TalkLeft: The joys of Shanghai

A lengthy post over at TalkLeft raves about Shanghai’s modern conveniences and China’s great customer service (“China may be the most service-people friendly country we’ve ever been in”). It even lauds the fact that many Shanghai building are half-empty, which it sees as a brilliant example of long-term planning, the city planners knowing that Shanghai will “grow into” those buildings in the future. (I’ve read other opinions that this is an example of how ridiculously overbuilt the Shanghai area is — especially Pudong — but I honestly don’t know.)

If you’re interested in Shanghai, you’ll want to read this rather breathless post.


Reminder; I am not in Asia anymore

Just to avoid confusion: I am back in Arizona, where I own a house and two cats and have my family. I am only posting this because the map and graphic above indicate I’m still in Asia, which I’m not, and this has caused some confusion. Just last week, a Singapore talent agency that came upon this blog emailed to ask if I’d consider being a model in some advertisements. Very flattering, but not practical, as it would take me 22 hours to get to work, each way. Also, some new readers weren’t aware I’d left Asia. As soon as I get some income, I’ll change the graphics. (But not the blog name, I’ve decided; Peking Duck has become too much a part of my identity.)


How Beijing crushed a study group and destroyed three lives

This is a tale of intrigue, betrayal, courage and horror that started when a group of students in Beijing set up the the New Youth Study Group to debate political reform in China. They made a dreadful mistake, however, inviting a student to join them, not knowing he was a spy with the Gestapo Ministry of State Security. The story ended with three of them sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

If you don’t know the story, you have to take a look at this detailed and wrenching article. Among its observations:

Nearly 15 years after the Tiananmen Square massacre and 13 since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in the largest and perhaps most successful experiment in authoritarianism in the world. What happened to the New Youth Study Group offers a glimpse into the methods the party uses to maintain its monopoly on power and the difficult moral choices faced by those caught in its grip.

The fate of the study group also illustrates the thoroughness with which the party applies one of its most basic rules of survival: Consider any independent organization a potential threat and crush it.

The eight members of the New Youth Study Group never agreed on a political platform and had no real source of funds. They never set up branches in other cities or recruited any other members. They never even managed to hold another meeting with full attendance; someone was always too busy.

And yet they attracted the attention of China’s two main security ministries. Reports about their activities reached officials at the highest levels of the party, including Luo Gan, the Politburo member responsible for internal security. Even the president then, Jiang Zemin, referred to the investigation as one of the most important in the nation, according to people who have seen an internal memo summarizing the comments of senior officials about the case.

The leadership’s interest in such a ragtag group reflects a deep insecurity about its grip on power. The party has delivered two decades of rapid growth, defying those who believe economic reform must lead to political liberalization. But it is struggling to manage rising social tension and popular discontent and remains especially wary of student activism, which sparked the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Five months ago, their appeal was rejected and they languish in prison today. The story of how they were betrayed and arrested is gripping and disturbing, as are the musings of their betrayer, whose nonchalance about the whole thing is terrifying. I hope it’s at least of some consolation to them, as they serve their 8- and 10-year jail terms, to know that things are getting better, and the country’s reforming.


Juan Cole, best blog on Iraq hands down

His latest post had me so apoplectic with rage at the neocons, I didn’t know what to do. It’s good to know there’s a blog we can go to that’s run by a true scholar on Mideast affairs, one who can see through the Bush smokescreens and tell it like it really is. Absolutely required reading, every day.

Oh, and Billmon’s post on Juan’s post is pretty upsetting as well.


Two HIV carriers marry in China

First such marriage in Jilin Province.

Thursday, April 22, 2004, marked an unusual day in the life of 36-year-old Chen Yan, an HIV carrier in northeast China’s Jilin Province.

On this day, Chen married Ding Guifang, 39, who is also an HIV carrier, and they became the first registered HIV carrier couple in this northeastern province.

With festive firecrackers, passionate applause and blessings from relatives and friends, the wedding ceremony for Chen and Ding was no different with any other ceremony in terms of the rituals.

But, Chen said, the wedding ceremony was a dream of the couple that had come true

They were infected with AIDS thanks to China’s infamous blood-for-money program. It’s good news to see HIVers in China treated as human beings and not as lepers.

Related post: The indescribable tragedy of AIDS in China


Why US companies are moving things to China, India, etc.

Thomas Friedman is at his best today, writing about why US firms are opening plants in Asia — and cheap labor isn’t the main answer.

I was just out in Silicon Valley, checking in with high-tech entrepreneurs about the state of their business. I wouldn’t say they were universally gloomy, but I did detect something I hadn’t detected before: a real undertow of concern that America is losing its competitive edge vis-à-vis China, India, Japan and other Asian tigers, and that the Bush team is deaf, dumb and blind to this situation.

Several executives explained to me that they were opening new plants in Asia — not because of cheaper labor. Labor is a small component now in an automated high-tech manufacturing plant. It is because governments in these countries are so eager for employment and the transfer of technology to their young populations that they are offering huge tax holidays for U.S. manufacturers who will set up shop. Because most of these countries also offer some form of national health insurance, U.S. companies shed that huge open liability as well.

Other executives complained bitterly that the Department of Homeland Security is making it so hard for legitimate foreigners to get visas to study or work in America that many have given up the age-old dream of coming here. Instead, they are studying in England and other Western European nations, and even China. This is leading to a twofold disaster.

In a nutshell, this is the two-fold disaster: 1.) Without the foreign students, we lose the ability to export American ideas and relationships around the world, and 2.) we lose out on the innovativeness that many foreign students bring to the US.

America’s incomprehensible visa policy is perhaps our most misguided reaction to 911, and I think one day we’ll see it as an absurd example of government going too far.

This article is rich in ideas and observations. As Instapundit would say, “Read the whole thing.”

Related post on US visa policy.


Cultural Revolution mentality — in America?

Excellent post over at Zona Europa cites Harrison Salisbury’s description of the Chinese mindset during the Cultural Revolution. Zona sees ominous parallels with the mindset of many Americans today, particularly our befuddled president. Thought provoking and worth checking.


Welcome home, boys


Oh, and the woman who allowed the photos to be taken has been fired. “And just for good measure, they fired her husband too.”

Update: I liked Hesiod’s comment on the woman’s firing:

Of course, if she had sent a photo of a child wounded by terrorist attacks in Basrah to the paper, she’d have been nominated for a Pulitzer prize and given a medal.

You can see all the photos — all 350 of them — here.


13 babies die from counterfeit milk powder in China

Another shocker, and I can’t say it better than Conrad does in his own post. Don’t know where he got the story from, but it’s dreadful and I don’t doubt it. (You can’t make this stuff up.) [UPDATE: Here’s a news source.]

In Conrad’s words:

Producers of counterfeit milk powder are responsible for the death, by starvation, of at least 13 infants in China’s Anhui province:

An investigation showed 171 babies, mostly between three and five months old, suffered from malnutrition after being fed the powder in rural areas around the Anhui city of Fuyang, the Beijing Youth Daily said.

“For babies, drinking such fake milk powder is no different from drinking water,” the official People’s Daily newspaper quoted Zhang Fangjun, an expert with the local hospital, as saying on its Web site at

Fake fucking baby milk . . . whenever I conclude that nothing that happens on the mainland can ever again shock me, something happens on the mainland that accomplishes the feat.

I try to get into the minds of the people who came up with this idea and what they thought as they spent the money it earned them. But I can’t. Just as I can’t get into the minds of the bastards Conrad referred to in an earlier post that’s just as ghastly.


21 dead in China chemical leaks this week

Ho-hum, just another week in the China labor scene.

AT least 21 people have died from a spate of chemical leaks over the past week in China, largely due to lax safety procedures and outdated equipment, state media said today.

In response, a government circular has been issued demanding immediate inspections of production, storage, trade, transport, usage and disposal of all dangerous chemical products, Xinhua news agency said.

The notice was posted by the Office of the Committee for Safety in Production as yet another fire and explosion at a chemical plant was reported.

Local officials in Ningbo city, in eastern Zhejiang province, said fire fighters were battling a blaze at a plant this morning.

But no need for concern. Things are improving.

Seriously, labour conditions in China are improving, although considering where they’ve been the past 100 years, that says very little. With its ascension to the WTO and its aspirations to play a leading role in global trade, China needs to make a demonstrable effort to make things better for its workers. This kind of negligence provides powerful grist for the “stop the outsourcing” mill, and China would be wise not to leave itself so vulnerable to attack from those who say “Made in China” means made with wretchedly unsafe labor conditions.