China News - Winter 2004

Jiang Zemin steps down early from military commission

Hu Jintao, the Chinese president and Communist Party general secretary has taken on the third of the most senior government posts. Jiang Zemin had three more years of his term as chairman of the central military commission to run, but stepped down and handed over the position to Mr Hu. The change is considered conducive to upholding the fundamental principle of the Communist party's leadership over the military.

Political analysts believe that there will be no sudden changes, but there is high public expectation that the consolidation of power will allow the leadership to be bolder in pursuing greater social equality, gradual democratic reform and improved relations with Hong Kong.

Mr Hu and his prime minister, Wen Jiabao are associated with a policy of 'balanced development' aimed at centralising power to tackle the inequalities between the urban rich and the rural poor. They were praised for giving the media unprecedented freedom to expose cover-ups during the Sars crisis last year.

In addition, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, politicians and academics believe Mr Hu will take a less confrontational stance than his predecessor. Mr Jiang left a legacy; his concept of the 'Three Represents' which encouraged capitalists to join the Communist party was written into the constitution, alongside Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory. (From The Guardian, 20/9/04).

Wild Swans tops Real Read poll

Jung Chang's family saga book Wild Swans was selected more than any other non-fiction book by 5,000 Daily Telegraph readers. The survey was carried out by the newspaper in conjunction with the book chain, Ottakars. Readers were given a list of 100 titles to choose from, but, if they wanted to, they could select any others they preferred.

Wild Swans has sold more than two million copies since publication in 1991 and is believed to be Britain's fastest selling non-fiction book. It is a narrative of the lives of three generations of women living in China, the author, her mother and her grandmother and covers the periods in Chinese history from the warlord era and early republican times, World War II to the Mao era and beyond. Jung Chang together with her historian husband Jon Halliday is now working on a biography of Mao. (From The Daily Telegraph 15/5/05)

Last speaker of women-only language

Yang Huanyi was the last speaker of Nushu, probably the world's only female specific language. Chinese linguists say that her death ends a 400-year tradition in which women shared their innermost feelings with female friends through a set of codes that were incomprehensible to men. She was born in 1906 in Jiangyong county (Hunan province) where it is thought the language originated and where she learnt Nushu from seven sworn sisters. (From The Sunday Times (News Review), 3/10/04-via Xinhuanet news agency). N.B. See China in Focus Issue 13.

Dyslexia has a language barrier

New research by US and Chinese scientists show that readers of Chinese use a different part of their brain to readers of English. The study was led by Li Hai Tan and is reported in Nature. In English, each linguistically distinct sound maps to a single letter but in Chinese a single character maps to a whole syllable. In Putonghua, the national language of China, there are 1,800 syllables and each syllable can have several different meanings, represented by a distinct character.

Chinese learning creates specific demands on the areas of the brain used to remember visual patterns. English makes more use of areas used for distinct sounds. The ability to analyse syllables into sounds is the key problem in dyslexia. Dyslexics have difficulty segmenting the word 'that' into three separate sounds and therefore fare much worse in leaning English than Chinese. Dyslexia runs in families and there has been much research in trying to identify the genes responsible, but Chinese dyslexia may be caused by a different gene than English dyslexia. (From The Guardian 23/9/04)

Rapid urbanisation is diminishing China's agricultural ability.

Although 500 million people already live in towns and cities, this figure is expected to rise to 800 million by 2020. Farmland is giving way to cities. In addition food markets are changing because the prices of wheat and rice are capped by the government but the prices of fruit and vegetable are not. City people are prepared to pay high prices for fruits and vegetables and as a result, 13 million hectares of land (an area the size of England) have been converted from grain production to these more profitable crops.

The Nanjing Soil Science Institute has found that soils in fields converted to growing vegetables are becoming dramatically more acid; the pH falling from 6.3 to 5.4. In addition, nitrate and phosphate levels have risen substantially which could affect groundwater and drinking waters. There has also been a dramatic decline in soil bacteria and an epidemic of fungus. All these changes are stating to affect vegetable yields and quality. Western agronomists have suggested that these changes in soil chemistry are not caused by growing fruit and vegetable but by the application of too much fertiliser.

China and America grow a similar amount of crops, but the US uses only half the amount of fertiliser, according to Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in the US and an expert on Chinese agriculture. He has also pointed out that if these trends continue, it will affect China's ability to feed itself. (From, New Scientist, 18/9/04).

Revolution in farming practices

Large parts of China's rural economy are being rejuvenated by growing vegetables and fruit in orchards and greenhouses. Chinese broccoli is replacing Californian varieties in Tokyo and Chinese apples are replacing American produce in Singapore. Richard Herzfelder of the Shanghai based China Food and Agricultural Services Inc. consultancy firm states that Chinese farmers are learning fast and getting better very quickly. Many assumed that it would take China ten years from World Trade Organisation accession in 2001 to match the quality of US fruit, but the best farms are already able to do this. In the 1980s, the US was the world's biggest producer of apples, now China produces four times as many.

Much is riding on Chinese policy makers. Traditionalists believing in food security, want the focus of agricultural policy to remain on grain self-sufficiency. Others support free trade and the shift towards higher-value horticulture as a way to raise rural incomes. Advantages of the latter include, less use of scarce farmland and the use of more labour of which China has plenty. China now produces half the world's vegetables and melons-five times more than India and 11 times more than the US-compared to just over one third in 1995.

Other forces are propelling the shift to the free market. A law passed last year gives farmers secure rights to their tiny plots of land and many are sub-leasing their land before moving to the cities for higher earnings. The plots are combined together into sizeable holdings and in many areas, subsistence farming is being replaced by commercial farming. In addition, improved roads are allowing once-remote farms to produce perishable crops such as lettuce and strawberries that can be rushed to markets.

Concern about the loss in grain production due to increased horticulture, has been expressed by the US economist, Lester Brown in a paper called, China's shrinking grain harvest and in his book published in 1995, Who will feed China? The point is made that China, its own supply of grain being inadequate, will rely on American supplies causing food prices all over the world to begin to soar.

On the other hand, agronomist, Huang Jikun of the semi-official Chinese Academy of Sciences believes that China no longer needs to adhere to the traditional notions of 'food security' which requires a country to produce all the grain it needs. He holds the view that China and its farmers are better off specialising more in horticulture, fish and livestock and import grain to make up any shortfall. His personal view is that there is no serious grain-security problem even if China imports 10% of its grain. (From Far Eastern Economic Review 14/10/04)

Overweight Chinese

According to Xinhua since 1992, the proportion of adults who are overweight has risen by a third to 23%, totalling 200 million people and the number of clinically obese has nearly doubled to 60 million people. More than 160 million have high blood pressure and 20 million have diabetes. In addition other conditions linked to obesity are also rising in number. The reason is believed to be associated with a shift to more sedentary work in the past 20 years, abundant food supplies and a fatter diet. Fast food restaurants, convenience shops and western inspired junk food shops are ubiquitous.

Officials are drafting a nutrition guide with the help of the World Health Organisation. The Chinese deputy health minister has said, 'We will work hard to intensify public education, advocate a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle to improve people's awareness and capabilities of keeping personal health'. Older Chinese will remember the food shortages of the 1950s and 60s when as many as 30 million starved to death. (From The Guardian 14/10/04)

Chiang Kai-shek to be buried on Taiwan

The former leader of Nationalist China and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo are to be buried next spring in Wuchin mountain cemetery near Taipei in state funerals. The embalmed remains of the two men have rested in temporary marble mausoleums in Taoyuan, south Taipei waiting for the day when they could be buried on the Chinese mainland. Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975 aged 87. It had always been the dream of Chiang Kai-shek and his followers to retake the mainland from the Communists after their 1949 defeat.

The internment of the Chiangs could be seen as an acknowledgement of their ultimate defeat and the end of the hope of ever retaking the mainland. Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who died last autumn, aged 105 rests in a private room in Westchester, New York, also awaiting the day when she could be buried on the mainland. (From The Sunday Times 26/9/04)

China's police to do duties in Haiti

Later this month, China will carry out its first UN peacekeeping mission. A group of 125 Chinese police officers will arrive in Haiti. Curiously, Haiti has no diplomatic relations with this country. In fact Haiti has relations with Taiwan. China has long resisted participation in peacekeeping missions because of its policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other nations. The police officers were carefully chosen and had to be college graduates with at least three years' police experience and good English skills. They were have been instructed in international norms of peacekeeping, maintaining order, diplomatic protocols and human rights. (From Far Eastern Economic Review, 14/10/04)

Big money in modern China

The upwardly mobile rich are figures for Chinese to emulate. Professor Wang Jun of Guangzhou University says, 'Before we had a market economy, people used to glorify politicians-at least we have some diversity now.' Forbes magazine has expanded its annual list of China's richest from 100 to 400 this year and the entry qualification has gone up from $6 million, when the list first appeared, to $100 million.

A great property boom has produced a forest of apartment towers but pessimists see a bubble bursting within a few years that will undermine the country's growth. The bedrock of the economy appears to be manufacturing, but services from dental care to insurance are moving ahead fast. Businesses include information technology, car parts, animal feed, TV and publishing.

Top of the wealth rankings was 33 years old, Ding Lei, worth $1 billion, who runs an internet service provider called NetEase. Second was Larry Rong Zhijian, 61 whose roots are pre 1949 and who heads the Citic Pacific Group, dealing in infrastructures, property and airlines. Worth $934 million, his homes include Harold Macmillan's former Sussex estate. One Chinese bank believes 2.3 million people had individual or family assets of more than half a million yuan (£34,000). This is considered a fortune in China where the average annual earnings last year was 2,622 yuan (£177) and 29 million people live on less than £50 per year. From The Sunday Times, 17/10/04).

Chinese contracts in East Yorkshire

Springdale Crop Synergies of Rudston, near Driffield celebrated news of the Chinese contracts it had won at the Driffield Show. The company has 600 acres with a workforce of 30, and has a further 10,000 acres under contract. Mr Clifford Spencer of Springdale had earlier addressed the benefits of growing non-food crops to the United Nations in New York. His company is at the centre of a green revolution to grow non-food crops that can replace mineral oils, be used to make bio-diesel, textiles and other materials.

A number of companies in China have placed orders for Springdale's crops including seeds for borage and hemp. The business will be worth several millions of pounds over the next three to five years. Springdale's customers are market leaders in China and also some of the biggest agricultural operators in Asia. (From East Riding Mail, 21/7/04).

Governor of Zhejiang visits East Yorkshire

Regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward organised a visit by Mr Lu Zushan, governor of Zhejiang province so he could see for himself what East Yorkshire has to offer Chinese business. He visited Hull's port and the Chinese Products Distribution Centre run by Seabright Trading in east Hull. The visit was considered a success as Mr Lu was impressed and delighted by what he saw and more co-operation, jobs and trade can be expected from Zhejiang. The Chinese coastal province has a population of 46 million and is known for its agriculture and forestry. Its coastal waters are capable of accommodating deep water ports. (From East Riding Mail 20/7/04).

Celebrating the Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship (CPAFFC) with Foreign Countries 50th Anniversary

This was attended by 400 delegates from 90 friendship associations from 40 different countries together with representatives of the Chinese government and municipal, provincial and regional Chinese friendship associations. The foreign delegates included five from the Scotland-China Association led by the Chairman, Mrs Janice Dickson.

The main celebration took place in Beijing on the 20 May 2004 at the Great Hall of the People where they were addressed by the CPAFFC President Chen Haosu and for 10 minutes, by the President of China, Hu Jintao himself. Mr Hu extended his warm congratulations on the convening of the meeting and spoke highly of the contributions the CPAFFC has made to China's people-to-people diplomacy since its founding, in opening up broad channels for friendly exchanges and in promoting friendship and cultural and economic co-operation throughout the world.

The President thanked the more than 550 friendship associations from over 130 countries who have shown great sympathy for the Chinese peoples cause of revolution and construction and for China's reform and opening up. He reviewed the work of the CPAFFC over the last 50 years and stressed the importance of non-governmental diplomacy.

Other speakers included the former president of Finland-one of the first Western countries to recognise the Peoples Republic of China and Bob Hawke, the former prime minister of Australia. The conference was also attended by other senior Chinese government leaders, including vice chairmen of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Committee.

The aims of the CPAFFC are to enhance peoples friendship, promote international cooperation, safeguard world peace and promote common development. (From Sine, the publication of the Scotland-China Association, Issue 3; October 2004).

Shanghai's mayor inspired by Ken

Shanghai is considering the adoption of traffic congestion charges similar to London. Mr Han Zhen, Shanghai's mayor visited Ken Livingstone last year and was impressed by the anti-congestion plan in London. Shanghai has 1.4 million cars and despite the construction of new roads, congestion remains a problem and in addition there is traffic fumes pollution. Although Shanghai has no plans at the moment to introduce a congestion charge, it could be a possibility for the future.

Mr Han wants car ownership to expand because it boosts the economy and his goal is to make Shanghai one of the world's great trading and financial centres by 2020. He believes that Shanghai must learn from the success stories of other international cities whilst retaining its own identity. Mr Han became mayor last year and is the city's youngest leader since 1949. (From The Guardian 12/11/04).

China to move some currency reserves away from the dollar?

The dollar fell to a new low on rumours that China might shift some of its currency reserves away from the dollar. This followed China Business News quoting Yu Yongding, a central bank committee member and a respected professor of economics, as saying that China had cut its holdings of US government debt. Professor Yu said that he had merely quoted to students in Shanghai, data from the Federal Reserve supplied to him at a foreign investment bank. However this did not stem the dollar fall.

The dollar started the week at $1.3059 and has declined in every trading day as traders were concerned that Asian investors might become more reluctant to fund the US current account deficit. Indonesia was reported as possibly reducing dollar assets if the dollar fell further and Russia might increase the proportion of its reserves held in euros. China and Japan have an incentive to retain their US assets, because doing so holds down their own currencies and maintains exports. However experts say this is not sustainable in the long term. (From The Financial Times 27/28 November 2004).

From the Chinese press

Chinese Lady Dai leaves Egyptian mummies for dead

In 1971, workers digging an air raid shelter near Changsha found an enormous Han Dynasty tomb containing over 1,000 perfectly preserved artefacts including what some claim is the most perfectly preserved corpse ever found. The tomb belonged to Xin Zhui, the wife of the ruler of the Han imperial fiefdom of Dai. Xin Zhui, the Lady of Dai, died between 178 and 145 BC, aged about 50 years.

According to some scientists, what the ancient Chinese were able to achieved in body preservation leaves the Egyptians in their dust Her body housed in the state of the art Hunan Museum, attracts flocks of visitors every day. The archaeology documentary film, 'Diva Mummy' featuring Lady Dai and two other equally preserved Han bodies were shown on the US National Geographic Channel on September 6, 2004, the first in the 'Most amazing discovery' series.

The body is so well preserved that it can be autopsied by pathologists as if it were only recently dead. The skin was supple, her limbs could be manipulated, the hair was intact, her type A blood still ran red in her veins and her internal organs were all in place. Clogged arteries were found and a massively damaged heart caused by obesity, lack of exercise and an over rich diet. The mystery of her state of preservation has not yet been solved. The tomb was elaborately constructed and the body was immersed in a 'strange' liquid.

Two other tombs containing bodies in a similar state of preservation have also been found within a few hundred miles of Xin Zhui. The three corpses have provided archaeologists with much information about not only their deaths but also their lives. (By Yu Chunhong in 25/8/04)

Shanghai to rein in property market

Shanghai will tighten control over land management and build more mid-priced flats to cool the property market says Shanghai party chief, Chen Liangyu. Three million square metres of land will be set aside each year to provide flats with an average price of 3,500 yuan per square metre considered affordable for salaried workers.

Mr Chen detailed the government's proposals to control the surging property prices to media executives. Luxury properties are believed cost up to 10,000 yuan per square metre but Mr Chen said that he did not see a bubble forming. There are however two points of view. Some figures say that property prices are now 14.2 times the average household income and that speculation accounts for more than 40% of property transactions although Mr Chen's figures are somewhat different. Another side of the picture is that the gap between demand and supply is narrowing and that the total area of unused flats is also decreasing.

However Mr Chen stressed the need to tackle rising prices because if negative equity occurred, people would be bankrupt and the whole city would be affected. In addition to setting aside land every year for affordable flats, speculators will be prohibited from transferring unfinished flats and also the mortgage percentage will be lowered (requiring a higher deposit) for those who buy a second flat.

In the first nine months of this year, property prices were up by 7.7% from the same period last year. This growth is slower than the 19.2% surge last year over 2002. The property market is tricky and Mr Chen said that the party would do its best to resolve any danger, but it is treading on thin ice. (From South China Morning Post 8/11/04)

Blueprint unveiled for a better Beijing

Municipal authorities have released a blueprint to transform Beijing into a modern and international metropolis by 2020. The objectives are for it to be a better place to live in and also to improve its competitiveness. The plan calls for the construction of eight main hubs, including a technology park in Haidian district, a nearby innovation and technology centre, a hi-tech development centre in Yizhuang and a modern manufacturing base in Shunyi.

To house the anticipated 18 million people, eleven satellite towns are planned, including plans for areas such as Tongzhou, Shunyi and Yizhuang. By 2020, the population is expected to be 18 million, but the infrastructure will be capable of supporting 20 million. The plan predicts that the city will then have 55% green area-40-45 square metres of green space per person. An estimated 5 million vehicles will be on the streets and half of all journeys will be made on public transport. Drainage of main roads and other areas will be improved to prevent flash flooding which occurs in heavy rain.

Protection of the already well-preserved areas of vegetation will be increased and certain activities limited or banned. The demolition of historic building will be restricted to enable them to become tourist attractions. A model to show how the city will appear in 2020 on display in Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall forms part of the blueprint. Public suggestions about the blueprint will be submitted to the State Council at the end of the year. (From South China Morning Post 8/11/04)

Beijing's language environment facing big challenges

As soon as the Athens Games were over, the focus shifted to Beijing, the site of the 2008 games. There is a buzz about the place as the city, discusses, plans and contemplates the work to be done. Not a day is being wasted. Old landmarks are being refurbished and sports stadia and accommodation venues are shooting up and the traffic gridlock is under a microscope.

However beneath the construction work noise, Beijingers are coming out in droves to learn English. In addition to help visitors even further, the signpost language around the city is to be standardised.

A good example of road labelling confusion in China is in Shanghai where some maps label a road in the city centre as 'Xizang Zhonglu', whilst actual road signs, say 'Central Tibet Road but the overhead billboard reads, 'Central Xi Zang Road'. (All three do say the same but they are in fact a mixture of translation into English and Pinyin-the Romanised form of Mandarin). In addition to language mixtures, there are in Beijing, abbreviations of English words, e.g. 'road/Rd' and street/St and avenue/Av.

The Organising Committee Office of Beijing Speaks to the World Programme are advocating a new standard for road signs and information signs in English using Pinyin for proper names such as 'Wangfujing' and abbreviated English for general terms such as Avenue/Ave.

As part of the huge facelift programme, Beijing, the host of the 29th Olympiad, is promoting the learning of foreign languages. 'Bilingual' is the buzzword and everything from road signs, public notices, menus and descriptions at scenic spots will be updated. By 2007, it is anticipated that taxi drivers, waiters and other professionals in the service industries will be capable of 100 sentences of every day phrases in at least one foreign language. (From Beijing Review 9/9/04)

Chinese supercomputers

China is on course to become one of the world's top makers and users of super computers with systems geared for the growing home and international market. The number of its high performance systems in the ranking of the 500 fastest supercomputers has nearly doubled (from nine to 17 within a year) in the latest ranking and China could soon challenge Japan and the USA. Super computers are used for complex tasks such as meteorological modelling, human-genome mapping and nuclear blast simulation. Japan has 30 in the list, Hong Kong has one and Taiwan two. There are only 87 in the whole of Asia and 127 in Europe.

David Keyes, professor of applied mathematics at Columbia University, says, 'As China develops domestic expertise in supercomputing, the country will excel in many areas, including engineering, science, technology, entertainment, health care, defence and resource management If China becomes an exporter of supercomputers, there will be pressure on US and Japanese firms since the world market for supercomputers is not yet large.' (From South China Morning Post 15/11/04)

End of the 'bicycle kingdom' of China?

China's image as the world's 'bicycle kingdom' is nearing the end as an emerging middle class increasingly favours the car. Beijing cancelled the bicycle registration requirements this month and this is expected to occur nation-wide. Despite this there were, last year 78 million bikes produced in China during 2003, a third of the world's total. In 2002 every 100 households had 143 bikes.

In Beijing four million bikes compete with two million cars. An environmental group claims that the government often discourages bike riding, and encourages private cars and public transport. The car is viewed as a pillar of the economy. Beijing once had some of the nicest and safest bike lanes in the world but increasingly they were transformed into car lanes or parking areas. Protests over this take-over of the bike lanes largely resulted in the cancellation of the four yuan annual bike tax. Tax collectors used to stop cyclists and make them pay the tax, but too many people refused to pay because more and more cars were using the bike lanes. Rescinding bike registration and tax will now give the government a freer hand over traffic regulations and cyclists. (From South China Morning Post 11/11/04)

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

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