Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Day Packed with Corruption News

Left: wanted corrupt Yunnan official Hu Xing

Right: new province chief of Yunnan:
Qin Guangrong

The Chinese media on Wednesday seemed to be packed with news about corruption, and at least three of them made headlines on the front page of, one of the biggest gateway websites in China.

Foremost is the news that the Central Disciplinary Commission of the Chinese Communist Party announced foul plays in local governments’ term exchange processes, such as bribing for office and appointing officials’ relatives to party posts.

Change of officials in the Party is generally not through popular election, but appointment by upper level party branches, a big opportunity for many people to seek higher offices or just to get into the ruling system.

The Central Disciplinary Commission found 121 cases nationwide of misconducts in last year's term exchange processes, disciplined more than 190 officials and removed over 600 persons from offices inappropriatly appointed to them, Xinhua reported.

Another news is about the on-going investigation of the social security fund embezzlement in Shanghai, for which the city’s former leader Chen Liangyu was sacked. On Wednesday, chief of Shanghai Procuratorate Wu Guangyu told local People’s Congress that seven people, two government officials and five company executives, are under investigation, China News Service reported.

On the same day, Mr. Wu’s counterpart in Zhejiang, Mr. Chen Yunlong reported to his provincial legislators that more than 100 officials at the county and above levels were sacked for bribery, power abuse and other misconducts in office in the past year, Xinhua reported.

Still another big anti-corruption news is the issuing of the order for arrest, with 50,000 yuan reward, of deputy chief of the transportation department of Yunnan province.

Hu Xing, 49, is suspected of concealing booty and perjury in relation to an “extraordinary economic crime,” according to a local newspaper. Hu has run away. There are speculations among the pubic that Hu is involved in something much more serious than concealing booty and perjury, otherwise he would not have to flee.

News about anti-corruption is important in the Party’s publicity strategy, because it is something the Chinese people are most concerned about and for which the Party is most criticized. But the Party’s propaganda machine would not just paint a picture of corrupt officials everywhere. Instead, it managed to publicize a story haling an apparently upright official among the cluster of bad news.

The exemplified official was the new province chief of Yunnan, the same province the wanted corrupt official Hu Xing served. Qin Guangrong, 56, was elected by Yunnan People’s Congress as the province chief on Wednesday. He pledged to the legislation body that he will “be decent as a person, be clean as an official,” and do every good for the people.

It might be a coincidence that so many corruption related news made into the media on the same day, but it should be noted that it is now the season for local governments to review their jobs in the past year, including their anti-corruption efforts. It should be no surprise to see more of such news in the coming weeks.

----by Josie Liu

Friday, January 26, 2007

Three Gorges Dam Relocation Funding Misused

Three Goreges Dam project

Hundreds of millions of yuan was found in question in local dealing of state funding for relocating people and businesses that would be flooded due to the Three Gorges Dam construction, the National Audit Office announced this week, after finishing auditing in ten counties in Hubei Province and Chongqing City.

The audit found that during 2004 and 2005, 270 million yuan (about $34 million) of state fund for the relocation were put to illegitimated uses, such as opening businesses, executive expenses and paying loan interests, which were mostly not related to relocation programs. Chongqing authorities, for example, spent more than 5 million yuan to build office buildings and employee housing.

Meanwhile, some local authorities overstated migrant population and relocation needs and obtained about 17 million yuan more in funding. Caught in such foul play includes a government agency responsible for a port construction, which seized millions of yuan by submitting false project design and exaggerating material costs.

Other problems discovered in the audit include delaying in distribution funding to migrant supporting programs and improper use of funding, such as spending too much in building training facilities but not enough in the actual skills training for the migrants.

The State Council has sent notices to Hubei and Chongqing authorities, requesting correction of the misconducts. By December, more than 240 million yuan ($30 million) has been retrieved or compensated, according to a report of the National Audit Office.

The Three Gorges Dam relocation project started in 1993 and is expected to finish by 2009. By the end of 2005, the state government has invested 51 billion yuang (about $6.5 billon) to fund the relocation, providing housing, resettlement support for migrants and compensation for closed businesses. More than one million people and over 1500 businesses have been relocated.

National audit has become such a hot topic in China in recent years that the director of the national audit office, Mr. Li Jinhua, is treated by Chinese media as a star . The wide publicity of its results, a government practice carried out in recent years, could be seen as a progress of openness of the Chinese government.

For the recent three or four year, the annual release of the audit results has revealed tens of millions of yuan in question among the budget and expense of national government agencies. Although the public doubts the accuracy of the audit, which may not have disclosed the full picture of financial frauds of the government, and how much impact such publicity can have on curbing misconducts, the audit is largely welcomed.
----by Josie Liu

Detailed coverage:

The audit report on the official website of National Audit Office

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One-Child Policy to Change? Not Yet.

A parent holding a certificate hornoring one-child family

China will not lift the ban on a second child for at least the next five years in order to continue to keep population growth in control, said state officials, dispersing recent rumors about change of the policy.

China’s family planning policy, however, is not equal to one-child policy, Mr. Zhang Weiqing, director of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, told a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

Most cities and some villages follow the one-child policy, and 36 percent of China’s population lives in these areas, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin as well as rich provinces like Jiangsu and Sichuan. But in many less developed provinces like Yunnan, Qinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang, two children are usually allowed in rural areas.

There are 19 provinces allow rural residents to have a second child if the first one is a girl, and 53 percent of the population lives in these areas. Also in cities, a couple can have two children if both of them are the only child of their parents, state officials said.

Mr. Zhang Weiqing called such a complexity “the policy of differentiated guidance,” meaning using different guidelines for different regions, which is decided by the very different social economic situations across the country.

He warned that China is facing another birth rate hike, since baby boomers of the 1980s are reaching child-bearing age. Also, a high percentage of the large migrant population has more than one child.

“The risk is huge if the second-child ban was lifted at this time,” he said.

This news is one of the most read on so far this week, drawing more than 1400 comments, the mast majority of which calling for lifting the ban.

“A one-child family society is not normal,” one commentary reads. “Two children can make a family more stable, because one-child family has lower social security ratio,” says another post. Many people also saw it unfair that actually not everyone is required to have only one child.

Some posters pitched an alternative policy: encourage having only one child, allow a second one, and prohibit having a third. This idea is supported by many other commentators. There are also posts claiming that lifting the ban would not make much difference because they do not have the money to raise a second child anyway.

China started to carry out the family planning policy, generally known as the one-child policy, in 1978. As one of China’s basic state policies, it has helped the country to reduce the newborn population by more than 400 million and alleviate the population pressure on the environment and resources, says a newly released government document on China’s population issue. The State Council document stresses the importance of continuing population control.

China’s low birth rate could rebound in the next decade or so, when the country will see 8 to 10 million net increase in population every year. Other challenges include population aging, imbalance between female and male newborns and the ever-increasing migrant population, according to the document.
----by Josie Liu

The latest government document on population

National Population and Family Panning Commission

Online comments

Friday, January 19, 2007

Who Killed Revolution Heroine Liu Hulan?

A statue of Liu Hulan

A university professor’s unconventional explanation of a young revolution heroine’s death caused a lot of controversy in China’s public discourse this week, which has gone beyond just the debate over historical facts and become a clash of ideology, between alleged iconoclast of a classic communism paradigm and the defenders.

The heorine under debate is Liu Hulan, a 15-year-old girl killed by the Kuomintang army during China’s civil war in 1947, for refusing to identify communist party members in her village. She herself was a communist party follower at that time. Since the establishment of People’s Republic of China, Liu Hulan has been a revolutionary icon in China’s official teaching, especially as a paradigm of bravery and selfless devotion for young people.

Her story is a must-read in elementary school textbooks, according to which she was beheaded by Kuomintang soldiers. But in a blog post, Zhou Yijun, also known as A Yi, a famous TV host and professor at Peking University, claimed that Liu Hulan was beheaded by her fellow villagers.

“Liu Hulan was not beheaded by National Revolution Army [Kuomintang army]. In stead, they [Kuomintang soldiers] hit several villagers with gunstock and forced them to behead Liu Hulan. Terrified and trembling, the villagers beheaded the little girl growing up under their own watch,” A Yi wrote in the blog post. He also revealed that some of these villagers later lost their minds, and some were punished after the People’s Republic was established, but “the truth” was completely excluded in the government’s propaganda of Liu Hulan.

A Yi wrote the post on Jan.12, the 60th anniversary of Liu Hulan’s death, talking about a TV show he once hosted. In making the program, which reviewed historical events, the crew went to Liu Hulan’s hometown, interviewed a few old villagers and got the story very different from what people were taught. The piece was not aired.

Three days after it was posted, the article received more attention as well as criticisms after Xinmin Evening News, based in Shanghai, reported it.

Li Yang, an commentator writing for Huayue Forum website, called A Yi’s article the “counterattack of China’s revolution.”

He said A Yi and a group of scholars at Peking University are trying to completely deny China’s revolution, and “systematically and completely deny everything of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Why would they do that? “Very simple,” Li Yang writes. “Denying the past is denying the present, and therefore denying the legitimacy of the ruing communist party, which inherited the heritage of the past.” Eventually, according to Li Yang, they would like to drive the party out of office and push forward multi-party politics.

The party’s propaganda organ won’t keep silence, either. On Friday, the People’s Liberation Army Daily published an article denouncing A Yi’s story as “simply a farce of distorting truth and overturning classics.” The paper sent a correspondent to investigate A Yi’s program’s investigation, who found that the crew did not really talk with the only two living witnesses of Liu Hulan’s execution. The correspondent, however, did talk with the two witnesses who said Liu Hulan was killed by Kuomintang soldiers.

A Yi’s blog article received more than 200,000 hits, but online comments about it are almost unanimously unfavorable. People are not happy to see the glory image of the heroine be doubted or tainted. A few voices supported the professor, like the one criticizing the PLA Daily’s articles as suppressing different voices over historic events.

The controversial article has been removed from A Yi’s blog, but is still accessible on other sites that copied and pasted it.

----by Josie Liu

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Beijing Set “Queuing Day”

The Beijing goverment tries to educate citizens to wait in line in public places

To establish the norm of queuing in public places, the Beijing government announced on Thursday that the 11th day of every month will be the official “queuing day.”

The government has called on celebrities to appeal to the public to wait in line, and will dispatch volunteers to crowded public places to “direct” people get in line. The initiative is one of a serious by the government to educate citizens of good public behavior, so that they can behave better during the Olympic Games in 2008. But many people doubt such one-day-a-month campaign would really work.

Chinese people are infamous for some bad public behaviors, including smoking in the public, spitting and littering in the streets, and of course, not forming a line while getting on buses, buying tickets from windows, or depositing checks in a bank.

Things have improved a lot in recent decades, especially in well-developed regions. In big cities like Beijing, at least, people have got used to standing behind the waiting line in a bank. But they still push each other, harshly and aggressively, when trying to get on crowded buses or subway trains, so much so that many times onborad passengers have to force their way against the upcoming crowds in order to get off.

----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Village Women Fight for Rights

Discriminated village women try to sue their village

When her village sold a piece of land for real estate development in 2004, Li Chengying was told that she would receive nothing from this sale. The land belonged to all residents in the village on the outskirt of Yanan city in Shaanxi province, and the earning, about 22 million yuan (less than $3 million) in cash, was supposed to be distributed among all villagers. But Ms. Li and more than 30 other women were excluded, simply because they married to men from out side of the village.

Normally, if married to outsiders, women in rural China would move to their husbands’ town. But for some reason, Ms. Li and those other ladies stayed in the village where they were born and raised. Yet for a long time, they felt being discriminated.

“When it comes to fulfill obligations, there is no difference [between us] with [native] male residents. But why are we treated as unqualified villagers once it comes to distribute income?” The ladies complained when being interviewed by the China Youth Daily.

They argued with the village administration in 2004, and were allowed to collect signatures from fellow villagers. If over half of the villagers signed an agreement consenting to share the land sale earning with the ladies, they would get their cut. The ladies collected 72 signatures out of 113 residents and received a copy of the agreement, with a seal of the village administration on it.

Before they ever received the payment, however, the administration changed and the new leaders denied the agreement. Many villagers also changed their mind and did not want more people to participate in the distribution.

Ms. Li and her female fellows appealed their case to upper level governments all the way up to the provincial government, only to see the case be returned to the village at the end of the day. The higher offices refused to interfere directly because there is a “Villager Autonomy Law,” according to which village affairs are supposed to be decided by villagers themselves.

“Is the villager autonomy law bigger than the constitution?” Ms. Li questioned. The lady, whose highest level of education is the first grade, said she studied China’s constitution, which claims equal rights for all citizens, and that village policies should be in accordance with the constitution.

Her argument, so far, is just an argument. When the ladies went to a local court to sue the village, the court did not even accept the case, citing “requests from leaders” that the court should not accept law suits concerning distribution of village’s collective income, like that from the land sale.

Ms. Li and the other ladies have hired a lawyer and continue their legal pursuit.

As a matter of fact, they are not alone in such village discriminations. Women married to men from other places but remain living in their home villages suffer unfair treatments in many rural areas across China. Traditionally, and still the case in China’s millions of villages, married women are no longer considered a member of the family they were born into, but a member of the family they married into. For women who are not able to move to their husbands’ origin places, they can not enjoy the men’s native rights, while their own are denied.

Some of them have started to fight back. A few women sued their villages for denying their rights, including dividend from land sales, and won. There are of course unsuccessful battles, and perhaps even more village women in such situation simply endure the unfairness silently.

----by Josie Liu

Friday, January 12, 2007

China’s Economy Growth Pays Too High Price: State Official

China's economic growth paid the price of environment damage

China’s economic growth “paid too high price,” said one of China’s top government officials.

The growth is too fast, built upon relatively weak foundation, and has created many “unstable and inharmonious elements,” Mr. Ma Kai, director of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told other government officials in Beijing on Friday.

He identified the main problems of China’s development, such as weak agriculture and increasingly sharp conflicts between economic growth and the environment, particularly natural resources and energy. He said China is facing tough task of saving energy and resolving many social problems. But before such a high-profile state government official admits the high cost of China’s booming economy, Chinese people, including scholars, have already been talking about the problem.

Zhang Hongliang, a professor from School of Adult Education at the Central University of Nationalities, for instance, has tried to ring the alarm that China’s development is now at a dangerous stage.

In an article he wrote and published on the Internet last month, he said the biggest price China paid for the economic growth “is the huge catastrophic damage to China’s natural resources and environment.” He lists the following data: “80 percent of (China’s) river and lake dried out, two thirds of grasslands are decertified, most forests disappear, and almost a hundred percent of soils are hardened.”

Moreover, more than 300 million people in rural areas do not have safe water resources, and over 400 million urban residents breathe heavily polluted air. Pollution and environment damage also take away a big chunk of China’s economic gain every year, Mr. Zhang writes.

Along with the deterioration of China’s natural environment is that of society, Mr. Zhang writes, citing increasing criminal rates and industrial deaths. Mr. Zhang also lashes out at China's cheap exports, describing China's products as being sold overseas “at such low prices that they are almost given away for nothing,” at the cost of millions of Chinese labors and huge amount of the country's resources. He warns that the current economic development is achieved by “sacrificing the resources for the future generations.”

The public is much divided upon receiving Mr. Zhang’s warning. People agree with him as much as they disagree. Some say his criticism is very insightful, and some say he is very biased.

The government, as always, has its own say, whether or not its policies could work.

On Friday, Mr. Ma Kai proposed several countermeasures to the problems, including implementing better macro control of economy by the government, strengthening protection of the environment and saving energy , as well as pushing forward reform, openness and technology innovation.

----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chinese Youth Questions Worthiness of Education

Chinese youth: struggling for a promising future

Because of skyrocketing education cost, many Chinese youngsters relapse to the education-is-useless idea, says a report released by China Youth & Children Research Center on Wednesday.

The report, which profiles Chinese youngsters in the years from 2001 to 2005 on things like health, life style, education and career, blames insufficient government funding for education for the high cost, especially in college education. For many young people from rural area, their parents have to borrow money to pay for their college and end up in heavy debt, becoming even poorer.

The idea that education is useless was once rampant among Chinese youth during the early years of the country’s economic reform and openness. Many young people at that time dismissed the importance of going to school, when seeing people without much education become reach by selling clothes or fruits on their own. But in recent decades, education has been a hot pursuit as diplomas have been valued higher by employers, be it government agencies or large companies.

Now that more and more young adults receive college diplomas at ever-increasing costs, while the job market gets tougher, once again, some young people apparently start to question the worthiness of getting good education.

People under the age of 35 account for about 30 percent of the 14 million unemployed urban population. Also, 150 to 200 million young people from rural area are the so-called “extra rural labor force,” who are out portioned the lands available for farming and expected to move to cities looking for a living. Moreover, the enlarging-college-enrollment wave in the past five or six years have created a large body of college graduates competing for jobs, the report says. Today, gaining a college degree no longer guarantee a job with satisfying income.

Some other findings of the report:

  • Chinese youngsters are developing sexuality and start dating at younger ages. Also, young couples spend more money for romance than earlier generations.

  • More than 13 percent of young web users are addicted to the Internet, with the highest percentage, over 17 percent, among those between 13 and 17 years old.

  • Generally speaking, Chinese young people in those years (2001-2005) are becoming healthier, but still face certain health problems. For example, the number of diabetes patients aging 20 to 35 are increasing every year, while breast cancer is also spreading among young women.

----by Josie Liu
China Youth & Children Research Center

Monday, January 08, 2007

China to Discuss Property Rights Legislation

As more and more Chinese people start to own significant properties like homes and vehicles, their ownership calls for recognition and protection

When China’s National People’s Congress opens its annual assembly in March, it will review and very likely pass a couple of new legislations, including the much anticipated and debated Property Law.

Right now, the draft has been sent to over three thousand People’s Congress representatives around the country for preview. But people are calling the newest draft to be released to the public, not just to legislators.

The law addresses issues like land property, compensation for government acquisition of private properties and farmers’ rights to use land under contract with the state. Initiated in 2002, the legislation has gone through seven reviews by China’s top legislators, setting the record for a single law draft in the country’s legislation history.

One version of the draft was publicized in July 2005 for public review and drew over 11,000 comments and suggestions. The draft is now of its seventh version, and the public has yet to get a glance of the latest update, which triggered calls on the Internet for a public review.

A poster, with a byline of Zheng Xianli, wrote in an online forum that establishing the Property Law, which basically is about protecting ownership of properties, “is never just the business of a few law experts,” and called for the latest draft to be made pubic “as soon as possible.”

----by Josie Liu

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Shanghai: Another Hong Kong?

In a recent interview with Hong Kong media, an economics professor from Shanghai proposed the city to become a special administrative region like Hong Kong.

Zhang Jun, 43, professor from Fu Dan University, said he is concerned about Shanghai’s future, not sure whether the city can keep up economic development and expand its prosperity if it stayed with its current political and economic format.

Among many reasons for his concern is the fact that Shanghai’s development has to follow the guideline of the central government, which may eventually limit the city’s development capability, Prof. Zhang suggested.

“I believe that people all hope that Shanghais can have big influence in the economic development of the Asian Pacific region, becoming the center of trade, traffic and information, like Hong Kong and Singapore …But what we have to consider is, how far Shanghai can go in the process to reach such a goal?” he said.

Not far, according to him, if Shanghai remained “one member of [China’s]31 provinces.” He suggested that Shanghai needed more freedom in legislation and administration in order to gain faster and bigger progress.

In other words, to allow Shanghai to surpass the average pace of development of entire China, “[the city] needs to have a new relationship model with the central government,” Prof. Zhang told the journalist. The city is now a municipality, a city directly under China's central government. Normally in China, a city is under the administration of its home province. But Prof. Zhang hoped Shanghai to have more freedom and power than a municipality.

“It’s not impossible to discuss the change of the administrative division of Shanghai,” Prof. Zhang said. “Hong Kong can be a special administrative region. Is it possible to extend this concept, or put it to more application here in Shanghai? I think this is a possible idea in the future thinking about …Shanghai’s position.”

China’s economy growth has made it necessary to have more than one cities like Hong Kong, and Shanghai is one of the best candidates among mainland cities to become another Hong Kong, Prof. Zhang added, although whether or not Shanghai can, or should go that direction is not up to the city’s decision, but the whole development strategy of the central government. However, allowing Shanghai to go forward would benefit the country’s economy as a whole, because it would provide better service for other regions’ development, according to Prof. Zhang.

The proposal aroused much discussion from the public, by posting online comments. Some haled it as a good idea. Some refuted Prof. Zhang as speaking stunning ideas only to gain attention. And more people view the idea as unrealistic. "It’s a good suggestion, but for sure it won’t be carried out," on poster wrote. Still some mocked the idea as simply making Shanghai another Chinese city that will require a visa to get in, like the case in Hong Kong.

----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

City Residents Raising Money on Their Own to Build a Park

Residents in a meeting discussing their bid

The planned park

Concerned that an open space in their residential area in Guangzhou City will turn into more skyscrapers, some residents decided to build a public park on the spot by raising money on their own, an initiative pretty innovative for China's urban residents.

The park, in fact, was not a new idea. Six years ago, a planned park was included in the advertisement for the property and played as a major attraction to many home buyers. But the park never really came into being. For the past years, residents occasionally played soccer or flied kites on a piece of bare land, on which the park was said to be built, Guangzhou-based Information Times reported.

While looking forward to a nice park in an area surrounded by more and more new buildings, residents heard in 2002 that the government planned to use the vacant spot for commercial purposes. Residents were worried. “We are seeing closer and closer distance between buildings, and more and more traffic signals, but the government still wanted to change the planned park into more residences,” one of them said. Loathing the idea of living in another concrete forest, home owners decided to do something.

Learning from some government officials that the government had difficulty to fund the park, the residents volunteered to raise money by themselves. They are drafting a report to submit to Guangzhou municipal government, asking for permission to build a big city park, with fountains and recreational facilities, on the open space and they will pay for the construction expenses of about 30 million yuan (about $4 million).

Meetings have been held among interested home owners and the fund raising efforts so far have been promising. However, after all, these people do not own the land. The government does, instead, and it has the right to develop the land into whatever it likes.

Obviously, building hotels and business towers could bring much more income to the government than creating a park. To make things more difficult, the residents are trying to negotiate with the government to let them build the park at zero land cost. Unfortunately, a city government is not a charity, let alone the fact that the government could charge up to 250 million yuan for using the land. In addition, a real estate company is also eyeing on the piece of land, and it is willing to pay for the price of using it. Taking such big interests into account, an expert predicted little luck for the residents’ bid.

If the residents succeeded in the pursuit, they will set a glory example of urban Chinese residents’ grass-root fight for a better living environment. If they failed, well, it will just be another real estate project in an already over crowded metropolis, like what is happening almost everyday in China.

----by Josie Liu

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year Brings New Laws to China

Pigeons set off at the Tiananmen Square on New Year’s Day

Starting January 1, 61 new laws and regulations, half state laws and half local, took effect throughout the country.

As the New Year began, the Supreme Court took into its hands the final approval of death penalties handed down by lower courts, in an effort to check on wrong cases and the abuse of law in local courts, the People’s Daily reported.

Another new legislation is called Anti Money Laundering Law, requiring in financial institutions the establishment of customer identity reorganization, transaction records and large-amount trade report systems, as well as other regulations to help discover and stop money laundering.

A new law strengthening the surveillance power of People’s Congress is also in place. It defines the supervision role of the standing committee of national and local People’s Congress as to be focused on the government, court and procuratorate. Among other tasks, the standing committee shall make sure it looks into government budget and its implementation.

Besides, according to the new Passport Law, starting 2007, it takes 15 days, down from 30 days, to get a Chinese passport. The government took steps to shorten the procedure mostly due to fast growing population traveling overseas. In 2006, nearly four million Chinese people traveled outside the country, while there were only 100,000 off-shore travelers every year in the early 1980s.

In addition, experts from overseas, either Chinese natives or not, will enjoy better treatment at Chinese custom as their luggage will not be routinely checked and some of their belongings will be waived from custom taxes.
----by Josie Liu