The demand-supply strain has been a major drive for illegal coal mining, including over production at state-owned coal mines, which many times has led to explosion, collapse and other fatal accidents at the mines.

Homosexual Man Stopped from Seeking Partner
A homosexual man was stopped last month by a security guard at the gate of elite Tsinghua University in Beijing, before he made his way into the campus with a board on his back. The hand-written board read: I’m a gay; sincerely looking for a life-time partner. He said he took the action not only to find a partner, but also to advocate for gay rights and fight against discrimination, Shanghai based Xinmin Evening News website reported.

The man later complained to the university, claiming he was discriminated, but the university denied any discrimination against homosexuals.

The Tsinghua incident is one of the few, but increasing cases of advocating gay rights in China, although homosexuality has largely remained a taboo in public discourse. Most gay people in China still hide their sexual orientation from others and many remained in normal marriages. But the society has been more and more familiar, if not more tolerant, with the concept of homosexuality, and many people are talking about it in private talks or on the anonymous Internet.
----by Josie Liu

Friday, December 01, 2006

New Wave of Democratic Talks in Chinese Media Attract Attentions

CCTV Documentary: The Rise of the Great Nations

People in China noticed that the media have been unusually outspoken lately. An article published in an on-line chat room cited a few examples, including published interviews with human rights activists and dissent academics who are not favored by government censors, and several articles frankly advocating democracy and rule of law, something not very often seen in mainland media.

But the most remarkable media event recently is a documentary series, The Rise of the Great Nations, aired on one of China’s major propaganda organs, China Central Television.

The 12 part documentary looked into the rise of nine of the world's main powers, including Germany, Spain, Japan and the United States, over the past 500 years and examined why they thrived. Unlike the Communist Party’s long-time interpretation of history as ruled by class struggles and censure of capitalism, the documentary provided rather objective and factual narratives and analysis, an approach so unusual for CCTV that many viewers said they could not believe the show was produced by the station.

Mai Tianshu, one of the creators of the documentary, told a Chinese newspaper that the show aimed at helping the public to understand what is the origin and future trend of modern society, the importance of reason, compromise and cooperation in building a new system, and the necessity of a strong central power.

In the cyberspace and other media, people are comparing The Rise of the Great Nations with another mind-shaking documentary, The Young Death of a River. It was aired on the same station 18 years ago and has been deemed as having fanned the democracy fever among young people and therefore facilitated the demonstration at the Tiananmen Square in 1989. The Young Death of a River, or He Shang, denounced the traditional Chinese civilization, nurtured by the Yellow River, as close-minded and hidebound, and called on the Chinese nation to learn from western society’s “ocean civilization” in order to step up as a modern nation.

Some analysts say that like The River, The Rise foreshadows new moves of political reform, but others say it is just one implement of Chinese leadership’s intention to learn from western society, including its democratic and legal system, in search of appropriate ways for China’s modernization. Still others say the show is a good education for Chinese people, preparing them for China’s rise as a world power.

----by Josie Liu