Quote of the day

From Water, writing on what he calls the “darkly unsurprising” revelations that bird flu may have been spawned a year ago in China, only to be covered up our friends in the government:

“There were some in the West who took Hu Jintao seriously when he said that China was going to be more open and honest after covering up SARS last year. Catch a clue: single-party states have no incentive to be open or honest.”


Move along, there’s nothing to see here….


China yesterday moved to calm public concerns about the outbreak of bird flu in the country’s south as officials began a mass culling of poultry in two other provinces where the deadly H5N1 virus is suspected to have struck.

State media did not confirm the suspected outbreaks in the central Hubei and neighbouring Hunan provinces during its 7pm bulletin last night, though an AFP report quoted local officials confirming the death of poultry there was caused by bird flu.

When contacted, World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman Roy Wadia said he had not received any word of confirmation from the Chinese officials.


Moving to prevent a repeat of the panic over Sars last year, the Chinese authorities yesterday trotted out several health experts on state media to assure the public that bird flu could be prevented and they had only a ‘very slim’ chance of being infected.

‘Based on the current situation, we believe it is an outbreak among poultry, so people should not get panicky about this virus,’ viral expert Zhou Jiao was quoted on saying on state television.

Nothing to worry about. There are no SARS cases in Beijing….


Not again! China accused of covering up lethal bird flu

Some things apparently never change, even though I’ve read countless articles and posts about how China has learned and grown and matured following its war on truth during the SARS debacle not even one year ago.

Today in the Straits Times we read how China is again accused of covering up a deadly and highly contagious disease. I can hear Barbra Streisand in the background: “Memories….”

China was on Thursday facing allegations that it was the source of the Asia-wide bird flu outbreak as the World Health Organisation asked for an explanation of the deaths of two Hong Kong tourists a year ago.

The respected British weekly New Scientist said it believed the outbreak began in southern China in early 2003 after a poultry vaccination scheme went wrong and that it had since been covered up.

The report has put the spotlight back on the two dead tourists who visited southern China in February last year. The WHO has asked the Chinese government for more information as part of efforts to establish the history of the bird flu outbreak which has been detected in 10 Asian nations.

‘It’s definitely worth getting a final conclusion on the case,’ Beijing-based WHO spokesman Roy Wadia said on Thursday.

An eight-year-old Hong Kong girl fell ill and died in south-east China’s Fujian province in February last year while visiting her family.

Her father died 12 days later after returning to Hong Kong, and post-mortem specimens showed he had come down with the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus which has claimed 10 lives in Vietnam and Thailand.

The WHO last week asked the Chinese health authorities for more details about this case, although it has warned about making any premature link between the two deaths and the current bird flu outbreak.

‘There could have been several emerging sources,’ said Mr Wadia, adding that so far the UN health body had received no response.

The New Scientist, quoting unidentified health experts, said the outtbreak ‘probably’ began in China.

‘A combination of official cover-up and questionable farming practices allowed it to turn into the epidemic now under way,’ said the magazine.

The funny thing is that I have planned to take a week’s vacation in Vietnam in March, just as a year ago I planned to take a trip through Yunnan. SARS ruined all those plans, and I literally fled the country from Guilin as transportation was being shut down. Is the same thing going to happen again, this time with bird flu? I want to think not, of course, but the similarities are amazing.

Update: This is the complete New Scientist money quote: “After strenuous denials, Indonesia has admitted the H5N1 virus has been spreading there since August. Thailand admits it had it in November. China says the disease was first detected this week. In fact, the outbreak began as early as the first half of 2003, probably in China,” New Scientist says in its latest print edition. “A combination of official cover-up and questionable farming practices allowed it to turn into the epidemic now under way.”


Taiwan whale explosion — grossest story so far this year?

This story is almost too disgusting to visualize. But if you really try, you can almost feel yourself on the street getting splattered with rotting sperm whale innards, blood and slime:

A dead sperm whale being transported through Tainan City on its way to a research station suddenly exploded yesterday, splattering cars and shops with blood and guts.

Certified by authorities as the largest beached whale on record in Taiwan, the 17-meter 50-ton carcass was being transported by a flat-bed trailer-truck to a special research location after National Cheng Kung University officials and security guards refused to allow the whale on campus.


Local news reports showed a number of people who had gathered to take photographs of the whale before it exploded in Tainan City, as well as residents and shop owners following the explosion. Many were wearing gauze-masks and trying to clean up the spilled blood and the entrails with brushes and brooms.

“What a stinking mess! This blood and other stuff that blew out on the road is disgusting, and the smell is really awful,” said one resident.

The news also showed one section of the street along with several parked automobiles and pedestrian walkways covered in red with copious amounts of splattered whale blood.

Lying on the trailer-truck was the dead whale – underbelly exposed with a large elongated tear where the biological gaseous blowout took place. Besides the shocking red bloody mess, large piles of whale intestines and guts were strewn along the road, leaving an unpleasant and ghastly scene for startled residents.

God, that really is gross.

UPDATE: Photos available here. (Thanks to Mr. Brown for pointing me to the photo.)


Comments closed

With nearly 50 comments going every which way, I’m closing off new comments to the aggregator post. There’s a new piece up at LIC, and that might be a good place for us to express our views on what we believe LIC should be. Thanks,


Amnesty International: Microsoft supports The Great Firewall

In a new report, human rights group Amnesty International blames Microsoft and other tech companies for aiding and abetting the Chinese government when it comes to stifling freedom on the Internet. It’s the first time I’ve heard Microsoft’s name in this context, most previous reports focusing instead on Cisco.

Human rights group Amnesty International has attacked Microsoft and other computer giants for selling technology which allows Chinese authorities to control and monitor the internet, leading to a huge rise in the number of people detained for using the web.

While the Chinese authorities allow access to the web, the regime continues to censor sites that promote dissident views.

According to today’s report from Amnesty, 54 people are now detained or imprisoned in China for internet-related activities, a rise of 60% in just over a year.

The report hits out at companies such as Microsoft, the US software giant whose founder Bill Gates learned yesterday that he would receive an honorary knighthood for “services to enterprise”, for facilitating the monitoring and control of websites.

The report also singles out Cisco, Nortel Networks, Websense and Sun Microsystems, and chastises them for considering profits over the human rights implications of their censorship technology.


Is the burgeoning middle class of China just a big myth?

To find out, see the piece I wrote over at Living in China. Interesting, how gullible the world can be.

Update: From Stephen Frost of Asian Labour News: “I’ve linked to the original Chinese article on which the Straits Times article was based and two others in the same issue disucssing what the middle class is or isn’t. They’re all in Chinese. You can find my links at: http://www.asianlabour.org/archives/000682.html#more – scroll down to the second update for all three links.”

Up-update: Adam, too, has a post about this that differs markedly from my own. I comment about it in the comments here and at his site.


Resignation accepted, sort of

I finally heard back from my boss in HK after sending my resignation letter over a week ago. They’ll let me go, but they want me to stay here until April, several more weeks than I’d planned. Being a good-hearted and generous person, I relented. But I gotta say, I cannot wait to get back to Arizona. It looks like Asia is stuck with me for another three months.

Saturday marked the one-month anniversary of my being imprisoned in this splint, leaving only two to three more weeks of hell.

I will hold a public celebration the day I can remove this contraption. I forget what it’s like to walk down the street and not have little kiddies pointing at me and giggling. (I swear, they never used to do that until I started wearing this splint.) Since my arm is always extended like I’m about to give the Nazi salute, people look at me as though I’m from another planet. Certainly the worst single month of my life to date.


Last chance

In case you missed my beautifully written and universally praised interview with a 1989 demonstrator in China, it is now up over at Living on the Planet.

In all seriousness, it’s probably the most interesting piece I’ve written about China to date (not that that says very much), and the answers the interviewee gave totally blew me away. In the two hours I spent interviewing him, I gained years’ worth of insights into the Chinese psyche and their view of the current government. While it was in line with what I heard from the people I knew when I lived there, I had never heard it said so forcefully before.


Seelai and Gweilo Diaries banned from the aggregator?

In a comment to a post several days ago, Ron of Seelai contended that he and Conrad have both been banned from the Living in China aggregator. He said he thought it was because they both put up pictures of scantily clad girls, and that a self-righteous blogger demanded they be dropped.

My immediate inclination (as you can see in the comments) was to reject this theory. After all, last week one Mainland blog linked to photos of male genitalia, and a few days before that another showed magazine covers featuring risque photos of men (and one woman) and these blogs weren’t banned. I thought it was a technical glitch, and that the aggregator simply skipped a couple of their posts.

But now BradF writes in my comments the following:

Disclaimer: I’m not an official spokesman for LiC

I checked the list of feeds that the aggregator er…aggregates, and both seelai and gweilodiaries have been removed. I don’t know the reason, and I don’t know who did it, but if it was intentional and for the suspected reason, it’s bad.
a) it sets a terrible precedent (slippery slope, etc)
b) it was rude to remove the feeds without notification
c) damages our (their?) credibility with the China blogger community

I hope to see this resolved in a day or two.

Apparently this has now been going on for at least a full week, so I don’t know why Brad is so optimistic that it’s going to be resolved “in a day or two.” It raises all sorts of interesting questions about the motivation behind the ban, what the criteria are for banning a blog from the aggregator, and especially why there has been no announced policy in this regard.

It kind of reminds me of that grim morning back in January 2003 when I turned my computer on and tried to open my blog (then powered by blogspot), only to see that it was inaccessible, without explanation. I want to think that the creative people who brought us a site as innovative and useful as Living in China would be above that sort of thing. Here’s their chance to show us that they are.

Update: I just remembered, this isn’t the first time Conrad’s vanished from the aggregator. Check my earlier post and comments. Just a case of bad luck that he’s shut out again…?

UPDATE: Whadaya know? All of a sudden Seelai’s latest post popped up on the aggregator after a lengthy banishment. So who’s the man behind the curtain pulling the levers? Braf F. explains deep within the comments that he reinstated Ron and Conrad.