China News - Spring 2004

Mao's Lost Daughter?

Richard Spencer's article in the Daily Telegraph on 1 November 2004 relates the story of Xiong Huashi, who some believe to be a long-lost daughter of Chairman Mao and his third wife He Zizhen. During the Long March Mao's wife gave birth twice but the arduous journey forced her to leave her children with peasants for safekeeping. After Mao came to power, even he could not trace them. Xiong Huashi, now aged 68 grew up in abject poverty in Suitian village, Yunnan province, believing she was the second child in a Miao ethnic minority family. Last year, it emerged that she was actually adopted at the same time that the Communist army was marching through the village.

A local Communist Party official, Tao Yunxian who has researched the history of the Long March in the area since the 1980s, is reported to be 70 to 80% certain that Mrs Xiong is Mao's daughter. Apparently a Communist party investigation team in the 1950s had pinpointed the villages around Shuitian as a place where He Zichen could have given birth and established that the baby had been given to a Miao family. A villager told Tao Yunxian that Mrs Xiong's family sometimes nicknamed her 'Maomei.'

The villagers never connected this to Chairman Mao; it was too fantastic for lowly peasants to contemplate. Xiong Huashi's adoptive father died when she was nine years old and her mother moved away and remarried. Xiong later returned to the area, but not the same village, and became the second wife of a farmer when she was 12 years old.

The researcher, Mr Tao approached the family with his findings and Xiong's elderly uncle confirmed that she had been adopted and the decision not to tell her had been made for her own protection. Mrs Xiong's children say she is excited, although confused at the possibility of her being Mao's daughter. She herself has said that 'Anyone would like to know the truth about where they come from'. She would like to take a DNA test to compare it with that of Li Min, Mao and He Zizhen's only surviving child, born in 1937. Unfortunately, Kong Shujing, Li Min's sister-in-law told The Daily Telegraph that Li Min had no interest and would not want to discuss the matter. She said, 'Other people have claimed to be the children before.'

Note; Mao was married four times. His parents in his home village selected his first bride but the marriage was never consummated. Mao's second wife, Yang Kaihui, whom, he called, in a poem, 'his proud poplar' and who was the mother of three sons, was executed by Nationalist troops in 1930. Mao married his fourth wife, Jiang Qing, (leader of the 'Gang of Four' in the 1970s) in 1938 when He Zizhen was in Russia receiving medical treatment for shrapnel wounds and for what was diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Later, Mao set He Zichen up in a comfortable house in Shanghai, but she never recovered. In the summer of 1961, according to Dr Zhisui Li, Mao's personal doctor, Mao arranged for He Zichen to visit him at Lushan. Dr Li reported, 'Mao was good to her, as gentle and kind as I had ever seen him' and after she had gone, Mao chain-smoked in silence for a long time. Dr Li sensed in Mao, 'a great sorrow over He Zizhen.'

B & Q it and DIY in China

In the past five years, home ownership has progressed from zero to about 75% in some Chinese big cities. 'Buying homes and decorating them is what most middle-class people now do at the weekend', said Zhang Xin, a Cambridge educated developer who has been involved with high-profile luxury housing.

The property boom in Beijing was kick-started in 1998 when the government reduced the minimum down payment on a property from 50% to 20%. Hundreds of modern high-rise blocks have sprung up with state of the art kitchens and central heating. State employers are reported to be selling communal apartments to tenants at below market value and the city government has publicised plans to quadruple resident's living space from 5 sqm to 20 sqm.

Rapidly expanding, B & Q has 14 stores at present in China. The Beijing store, on the western fourth ring road, is twice the size of the largest B & Q store in the UK and is referred to by locals as the 'aircraft carrier shop'. It has a car park, which 'rivals Tiananmen Square' in size. The good are similar to what is on sale in the UK, but at a fraction of the price-carpets start at 50 pence each. B & Q faces stiff competition from Ikea and from Chinese companies. (From The Times 22/10/03.)

Note; It was mentioned in a previous report on B & Q in China in The Sunday Times (3/11/02), that the amount of 'shrinkage' in Chinese B & Q stores is 0.2% compared with 2.0% in Britain. Stealing is greeted with public humiliation in China.

Chinese Language Classes

The first textbook for British children to study GCSE Chinese was published yesterday reported The Tines on 7 October 2003. Apparently government ministers want increased numbers of children taking the subject to take advantage of China's increasing economy. At the present rate of growth it is likely to overtake Japan and become the second largest in the world within 30 years.

Chinese studying in Britain

There are dozens of overseas study agents in Beijing placing Chinese students in Britain charging £1,000 a head. Britain is now the top destination having overtaken America, the previous favourite and also Germany, where higher education is virtually free. One reason for the increase over America is believed to be the tightening of the issue of visas to America after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The growth is expected to continue or even accelerate even though studying at British boarding schools is not cheap. Mrs Shang, of a Beijing overseas study agency, says, ' Every family has only one child and the resources of the whole family are focussed on the child.'

The British Council estimates that a year's study in Britain, in addition to the agency fee, is £12,000 per year-half for tuition and half for living costs. This is said to be 18 times the average urban Chinese salary and 60 times an average Chinese rural wage. It was mentioned however, by a staff member of the Beijing Golden Orient International and Cultural Exchange Centre, 'that one of the most attractive points for studying in the UK, is that it takes less time than other countries. A master's degree takes one year. When the time is shorter, the expenses are smaller.'

A 29 year old, planning to take a media and communications course in the UK that will cost her £18,000 says that although it is not a small amount of money, she can afford it and it is difficult to find a good job without special qualifications. Travelling to Britain has become easier for many Chinese since visas are issued to almost anyone deemed a genuine student. According to the British Council, the vast majority return home at the end of the course. As holders of foreign university degrees, they often have better opportunities at home, where the economy is doubling very six years. A 26 years old returned graduate from Britain, working in as highly paid consultant in a Beijing advertising agency says, 'Due to cultural differences and language barriers, I couldn't understand the people as well as I understand my countrymen. I couldn't see why they laugh at a joke that seems boring to me.'

New pupils from mainland China at independent schools have increased from 464 in 2001 to 965 in 2003. During the same period the number of Chinese university students from mainland China in Britain, has increased from 10,390 in 2001 to 32,000 in 2003. (from The Times 17/2/04)

In a separate report in the same newspaper, the point is made that the rise in overseas boarding pupils has helped arrest a steep decline in British boarding school numbers from 126,000 in 1985 to fewer than 69,000 in 2002. Last year the total was over 70,000 and some schools could have had to close without overseas pupils. The principal of one girl's school was reported to have said, 'we would love more Chinese students because their success rate has been really high. Our GCSE results are now the highest in the area.'

Chinese Tourists help Eastern Economies

Chinese holidaymakers are filling flights to 90% and extra planes are needed to cope with the demand for travel to Japan, Bali and Hong Kong. Only one thousand Chinese tourists went to Thailand in 1991 but the figure this year may reach one million. Chinese are the main tourists to Malaysia (900,000) and to Vietnam (700,000). Countries around the world are applying to the Chinese authorities for their names to be added to the list of 28 approved destinations.

More than 24,000 Chinese are going to Australia during the Spring Festival whilst others are going to Cuba, Chile, Brazil and Kenya. Chinese outward tourism is growing by 20 to 30% per year and is expected to reach 20 million within the next few years. Last year 600,000 (see below*) Chinese tourists went to Germany; double this is expected within five years.

However the Chinese are being criticized because of their loudness and spitting and the Chinese government launched an official campaign last autumn to curb the 'unsocial and uncouth behaviour of Chinese abroad'. A notice appeared in The Beijing Evening News telling Chinese people not to spit and how to form an orderly queue together with other advice on behaviour. Opinion on whether this behaviour matters may vary because the Chinese tourists are big spenders-in Antwerp they were seen to buy up large amounts of diamonds. Outward tourism is set to significantly increase further as residents in 100 large and medium sized cities are being allowed to apply for passports.(From The Independent 24/1/04)

* The Far Eastern Economic Review (26/2/04) puts the figure for Chinese visiting Germany at a more realistic 160,000. It also reports that Chinese spending power, $1,200 per head, is almost twice that of other international tourists in Europe. It is believed that Chinese like to shop for family and friends when they travel.

Wen Jiabao rings opening bell of New York stock exchange

The Times on 9 December 2003 recorded the Chinese Prime Minister's visit to Wall Street the previous day. It was part of a flying visit to the USA where he was discussing, amongst other issues, China's growing trade surplus with the USA and its hold over the yuan's exchange rate with the dollar. Mr Wen, 61, has been Prime Minister since March 2003. He previously worked on agricultural and finance issues, trying to reduce the imbalance in wealth between the eastern seaboard and the inland west.

Mr Wen played a key role in negotiating China's entry into the World Trade Organisation. He has a reputation as a quiet man who prefers to reach decisions by mutual agreement rather than forcing through his personal agenda and as a straight talker who apparently does not care for sound bites. He was a geologist before entering the higher ranks of the Communist Party about 18 years ago.

4,500 year old city excavated in Shaanxi Province

The ancient city on a lone in the NE region of the Shiluoluo Mountains in Jiaxian County comprises a 3,000 sq metre inner city built on the top of a hill and a 60,000 sq metre outer city. Pottery and remains of residences and stone walls have been found and they are amongst the most intact of the ancient cities of the late Neolithic period that have been excavated in China. (from People's Daily 11/1/04)

China to launch three satellites in 2004

China is to launch three satellites in 2004, whilst starting a lunar landing programme and working on space docking and space walking. The space environment will be examined, and they include a meteorological satellite and a commercial communications satellite. Space projects will cost 2 billion Yuan ($243 million) and this does not include salaries. China is co-operating with Brazil on two resource satellites and in addition China is working with a number of Asian countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Korea and Thailand. (Source Xinhua 1/1/04)

Mainland eyes budget airlines

Budget airlines could be set for takeoff this year as the government continues to liberalise the domestic aviation market. The civil aviation regulator, the General Administration for Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) is looking favourably on the development of low-cost airlines for the domestic travel market. CAAC is believed to have completed studies last year which found that low-cost carriers would help spur the growth of domestic tourism and economic development in the less-developed inland provinces. It would also give consumers more travel choices.

The low-cost carriers would have multiple shareholders including private enterprises and state-owned ones. They will be encouraged to fly more and the regulatory restrictions would be loosened. It is believed there is especially room for low-cost carriers in the poorer western provinces. An aviation consultant in Beijing believed they could be launched much sooner than most people would believe.

Cathay Pacific Airways, the leading Hong Kong airline, revealed that it was looking at setting up a low-cost airline subsidiary as one way of responding to the recent emergence of a number of low-cost airlines across Asia. (from South China Morning Post, 13/1/04)

President Hu Jintao's New Year message

On Wednesday 31 December 2003, the Chinese President called for efforts to build a world of peace and prosperity and extended greetings to all Chinese people of all ethnic groups, including those in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and overseas Chinese as well as friends from all other countries.

He said that 2003 was an unusual one for the Chinese people who, under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of the 'Three Represents' worked hard, being of one mind and overcame numerous hardships and challenges, such as the SARS epidemic and natural disasters, like earthquakes, floods and drought. At the same time concerted efforts had been made to push forward the reform and opening up process, to coordinate the development of socialist material development, political civilization and spiritual civilization.

In 2004, he said, China would stick to the pursuit of comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development, continue to deepen reforms, open wider to the outside world and maintain steady, rapid, coordinated and healthy development of the national economy. He added, we shall improve our social undertakings in a comprehensive manner and continue making efforts to push forward the building of a well-off society in an all-round way and to open a new chapter for a socialist cause with Chinese characteristics.(from Xinhua 1/1/04)

A leader haunted by history?

Within 20 days of assuming power, Hu Jintao visited Xibaipo in Hebei province. This was where Mao Zedong stopped briefly on 23 March 1949 to reflect before proceeding to the Fragrant Hills to enter Beijing. Mao said, 'Today is the day I go to the capital to take the examination'. Mr Hu said on arrival at Xibaipo,'Today this examination continues'. His overwhelming sense of history dumbfounded the Politburo members who were summoned on 24 November 2003 to a 'collective study' session covering world history from the 15th century to the present day. This was the first time a crash course in history had been held for top leaders.

Two professors crammed 600 years of history into 90 minutes covering Portugal, Spain, Holland, Britain, France, Germany, Japan , the former Soviet Union and the USA. The lesson concluded that apart from the Soviet Union, the others are still strong capitalist countries. The question was asked, 'why time and time again, small counties became strong and then undefeatable, becoming an empire only then to deteriorate and collapse. Why, in history, can dominance be maintained for only a century and no more?'

What lessons are there for China? From a Chinese perspective, the rise and fall of great nations and empires is an inevitable cycle. Mr Hu's point was for Politburo members to better understand the causes of both, especially the falls. It would seem that Mr Hu's main concern was to warn against repeating Qing dynasty mistakes of being closed, proud and preoccupied with ceremonial authority whilst losing control over the regions.

The summary of the study departed from the usual history painted into Chinese textbooks that China became backward and behind the rest of the world, not in the 19th century, but actually as early as the 15th century, China was already out of touch and behind developments in other counties. Mr Hu warned other Politburo members 'History has taught us that opportunity is a rare treasure. In one second, it can disappear. In crucial times of historic development, by grasping opportunity, backward countries and nationalities may realise a transformation. But if you miss the opportunity, not only will you fail to progress, you may go backwards, or even fall along the wayside'. (from Laurence Brahm in South China Morning Post 5/1/04)

China short of 5,000 railway cars for holiday travel

China needs an additional 9,730 railway cars to carry all the passengers expected during this years' Spring Festival. About 4,500 extra cars are available, but there is a shortfall of 5,000 cars-according a source at the Ministry of Railways. China has more than 70,000 kilometres of railway lines and in normal times, 2.8 million seats are required every day. However during the annual 40 day long Spring Festival travel season, the daily passenger demand jumps to 3.5 to 4.3 million persons every day.

It is estimated that more than 5 million people, including university students, migrant workers and people on home leave will return to their hometowns form Beijing requiring 600 passenger trains. China's commercial railways accounts for merely 6% of the world's total, but carries 23% of the world's passengers. In 1993, China's railway system carried 20 million passengers during the Spring Festival, while the figure is expected to be 130 million this year. (fromXinhua 11/1/04)

Sino File is compiled by Walter Fung with some input for From the Chinese Press by Teresa Ray.

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