Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More Restrictions on Celebrities’ Family Planning

A state government official said on Wednesday that celebrities would be barred from entering awards competitions if they break the one-child policy, several Beijing newspapers reported.

A government inspection in four cities last year found that most celebrities and high-income families had at least two children, said Mr. Yu Xuejun, an official from the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

Mr. Yu said that his agency is drafting stricter rules to punish celebrity violators, considering suggestions like establishing a “bad record” archive for them and having them face heavy fine as well as “social consequences,” such as being barred from competing for awards.

As the country still enforces the one-child policy in order to control population growth, the rule is supposed to be followed by the general public. Celebrities and other high-income people, however, constantly break the rule, because most of them do not care about paying fines or losing government sponsored benefits, like most of the common folks do.

People have seen such situation as very unfair and the government, both national and local, has started to openly denounce the rich and famous and take actions to curb the trend.

----by Josie Liu

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Defending the Chinese New Year? A Cultural Debate

A miao hui in Ditan Park, Beijing

A so-called "defending the Spring Festival movement" has gained nation-wide attention and Xinhua New Agency has related it to more tradition-styled celebrations of this year's Chinese New Year across the country, such as miao hui (temple fair, mostly held in parks, featuring traditional food, artifacts and art performances), firecrackers and traditional decorations.

The state-run news agency reported last week that “defending the Spring Festival has become a common view of the Chinese society,” thanks to Mr. Gao Youpeng, a folk culture scholar from Henan province, who first initiated the idea in 2005. Mr. Gao apparently was pleased by the restoration of more traditional Chinese New Year rituals, which he said “demonstrates that Chinese people are returning to traditions,” Xinhua reported.

Mr. Gao wrote a “Declaration of Defending the Spring Festival” at the end of 2005, warning about the infiltration of Western culture and stressing that “defending the Spring Festival is defending safety of the national culture."

He said he made such a call because he found that many young people who lived in the world of the Internet and video games worshiped Western culture, passionate in celebrating foreign holidays like Christmas but becoming increasingly indifferent toward their own traditional holidays, Xinhua reported. He said he felt “the safety of China’s national culture is to some degree under threat.”

In fact, the Chinese public has noted for a long time that the Chinese New Year, mostly called the Spring Festival in China, is losing its traditional flavor, while young people seem to enjoy more in celebrating Christmas or Valentine’s Day, when they can have more fun on their own. The discussion, however, had rarely been put in the spot light of state news agency like Xinhua, and the Internet has facilitated a public debate on the issue to a larger scale.

The mast majority of the opinions on the Internet and other media, not surprisingly, supported Mr. Gao’s view. People expressed a strong sense of the importance of maintaining China’s cultural tradition, as well as concerns that it is diminishing in the wake of Western culture influx.

One comment, for example, reads: “Without traditional culture, it is meaningless no matter how powerful [China becomes].” Another one says that Western holidays “are flooding into Chinese society and people’s life,” and under the challenge, traditional holidays like the Spring Festival “are fading away gradually.”

There are of course different views, but are mainly focused on whether it is necessary to call for defending the traditional holiday, or whether the best way to make it attractive is to simply fall back on old rituals, with the theme of maintaining China’s cultural tradition almost unchallenged.

A critic from Beijing questioned in a newspaper article: “does Spring Festival need everybody to save or defend?” To him, nobody in China is forgetting the holiday and therefore no worry is merited. Another critic dismissed the worry by citing the increasing awareness of the Chinese New Year in the entire world.

While a group of people called for bringing back the traditional way of celebrating the holiday, others insisted that the holiday needed contemporary contents and labeled the defending theory “cultural conservatism.”

“Today’s Spring Festival of course needs to represent the modern life style,” one blogger writes, “don’t think that without traditional theater and miao hui, the Spring Festival will no longer exist.” Nevertheless, advocators of modernization of the traditional holiday mostly fell short of providing specific proposals to reach the goal.

After all, people are facing one question: how to celebrate the Chinese New Year in a way that could both maintain an ancient tradition and make it fit the new time and attractive to the new generation. The answer is yet to come.

The reality is more of a mixed picture. While traditional festivities like setting off firecrackers, family gathering and visiting miao hui are still dominantly popular, new activities like tourism, text message greetings and partying with friends are also gaining grounds. Meanwhile, other old traditions, such as worshiping ancestors and kneeling down in front of seniors, have almost completely disappeared.

----by Josie Liu

Blog links:

Declairation of Defending the Spring Festival

Xinhua Story:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Year Fireworks Caused Some Casualties in Beijing

Firecrackers and fireworks bring joy as well as problems to Chinese cities during the holiday

One person died and over 100 visited hospitals in Beijing on the night of Chinese New Year Eve, due to injuries caused by fireworks and firecrackers, a local newspaper reported. At least one person had to have his eyeball removed. Fireworks also caused more than 100 fire incidents in the city on the Eve.

This year is only the second year that Beijing city allowed residents to set off fireworks and firecrackers on their own in the urban area and nearby suburbs.

Last year, firecrackers caused 384 fire incidents in Beijing during the two-week holiday period, as well as over 800 injuries resulting in hospital visits. But there was no major fire, and no reported death or serious injuries that led to eyeball removal.

The old Chinese saying says an old year is driven away in the sounds of firecrackers, and Chinese people set off numerous firecrackers every year during the Chinese New Year, especially on the Eve. Almost every household would light up at least one set of firecrackers before the midnight on the Eve, to send off an old year and welcome a new one with hope and excitement.

But firecrackers and fireworks were completely banned in Beijing’s urban area and its vicinity for 12 consecutive Chinese New Year from 1994 through 2005. Over 300 major cities in China also adopted a similar ban, citing several sins of firecrackers and fireworks, including injuring people, causing fire, polluting the air and making too much noise.

Despite the prohibition, many people simply cannot endure a Chinese New Year without the exciting sound of firecrackers. Illegal selling, buying and setting off of firecrackers persisted throughout the years, as well as consequent casualties and fire.

Meanwhile, the public and scholars, including famous writers, condemned the firecracker ban as killing an ancient Chinese tradition while depriving people of the joy and atmosphere of the traditional festival. For a time, the call for recovering the “taste of Chinese New Year” was prevalent.

Beijing city government finally lifted the ban prior to the 2006 Chinese New Year, and about 200 other cities followed the suit.

The prohibition in Beijing was replaced by limitations. Now people are allowed to set off firecrackers and fireworks only from the New Year Eve to the Lantern Festival, or the fifteenth day of the holiday, but mostly confined to the evening hours. Meanwhile, historical sites, transportation terminals, hospitals and forests are among the locations that do not allow the set-off.

Lift of the ban also boosted the firework business. This year, fireworks for sale in Beijing are worth 114 million yuan (about $14.25 million), and sales have gone very well, according to local newspapers. Last year, the sales amounted 55 million yuan (about $7 million).

To keep the supply under control, Beijing government only gave permit to one company to import firework products from other regions and then provide them to retailers in the capital. All retailers, either individual-run stands or chain super markets, have to get a license from the government to sell the products legally.

Now millions of people can again enjoy the ancient Chinese New Year entertainment, although besides human injury and fire, the activity also generate other problems, such as tons of trashes, including ruins of firework packages and the paper skin of firecrackers, to be cleaned up.

More than 20,000 city janitors worked overnight in Beijing on Chinese New Year Eve to get rid of the leftover of the intense firecracker set-off that night. By the next morning, over 900 tons of firecracker trashes were cleaned up, according to a local newspaper.

Dealing with such problems has become a major task for city governments around the country during the big holiday.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

China Set up Citizen Identification Information System

Chinese ID card

China has established what is seen as the largest citizen identification information database in the world, the Ministry of Public Security announced this month.

The database contains the name and citizen identification card number of nearly 1.3 billion people in mainland China, as well as other personal information such as gender and date of birth. It took five years to establish this data system, which was accomplished at the end of last year.

The system, under the supervision of China’s Ministry of Public Security, will allow individuals and businesses to verify certain person’s identity, by submitting this person’s name and ID card number to the National Citizen Identity Information Center, which will compare the submitted information with that in its database and send results back to the service user, even with a picture of the person being checked. People can use the service on the Internet or by text messaging on cellphone.

Every Chinese citizen aged 16 or older is required by law to register with local public security authorities to get an identification card, with their name, gender, date of birth, ethnic group and residence printed on it. People need to provide their ID card when openning bank accounts or becoming cellphone users. Meanwhile, fake ID has been widely used in criminal activities like defrauding, which results in hundreds of millions yuan of loss every year, Xinhua reported.

Although haled as an effective way of preventing identity fraud, the database also brough about concerns for personal information privacy. In state media reports, the authorities have pledged to guard the privacy.

----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Text Messaging for Chinese New Year Greetings: Hated and Loved

Text messaging has become a popular way of exchaging Chinese New Year greetings in China

Just when a national competition for the best Chinese New Year greeting message texted through cell phone is about to announce the winner, some people in Guangzhou posted comments online calling on the public to refuse text messaging as a “cheap and lazy” way of the New Year greeting.

As a long tradition, greeting people for the Chinese New Year, or bai nian, is an etiquette that almost no one can avoid during the holiday. Everybody, old and young, rich and poor, men and women, will always either utter or receive good wishes for things like money, accomplishments, happiness and health.

For thousands of years, Chinese people have knocked at the door of friends, relatives, teachers or supervisors in order to deliver their holiday greetings, bringing along families and nice gifts. The red envelopes containing some money are also handed out to the younger generation during such visits. This way, people also show their care and respect for others.

Such visits are diminishing in today’s China, and are increasingly limited to the close family or some special persons, like the most important business partner. Instead, more and more Chinese people are making phone calls or sending emails to convey the greetings, without having to see each other any more. Text messaging provides yet another easy out for such greetings, this time even without talking to people.

In many cases, people receive the same message from over a dozen of senders. Since inputting Chinese characters on the tiny cell phone keypad is a taxing task for many people, they don’t bother to create their own messages but simply forward what they have received from others. That is why some people are calling text messaging a cheap and hypocritical way of New Year greeting.

To encourage people to create sincere, funny and thoughtful text messages for the greeting, major local media outlets in Beijing joined over 20 popular websites to launch a text message competition, asking the public to vote for their favorite ones.

The results are due on Thursday, and about 600,000 people from over all China have submitted more than 98,000 text messages. The winner will get a car as the prize, and other runner-ups will get rewards ranging from flat panel TV to cell phones.

No matter how much it is loved or hated, text messaging has inevitably become the dominant way of exchanging Chinese New Year greetings among people. But still, saying a few nice words to people face to face, with enthusiasm and smile during the traditional holiday, is just about as warm as it has always been.

----by Josie Liu (the competition)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chinese New Year Brings Housekeeper Shortage to Beijing Homes

Housekeeping service has become a booming business in large cities like Beijing

As many housekeepers leaving the Beijing homes they serve to visit their hometowns for the traditional holiday, the capital city is again facing a “housekeeper crisis,” like it has been for the past few years.

This year will see an estimated shortage of around 30,000 workers, when many working housekeepers chose visiting home over pay raise for working the holiday, China News Service reported. Women from rural areas outside the capital have formed the main body of housekeepers in the city.

To satisfy the needs, housekeeping service companies are trying to attract Beijing natives who currently are unemployed to join the workforce, as well as importing young college students from other regions to work their winter break internship as housemaids.

It is estimated that over 10 percent of Beijing’s two million households hired housekeepers this year, and there are more than 200,000 people working in the housekeeping business. Housekeepers are usually paid a couple of thousand yuan ($200-$400) a month for full time services.

----by Josie Liu

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Chinese New Year Travel Frenzy/ Harsher Punishments for One-Child Policy Violation

Chinese New Year Travel Frenzy Again

Crowds buying train tickes at Beijing West Station/China News Service

It is again the time for the annual national ritual of crazy Chinese New Year travel. This year’s “Spring Festival Travel” season started on Saturday and will end on March 14, almost one month after the Chinese New Year.

Every year around this time, millions of people, mostly rural residents seeking a better living in cities, pack up and flood toward railways, highways, even airports lately, to go back to their hometowns for family gathering, practicing a thousands-of-years-old tradition.

As China's economy grows and living standard increases, as well as many young people seek career in large cities away from hometown, the festival has become less about having new clothes and nice food as it used to be, but more about reconnecting family members and strengthening personal bonds that have been largely weakened by a more migrating and aggressive society. At the same time, China’s transportation system faces more pressure.

No matter how much the meaning and celebration of the festival has changed over the past decades, one thing seems to have stayed, and that is railway as the major holiday transportation.

In recent years, over one hundred million people were transported every year by train from cities to villages or other cities and back. The mast majority of the travelers, migrant workers, college students and career beginners, still can not afford air fare, although air traffic during the festival season has been increasing. To them, travel by train is fast enough and cheap enough.

This year, a lot of talks have been surrounded a new policy: for the first time in six years, China’s railway authorities would not increase train fare during the holiday season.

Railways in China are almost all owned and run by the government. In an attempt to alleviate the pressure on railway during the holiday season, the authorities started to increase train fare in 2000 and kept doing so in the following years. Despite the price hike, the amount of holiday travelers did not decrease. Last year, it reached a record high of 149 million, according to China Youth Daily.

Last month, the authorities announced that the annual train fare increase was scraped this year.

Many people, including National People’s Congress representatives had advocated for abolishing the routine price raise. Now that the central government is striving to establish a harmonious society and showing more benign toward migrant workers, the end to the price hike seems to make sense.

The Rich and Famous Facing Harsher Punishments for One-Child Policy Violation

Authorities in Zhejiang announced on Wednesday that they will start to levy high fees on celebrities and high income people who violate the one-child policy. For those who do not care about paying such money and continue to have more than one child, the authorities will expose them to the public, Xinhua reported.

It has been an open secret in China that rich people, including some celebrities, can have more than one child by paying “social caring fee” to authorities. The public has recently expressed displeasure toward the issue by calling it unfair in a survey.

Mr. Zhang Weiqing, director of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, also said in Guangzhou earlier last month that rich and famous people breaching the one-child limitation had “very bad social influence.”

Zhejiang provincial officials said they have paid much attention to family plan violations among those rich and famous, who are usually influential “public figures” and should have been role models of obeying the law.

As a matter of fact, exchanging money for rights have become one of the unfairness much loathed by Chinese people, the mast majority of which are still not rich while a small number of people have obtained enormous amount of fortune by means sometimes illegal. As one of the most affluent provinces in China, Zhejiang may have set a good example of government’s efforts for social fairness.

----by Josie Liu

Friday, February 02, 2007

Cursing Comments forced Celebrities to Shut Down Blogs

Mr. Pan Shiyi

In a recent blog entry, famous real estate entrepreneur Pan Shiyi called on blog readers “not to curse mom” in their comments, because it is a “very bad habit” and has forced several celebrity bloggers to shut down their sites.

As many celebrities in China, including movie stars, popular writers and TV hosts, Mr. Pan keeps a blog on While having received over 31 million hits, his blog also has seen flood of hostile comments.

He blamed poor education for such verbal abuses, in that those who curse on other people’s blog perhaps did not learn good language manner when they were young. Media also contribute to such “language violence,” Mr. Pan added, referring to media in the Cultural Revolution, which was full of harsh languages and influenced people growing up in that era. These people, however, may only hurl invectives on the Internet, and may be nice in real life, he told Shanghai-based

One of his celebrity friends, song writer Gao Xiaosong, abruptly shut down his blog after some diligent posting for a while. Mr. Gao later told Mr. Pan that some people came to his blog to assail him everyday and involved his mother, which made the lady feel very sad. “For his mother, he shut down his own blog,” Mr. Pan wrote.

Mr. Gao’s blog, apparently opened in June on, still holds the space, but no posts any more. However, some of the hostile comments, posted in August and September, are still there. Among them are cruel personal attacks, such as comparing him to a pig.

Bai Ye, a literature critic, is said to be the first famous figure to shut down his blog. He was overwhelmed by a storm of diatribe on his blog after he posted an entry criticizing new generation writer Han Han, who also keeps a popular blog on Han Han’s fans posted many unbearable comments, including dirty words, attacking Mr. Bai.

To keep his site clean, Mr. Pan said he assigned a secretary to delete promptly such invectives every day, “not only those personal attacks, but also any comment cursing any party, any god, and mother.”

Still, Mr. Pan said that he would not give up blogging, because blog is his “spiritual home.”

----by Josie Liu