Do you work in a Chinese skyscraper?

I used to. And I wasn’t entirely surprised to read this scary report. A report from the government-run media, not foreign devils.

Nearly all of China’s fast-rising number of skyscrapers are filled with excessive air pollutants that could cause serious harm to office workers, state press said.

In the capital of Beijing, 81 percent of the buildings tested by the National Interior Decoration Association last year had excessive levels of ammonia, the China Daily reported.

Half of the buildings also contained unsafe levels of ozone and 42 percent were polluted with formaldehyde, all of which can cause severe health conditions such as asthma and Legionnaires’ disease, according to the paper.

In Shenzhen, the richest city in southern China, the local authority for disease prevention and control carried out similar tests last year and found more than 90 per cent of the offices had excessive air pollutants.

In Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, 89.8 percent of 572 new and remodelled offices contained high levels of air pollutants, with some having ammonia levels 18 times above safety standards, the paper said.

“If you scan every office building against the official indoor air quality standard, you can rarely find one that is fully qualified,” the paper quoted the decoration association’s director of indoor environment testing, Song Guangsheng, as saying.

Construction and decoration materials, furniture, electronic apparatuses and poor ventilation all contribute to the air pollution, according to Song.

The report indicated the situation for China’s growing number of office workers had not improved from 2003, when the government established indoor air quality standards.

Government statistics released then said as many as 111,000 people died of indoor pollution annually in China.

What do you have to do to survive China’s environment? Wear a space suit and carry Evian spring water with you everywhere you go?


China Fat Cat?


33 pounds with a 31-inch waist.


Imagine that

John Kamm, whom I’ve written about before, offers a statistic that is sadly all too believable.

Ninety-nine percent of people tried in China for “endangering state security” are found guilty, a prominent human rights activist said on Tuesday, calling on President Hu Jintao to release two detained journalists.

Such state security cases — many involving perceived threats to Communist rule, spying or the theft of murkily defined state secrets — have the highest conviction rate of any crime in China, said John Kamm, head of the U.S.-based Dui Hua Foundation.

Moreover, those found guilty get the longest sentences, with two-thirds of all such cases resulting in terms of five years or more, Kamm, the veteran China businessman-turned-campaigner, told Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

From the start of 1998 to the end of 2004, there were 4,500 people prosecuted for endangering state security, he said citing data from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

“The great majority were detained for non-violent expression of their political and religious beliefs,” Kamm said.

Citing several polls, Kamm noted that China’s image and popularity on the international stage had plummeted in the past year and he put it down to a steady flow of negative news reports out of China, blocking Web sites, arresting journalists, covering up environmental disasters and closing newspapers, among others.

“China’s deteriorating international image is impacting the country’s ability to achieve its foreign policy goals, and could well affect its ability to stage a successful Olympics in 2008,” he said.

Hu, who is scheduled to visit the United States in April, should take action soon if he wants to improve China’s image, Kamm said, calling on him to order the release of journalists Ching Cheong and Zhao Yan.

More of the same; we all know that those who “threaten state security” don’t stand a chance against the State. What is so wonderful is that Kamm is doing so much to make the world aware of their plight, and of just how stacked against them the deck is.

I saw Kamm on CNN today talking about the Yahoo-Google issue. The guy has an amazing ability to cut through the BS and get right to the heart of the matter, making a calm, rational argument with no sign of emotion – and yet what he says has an emotional impact. He’s definitely one of my heroes.


David Irving

It’s hard to think of anyone slimier and more undeserving of sympathy than this sonofabitch who has made a name for himself as a Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist. He first got famous from his book on the fire-bombing of Dresden (a major influence on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five), which almost certainly exaggerated the death toll of that tragedy. I’ve been following his story for many years, and I always felt he asked for and deserved all the troubles he received.

When I saw, however, that he was sentenced to three years in prison for breaking Austria’s laws prohibiting denial of the Holocaust, I had to wince. Whether he denied the Holocaust or not, that seems a trifle severe, and raises all sorts of free-speech questions. (Irving claims he only denied the scope of the Holocaust, but anyone who has followed him knows he’s made all sorts of claims obviously designed to exonerate Germany in general and Hitler in particular.) Is there a time when free speech is not a given (other than the fire-in-a-crowded-theater scenario)?

Right-wing British historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in prison Monday after admitting to an Austrian court that he denied the Holocaust — a crime in the country where Hitler was born.

Irving, who pleaded guilty and then insisted during his one-day trial that he now acknowledged the Nazis’ World War II slaughter of 6 million Jews, had faced up to 10 years behind bars. Before the verdict, Irving conceded he had erred in contending there were no gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz,” Irving testified, at one point expressing sorrow “for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War.”

Irving, stressing he only relied on primary sources, said he came across new information in the early 1990’s from top Nazi officials — including personal documents belonging to Adolf Eichmann — that led him to rethink certain previous assertions.

But despite his apparent epiphany, Irving, 67, maintained he had never questioned the Holocaust.

“I’ve never been a Holocaust denier and I get very angry when I’m called a Holocaust denier,” he said.

Well, when you say there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, it’s hardly surprising to find yourself called a holocaust denier. But that as may be….

Even though Austria’s and Germany’s laws on this issue seem discordant with the concept of democracy, you have to understand the traumatized post-WWII German psyche from which they originated. The laws may appear bizarre today, but when they were drafted they seemed all too understandable – painfully, totally understandable. Just like the banning of the swastika. It goes against freedom of expression, but drastic circumstances call for drastic measures. The catastrophe of the Nazi destruction of Germany called for total, ruthless expunging of all aspect of Nazi thought, symbology and expression.

So should David Irving go to jail for three years? I don’t really have an answer, just the question, and a nagging doubt, based on emotion, perhaps, that the sentence is too harsh. I can’t justify sending someone to jail for saying something. But on the other hand, knowing German history and having lived there for more than a year, I at least understand why it’s happening. Maybe sometimes our freedoms aren’t as black and white as we’d like to think.



Michael Turton takes on the blogger the whole world turns to for insights and translations. I love reading ESWN, but just like us lesser beings on the ground below, he has his prejudices. (I think I’m the only blogger I know of with no prejudices.) Great post, funny comments. If you’re into Taiwan politics, even better.


Headline of the day

If this doesn’t snare a Pulitzer, what will?

China seeks to promote a harmonious world

This “essay” reads like a journalism grad student’s homework, with all the jargony key words that make editors cringe: “sustainable development,” “strategic goals,” “paths of integration,” “tide of globalization” and so forth. An example of the clichee-ridden text:

The mission of China’s foreign diplomacy is to promote world peace and push forward collective development, while the aim of its diplomatic work is to proactively create a peaceful environment that will last for a long time so that the country’s modernization drive can go on advancing and join hands with other countries in building up a harmonious world with lasting peace and prosperity for all.

At the end, we’re told, “The author is a professor and deputy director of the Centre for International Strategic Studies of the Central Party School.” Only they never tell us who the author is. Which, for his sake, is probably a good thing.

And to my usual handful of commenters who insist that pointing out something dumb like this makes one a “China hater,” I want to assure you of something: If I ever see anything this embarrassing in the American press, I’ll blog it faster than you can say Hu Jintao. (It’s unlikely that’ll happen anytime soon, since any US editor who approved this sort of drivel would be out of a job fast.)


China’s Cultural Revolution Museum opens

I give China a lot of credit for opening itself up to this sort of examination.

The frightened figure in the picture is a Chinese opera star. His hair is grasped tightly in a Red Guard’s fist and he is being denounced during the Cultural Revolution, the ideological frenzy which destroyed millions of lives in China between 1966 and 1976.

The image is one of hundreds of engravings on cold grey tablets that make up the exhibits in China’s first Cultural Revolution museum, near the industrial port city of Shantou in the Guangdong district.

“There is Chinese proverb which says you should use history as a mirror,” Peng Qian, a former deputy mayor of Shantou, said. Mr Peng, who was himself persecuted by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, was the main driving force in setting up the museum last year.

“The message is that history is a warning to us not to make the same mistake twice. We don’t want to go back down that same path. We’re getting about 1,000 visitors a day at this museum and it’s extremely important in education terms, inspiring in fact,” Mr Peng said.

…The museum’s caretaker, Du Mubo, said the museum is proving to be popular. “China’s very different now and we get all kinds of visitors,” Mr Du said.

One visitor, who asked not to be named, said she was born in 1966 and was too small to know what was going on. “But this museum is very meaningful. We need more places like this so Chinese people can know our country’s history,” she said.

Can China do more to let the Chinese people know about its history? Yes, it can do a lot more. But there’s no question this is a positive step. At a time when nearly all the news about transparency in China has been bad, this is a much-needed breath of fresh air, and I can only hope that it helps the leaders see that knowledge and openness are good things, and that a better educated populace will make China stronger, not weaker.

I always say that when there is good news to be told about China, I’ll be the first to provide a showcase. This is good news, and I hope I have more and more opportunities to show the nobler side of China. There are multiple forces at play in the ruling party, tectonic plates pushing up against one another. If there is enough pressure on the “good plates,” more and more stories like this will come to the surface.

Update: I knew I had written about this museum some time ago, but I just went back and revisited my old post. It adds another dimension to this story, and I’m sorry I didn’t think of linking to it earlier.


A new thread, and a question

If I put up a threaded forum, would you use it? Others have tried it, sometimes without success. If we build it, will you come? (What a question.)

Point is moot, because my site designer already opened the forum; it’ll either sink or swim. New thread to be opened momentarily.


Nicholas Kristof: Bush Makeover

Okay, Kristof makes some excellent points. It is time for a Soviet-style purging of the Bush cabinet. But why does he always have to be so damn smug? An entire smug, mealy-mouthed column saying Bush should clean house. Why, oh why is this guy a colunist??

Time for an Extreme Makeover at the White House
Nicholas D. Kristof

President Bush now has a public approval rating that is 33 percentage points lower than President Clinton’s was at the time he was impeached.

But wait! Mr. Bush’s presidency may be caught in a profound malaise, but he can still rehabilitate himself to some degree — if he acts quickly and decisively to reshuffle his administration and approach to governing.



A new experiment: The Peking Duck Forum

I thought long and hard about this, and am not yet convinced I’ll want to keep it. But I had the same attitude toward the open threads at first, and they worked out okay. So please have a look at the new Peking Duck Cafe and let me know your thoughts. It will be what you make of if. To the commenters who urged me to do this, please help start it off. Thanks.