Haidian subway tunnel collapse

At 9:20 am on Wednesday, a subway tunnel under construction in Haidian (NW Beijing) collapsed trapping six workers. None are believed to have survived. The accident occurred during construction of the Number 10 subway line linking Haidian with central Beijing. Not surprisingly, the first response of the bosses from the China Railway 12th Bureau Group Co Ltd was to cover up the accident. Rather than call city emergency services, the on-site managers organized an ad-hoc rescue team, locked the gates of the site to prevent anyone from leaving, and then…wait for it…ordered the confiscation of all the workers’ cellphones. Unfortunately for the bosses, one worker managed to keep his and called the police–in his home province of Henan. Henan authorities called the Beijing police and by Wednesday evening, emergency workers were on the scene and the story had broken in the local media. Tragically, it was too late for the six men trapped underground.

What is surprising is the openess with which the state media has been reporting the incident. The People’s Daily English language edition carried the story on Thursday morning and has even included a photospread of the accident scene on its website. This morning, the China Daily ran a story on its website about the botched cover-up attempt by the site managers. The cover-up was also reported in yesterday’s edition of several Beijing Chinese-language newspapers as well. This is all particularly interesting given the recent annoucement of a new government policy to crack-down on “dishonest reporting” of accidents and deal harshly with mine-owners who try to cover up or hide accidents at their sites.

Granted the Haidian collapse has the makings of a PR headache for Beijing. All of the foreign coverage of the story featured the words “subway planned for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing” as part of the first or second paragraph. Covering it up would would have been 1) nearly impossible and 2) just added fuel to the fire.

Other thoughts?


Blogspot Unblocked

Kaiser said so, and it’s true – for now, at least. We’ve been through this exercise so many times, playing see-saw, up and down, cat and mouse, a Chinese firedrill. What does it mean, and why do they bother? (Don’t feel obliged to answer. The questions are mainly rhetorical, as there really is no answer.)


My frustration with some on the left

No time, but want to make a quick point. I am frustrated as hell that we continue to damage our own cause and make it easy for Michelle and Charles and others to continue their ear-splitting crusade about “the vicious, hateful left.” No, it’s not a fair crusade, as they always cherry-pick, while ignoring the cesspool of hatred permeating every thread over at LGF. But still, why would a prominent lefty blog hand over to the wingnutosphere its own head, gift-wrapped with a pretty red bow on a silver platter?

I’m sorry. No matter how much we dislike Tony Snow, to make any allusions to the idea that “what goes around comes around” as we learn the sad news that his days are (probably) numbered is just plain stupid and self-defeating. No good in any way can come from it. If we harbor such thoughts, that a Bush crony – or anyone at all – deserves to die of cancer, we should keep them to ourselves.

I worry about liberalism’s future when those in the forefront continue to demonstrate such appalling judgment.

(updated 2.45pm beijing time)


China’s Green Province

Interesting piece posted at China Dialogue about recent successes in curtailing the rate of environmental degradation in Jiangsu province. (Chinese language version here.)

Former journalist and China dialogue staffer Wang Dongying writes:

Jiangsu’s contribution to China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has consistently ranked among the country’s top three provinces. The province’s economic growth in 2006 was 14.9%, China’s highest. Last year, it was also one of only two provinces that met national targets on pollution reduction and energy efficiency.

In 2006, emissions of major pollutants in Jiangsu province dropped by 3.3%, far surpassing the national target of 2%. Jiangsu’s power consumption per unit of GPD also fell by 4.02%, just over the target of 4%.

Four of the six cities that were first awarded the title of ‘Ecological City’ by China’s State Council are in Jiangsu province. All four- Zhangjiagang, Changshu, Kunshang and Jiangyin – are among China’s ten richest city and county-level economies.

Eighteen cities in Jiangsu have been designated ‘Environmental Protection Cities’, one-fifth of the nationwide total and more than any other single province. Yangzhou was given the UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award in 2006.

The article attributes Jiangsu’s success to a series of innovative environmental pricing measures, including emissions trading and emissions pricing. The success of these reforms in Jiangsu has even led the central government to consider implementing similar measures nationwide. Emissions trading has been used in Europe and the United States to reduce greenhouse gases, and the use of “the market” to succeed where “nagging and theats” did not is a big step for provincial and national officials in China. Emissions trading has its critics and it’s not a silver bullet, but it is certainly a good start.

Not all is completely rosy down by the river, however. According to the article, only 56% of Jiangsu residents are “satisfied” or “mostly satisfied” with the pollution control measures (a figure lower than the national average). Wang also notes that Jiangsu has several advantages that give local officials and industry more leeway in curbing pollution in the province. One of the commenters suggests that it is not uncommon for rich regions like Jiangsu (or countries, for that matter) to export their pollution to poorer areas. (As such, it is also perhaps not unfair to suggest that those of us in the West accustomed to cheap manufactured goods enjoy some of the benefits of relaxed environmental standards here in China.)

That said, the “pollute now, clean up later” model of growth is clearly not working and despite Wang’s position as a former Xinhua journalist, the article contains some very pointed criticisms of China’s current environmental policies.

Jiangsu’s example suggests that it is indeed possible for Chinese industry to follow a path of more responsible and sustainable development, one that allows for economic growth without jeopardizing the health and safety of the people. I know these things take time, but one wonders, given the perilous environmental conditions in some of China’s cities and regions, just how much time is left on the clock?


The Good Fight

Isn’t it wonderful to see the Chinese populace, spurred on by bloggers and BBSs, mobilize to take action against something that really matters instead of a Forbidden City Starbucks or an idiotic English teacher’s sex blog? This story is inspiring, and reveals the best and the worst of China’s media – namely, the fact that the traditional media really did try to cover it before they were silenced, with the ball then carried forward by China’s new army of citizen journalists.

For weeks a dispute had drawn attention from people all across China as a simple homeowner stared down the forces of large-scale redevelopment that are sweeping this country, blocking the preparation of a gigantic construction site by an act of sheer will.

Chinese bloggers were the first to spread the news of a house perched atop a tall, thimble-shaped piece of land like Mont St. Michel in the middle of a vast excavation. Newspapers dove in next, followed by national television. Then, in a way that is common in China whenever an event begins to take on hints of political overtones, the story virtually disappeared from the news media, bloggers here said, after the government decreed that the subject was suddenly out of bounds.

Still, the ‘nail house,’ as many here have called it because of the homeowner’s tenacity, like a nail that cannot be pulled out, remains the most popular current topic among bloggers in China.

It has a universal resonance in a country where rich developers are seen to be in cahoots with politicians and where both enjoy unchallenged sway. Each year, China is roiled by tens of thousands of riots and demonstrations, and few issues pack as much emotional force as the discontent of people who are suddenly uprooted, told they must make way for a new skyscraper or golf course or industrial zone.

What drove interest in the Chongqing case was the uncanny ability of the homeowner to hold out for so long. Stories are legion in Chinese cities of the arrest or even beating of people who protest too vigorously against their eviction and relocation. In one often-heard twist, holdouts are summoned to the local police station, and return home only to find their house already demolished. How had this owner, a woman no less, managed? Millions wondered.

Read the rest to find out the answer. This is no ordinary protester; she has played the media like the proverbial fiddle and created a classic David vs. Goliath drama, complete with photo effects and punchy soundbites. She sounds like a perfect candidate for a public relations agency.

I think we take it as a given that whoever stands up against the entrenched bureaucracy in China will get crushed. Usually it’s true. So when we see a story like this, it’s impossible not to feel some optimism that maybe, just maybe the phenomenon of citizen journalism and instant news broadcasting (via blogs and forums) can really result in positive change. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen it; it was online outrage that fuelled the Sun Zhigang scandal and resulted in drastic action by the government. But so often, the “e-outrage” is directed at issues that are trivial at best, and at worst aren’t even issues at all. Today’s story deals with a real issue and one that directly threatens the lives of many Chinese, i.e., forced relocations for development that lines the pockets of local officials while treating the citizens they are supposed to represent like dirt. It’s a good fight, and it’s an encouraging story.


Machiavellian goings-on – Shanghai’s new boss and its implications

Read this detailed article from The Times on Xi Jinping’s appointment as Shanghai’s Party Secretary.

‘Princeling’ takes key step up power ladder

One family friend of Mr Xi described his appointment as a careful compromise. “He is a very neutral person who has always avoided showing any strong political opinions, neither supporting or opposing people and their policies openly. He is not someone with great charisma, neither will he cause any harm. He is the perfect compromise candidate who would be acceptable to Jiang’s ‘Shanghai gang’.”

What are your thoughts (if any) on this new appointment and the on-going power struggle inside the leadership?


Our friend Hong Xing

Some of you may have noticed the recent re-emergence on this blog of our old friend Red Star. To those of you who are new to this blog, I wanted to be sure you know his history, which I brought up in the first comment in this old thread. Quite a bit of discussion then follows. We may find him laughable, but his attempt to slander a victim of an unimaginably brutal crime is nothing to laugh about.


“Thinking Bloggers” – Yet another game of tag

I see I’ve been tagged by China Law Blog as one of China’s “thinking bloggers,” and am thereby expected to offer up my own list of five China-related blogs that make me think. This is a tough call, because I now know so many bloggers here personally, and many more than five belong to this category. If they’re on my blogroll, they make me think.

As a lot of you know I am engulfed in a big project here that eats up my days and nights, but I do want to take a minute to offer up my choices, though I can’t give it the attention to detail that China Law Blog does. So I’ll just offer some names and links and one or two lines about why I chose them.

1. EastSouthWestNorth: Roland can infuriate me and he can delight me. But I go there first thing every day because his site always makes me think. He often makes me think about how poorly certain issues in China are being covered by the mass media. He often sheds light on “the other side of the story” that somehow didn’t make it into the Western edition. Whether you love him or hate him or feel ambivalent, Roland is definitely a thinking blogger, and many of us probably spend more time thinking about his blog, for better or worse, over any other.

2. Danwei. Since it’s inception, this has been “headquarters” for media junkies like me who are fascinated with China. When it was basically a one-man show run by Jeremy Goldkorn it was great; as others joined him, like resident genius Joel Martinson, it became even greater, and there is something there every day for everyone to think about. As with Roland, I don’t always share the viewpoints espoused on Danwei, but I respect them and look forward to studying them every day.

3. Granite Studio. Jeremiah’s brilliant musings, accompanied by a vast and panoramic knowledge of Chinese history, put Granite Studio in a class all by itself. I can’t believe how lucky I am that he’s willing to share some of the brilliance here, especially at a time when I’m unavailable.

4. Positive Solutions A blog after my own heart, Charlie combines deeply personal musings with sharp political observations and a dose of humor that can only be matched by the great Imagethief (who’s going to show up on just about everybody’s list). Charlie makes me think and he makes me laugh and he makes me angry (at China Daily, not at him). He’s on a par with that great humorous blogger who used to live in Hong Kong, who always brought a smile to my face. (Go there now to see what I mean – he’s still doing it.)

5. Bokane. This blog has gone without an update for so many weeks I may have to drop it from my blogroll. (Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call.) But when Brendan is inspired to post, it’s always first-rate – from the heart, often funny and always beautifully written. And it’s profound, too. Read this intoxicating post and tell me if it doesn’t fill you with thoughts and with images, and maybe even tears. I read it many weeks ago and still think about it. Not many blogs wield that sort of power.

This is a difficult exercise, because there are so many brilliant blogs out there, and each one that is good is good because it makes you think. So much talent crammed into our incestuous circle, so many great minds and deep insights. There are several, like those listed above, among whom I feel impossibly small, and the one thing that thrills me and keeps me going even now, when I shouldn’t be blogging at all, is the thought that this site has helped to bring a lot of us together, and actually made a difference for some of us. And that’s something to think about.


Foreign brands encounter a new form of protectionism

The Economist: Doing business in China

The rights of 44% of Chinese consumers, says the official Consumers’ Association, have been “seriously violated” in the past year. It has recommended a ten-point action plan to tackle the problem. The uninitiated would be forgiven for thinking that its campaign was aimed at local firms, which are notorious for churning out shoddy or dangerous goods. But much of the venom in the press, at any rate, is directed at big multinationals.

Read the whole thing. It’s very interesting and to my mind serves as an excellent example of the selective reporting one finds increasingly in China, as well as the selective criticism there. We all know domestic firms get exposed from time-to-time, but generally only when people die. On the other hand non-Chinese companies are put through a microscope. These are the sort of hypocritical comments I come across from too many Chinese (never at the same time, of course):

Foreign companies rip off workers, but domestic ones are fuelling the economy.
Foreign companies make imperfect goods, but domestic ones provide cheap things for people on a low budget.
Foreign companies are neo-colonialist exploiters, but domestic ones are unfairly attacked by the evil Westerners because they cannot compete and they hate China.

Here’s the summary at the end.

Makers of designer goods, of course, are no more infallible than other firms, but the companies concerned cannot help wondering whether they are victims of a new form of protectionism—bad publicity.

It’s either that or some sort of commerical xenophobia spread by the populist media. Either way it isn’t good.


Del.icio.us and Bloglines Behind the Firewall?

Tell me it’s just my ISP and not a blanket ban… UPDATE: And right after I post its fine. But from 10am to 2:30 pm those were the only sites (besides the usual suspects) unavailable without proxy. Weird.