TheNanfang » Ewan Christie News & views about Guangzhou, Shenzhen & Dongguan Thu, 18 Sep 2014 01:26:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Special Report: More Electric Cars in China Could Add to Pollution Tue, 02 Sep 2014 03:00:56 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> With a new car purchased in China approximately every 2.3 seconds, the auto industry hasn’t exactly been helping to improve the country’s air quality. In 2009, China surpassed the US as the largest manufacturer and consumer of automobiles in the world, and is set to pass 250 million vehicles. To put those numbers in perspective, in 1990, there were only 5.54 million vehicles on Chinese roads.

Yet while the automobile has become big business in China, electric cars haven’t quite taken off as expected. In 2012, the State Council of China initiated a plan to develop and promote new energy vehicles, with projections of 500,000 units by 2015. Sales have so far failed to meet expectations and, earlier this year, the national government lowered its target to 160,000 units.

Those numbers may finally get the boost the national government has hoped for with last Friday’s announcement that electric car manufacturer, Tesla Motors, has inked a deal with China United Network Communications Corp., the country’s second-largest mobile phone company. The agreement sets out an ambitious plan to build 400 charging stations at China Unicom outlets in 120 Chinese cities. The deal also includes construction of 20 “rapid-charge” stations which are said to work as much as 16 times faster than their conventional counterparts.

The Tesla Model S at one of its charging stations.

Not to be outdone by Tesla, the central government is also looking to get in on the action. According to a report in Automotive News, the government is considering spending up to 100 billion yuan to encourage demand for clean cars and expand charging facilities. While it will be sometime before we see as many electric cars in China as there are E-bikes (there were 100 million of them purchased in the last decade, more than all other countries combined), at least the country is moving in the right direction.

Yet while electric technology appears to be the next logical step for a country that has fallen in love with the automobile, not everyone is excited about China’s push for the electric car. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, analyzed the emissions and environmental health impacts of five vehicle technologies (gasoline and diesel cars, diesel buses, e-bikes and e-cars), in 34 Chinese cities. Surprisingly, the study found that the overall particulate matter pollution of electric cars, which includes acids, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles, can actually be worse than that of their petrol pumping predecessors: “An implicit assumption has been that air quality and health impacts are lower for electric vehicles than for conventional vehicles,” said Chris Cherry, one of the authors of the study. “Our findings challenge that by comparing what is emitted by vehicle use to what people are actually exposed to.”

In China’s case, there is also the very real consideration of the energy intensive manufacturing of electric vehicles, largely due to the energy and materials necessary to build lithium-ion batteries. China continues to be the largest consumer of coal in the world, with more than 80 percent of the country’s electricity generated from coal-fired power stations, and approximately one large coal plant built every week.

In China, a new coal plant is built every week.

As a result, the net benefit of electric cars produced by coal-generated electricity may actually be a net loss. In an interview with the BBC, Guillaume Majeau-Bettez, one of the authors of a recent Norwegian study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology examining the life cycle of conventional and electric vehicles, said that from an environmental standpoint, the success or failure of the electric car will be dependant upon how much we can clean up our electricity grid “both for the electricity you use when you drive the car, and for the electricity used for producing the car.”

While further inroads in clean, electric vehicle infrastructure in China is certainly promising, there’s still that dirty coal issue required to manufacture it that needs to be addressed. China hopes to raise its use of non-fossil energy to 11.4% of total energy consumption by 2015; but, it clearly still has a long way to go. While clean energy is critical to the future of China’s development, it’s important to keep in mind that all energy sources come at a cost: “There is no such thing as zero-emission anything, whether a zero-emission vehicle or a zero emission building,” said Majeau-Bettez.

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Migrant kids can now attend local Guangdong schools… sort of Wed, 04 Dec 2013 06:02:40 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> Late last year, we told you about the Communist Party’s plan to loosen school entry restrictions for children of migrant workers in Guangdong Province and throughout China. At the time, there was little else revealed about how the Education Department planned to relax the long-standing household registration policy, or hukou, which has barred children of migrant workers from even applying to many universities and university-track high schools. Last week, however, the Guangdong Education Department finally released some specifics, and predictably, it’s complicated. According to the department, before migrant children are eligible to sit the Guangdong entrance exam, they must satisfy the following requirements:

1. The student’s father or mother must have legal and stable work in the province.

2. The student’s father or mother must have legal and stable residence in the province

3. The student’s father or mother must have a valid Guangdong residence permit for at least three consecutive years. Moreover, the expiry date of the permit must be later than the date of the entrance exam.

4. The student’s father or mother must have made social insurance contributions for at least three years.

5. The student must have sat the High School Enrolment Exam in Guangdong.

6. The student must have studied at a Guangdong high school for three years.

But that’s not where it ends. According to China Labour Bulletin, to complicate matters further, some Guangdong cities have applied additional restrictions. In Guangzhou for example, admissions for non-local high school students are capped at 10 percent of all students. While in Dongguan, students have to attend a local middle school for at least three years before they are eligible to sit the high school entrance exam.

Finally, in Shenzhen, eligibility is based on proximity to the school the student wants to attend. In other words, if the family cannot afford to live in the school’s district, which, due to rising housing costs relative to the income of migrant workers is typically the case, the student is ineligible.

Initial reports had stated that the new rules would allow the children of migrant workers to apply on “equal footing with legal residents”. It would appear there’s still a long way to go before that’s a reality.

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Guangzhou set to launch 72-hour visa-free stays this week Sun, 28 Jul 2013 23:55:47 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> Earlier this year, we told you about Guangzhou’s plans to introduce 72-hour visa free stays at Baiyun Airport for inbound visitors. The plan however did not include a date… until now. According to the Global Times, the policy comes into effect as of August 1st, or this coming Thursday. That would make Guangzhou only the third city after Beijing and Shanghai to offer such an arrangement.

There are two main restrictions: first, the visas are only available to a select 45 nations (as is the case in Beijing and Shanghai): 31 from Europe, six from North and South America,six from Asia, and two Oceanic countries. One notable exception from the list is Norway, whose diplomatic relations with China have been somewhat frosty since the Country’s Nobel committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize.

The second caveat is that, although visitors are free to go where they like over the 72-hours, at the end of their stay, they must exit from Baiyun Airport.

So, after Beijing and Shanghai, why was Guangzhou chosen? According to the deputy governor of Guangdong, Zhao Yufang, the answer is simple: development, and tourism.

The launch of this policy paves the way for transforming Guangzhou into an international aviation hub, promotes the inbound tourist industry and helps the city become a key metropolis in the country.

Let’s help Zhao Yufang get his wish. If you happen to know someone from the list of 45 countries, tell them to come on down… for 72 hours.

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Guangzhou Party official discloses personal assets, encourages others to do the same Fri, 25 Jan 2013 02:46:45 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> Financial transparency and careers in Chinese politics do not often go hand in glove, which is why the case of Fan Songqing is such an intriguing one. According to a story in the China Daily, Fan became the first government and Party official in Guangzhou to publicly disclose his personal assets. Speaking at Guangzhou’s political consultative conference, which concluded earlier this week, Fan openly discussed property owned by his family, including a 74 sqm home, and an RMB 10,000 monthly salary that he receives from the Party. Fan then urged the approximately 2,000 other Guangzhou Party officials to do the same: “We should not wait for a city-wide implementation of the reporting system. If it had been put into operation earlier, there wouldn’t be so many officials involved in corruption in the past few years,” Fan said.

While there have yet to be any Guangzhou Party officials rushing to support Fan’s proposal, Cao Jianliao, the deputy mayor of Guangzhou has agreed to follow suit, provided, “the authorities require officials to do so.” Although that may not be the ringing endorsement Fan had hoped for, his move is not without precedent. Authorities in the Jiangning district of Nanjing have introduced a policy requiring officials to declare personal assets, including bank balances, real estate, cars, and any businesses their family members may be involved in.

While it’s difficult to say whether Fan’s proposal will gain any traction among PRD officials, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Following the recent changeover of the Politburo Standing Committee, cracking down on corruption has been among the Party’s top priorities; just ask Bo Xilai. Fan is clearly suggesting officials take a step forward and put their money where their mouth is.

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Guangdong to loosen school entry restrictions for migrants, but some say it’s not enough Mon, 31 Dec 2012 02:00:08 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> Getting into a reputable high school or college is a difficult task for even the most privileged of Chinese students. Yet the situation for the children of migrant workers is infinitely worse. The Communist Party’s long-standing household registration policy, or hukou, has barred the children of migrant workers from even applying to many university-track high schools and universities. Yet according to a report on China National Radio, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong plan to gradually relax the restrictions.

As of 2013 in Beijing, and 2014 in Shanghai, the children of migrant workers living within city borders will gain access to higher-education exams. However, the rights are far from what their urban counterparts currently enjoy. The plan includes removing restrictions on admissions to vocational-track schools, and will only permit university access to those students who have first graduated from a vocational school programme. Even if they successfully complete such a program, their university applications will continue to be processed in their legal hometown.

According to reformists, the new policy will continue to discriminate against rural migrants. “It’s not ideal,” says Zhan Haite, the 15-year-old daughter of migrant workers who, despite being raised in Shanghai, was barred from attending a university-track high school. Her father’s campaign to secure education rights in Shanghai resulted in protests earlier this month, and ultimately his detention for several days. “They have just made the regulations more detailed, not changed the underlying situation,” she said, adding as long as rural migrants are perceived as second class citizens, they will never be accepted as equals within higher-education: “I bet only 5 per cent of the kids would meet the new requirements.”

While Guandong won’t introduce similar education reforms until 2016, they will not be subject to the same restrictions as students in Beijing and Shanghai. According to the report, Guangdong students will be able to apply to university on an “equal footing with legal residents”. However, as more specifics have yet to be released, it remains unclear as to how equitable Guangdong’s policy will actually be.

First introduced by the Communist Party in 1958 to control the movement of workers from rural to ballooning urban areas, the hukou registration system imposes controls over health care, education, and housing for those workers seeking employment outside of their own geographical region. While reforms were introduced in the 1990’s and again in the early 00’s, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has justified the continuation of the policy on the basis that densely populated urban centres lack the necessary resources and infrastructure to support the overwhelming influx of rural Chinese that has occurred over the last three decades.

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Guangdong’s Wang Yang: A kinder, gentler communist? Tue, 18 Sep 2012 07:08:15 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> Identified as one of the more liberal leaning hopefuls for a spot in China’s elite Politburo Standing Committee, Wang Yang has been a strong proponent of political and economic reform in Guangdong Province since his rise to Party Chief in 2007. Earlier this year, he took his “Guangdong Model” to Beijing seeking to reduce China’s bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation. Standing before the National People’s Congress in March, Wang argued that: “To solve the problem of vested interest groups holding up reform, we must first perform surgery on the party and the government.” Somewhat surprisingly, Beijing not only listened, they chose Wang, nicknamed the “Young Marshal”, and Guangdong Province to pilot a three-year program attacking China’s red tape.

Yet according to a story in the South China Morning Post, while Wang may be ahead of his time, reformists shouldn’t get their hopes up. Although Wang has stressed the need for government transparency, less polluting factories, and has met with high profile Western leaders, he remains betrothed to the Party. According to City University Political Science Professor Dr. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, just because Wang is willing to test the water, doesn’t mean he’s prepared to challenge the central leadership: “Wang is a trusted ally of Hu and his policy programme closely follows Hu’s vision. He’s a reformist, certainly, but there are serious constraints.”

Of the aforementioned constraints, arguably the most significant has been Wang’s aggressive approach toward the press. In June an editor at The Southern Metropolis News was suspended for posting commentary critical of the government. Soon after, the Deputy Director of the Guangdong Propaganda Department, Yang Jian, was placed as Party Secretary of the Nanfang Media Group. Finally, Chen Zhong, Chief Editor of liberal leaning Nanfeng Chuang, was replaced by yet another Propaganda Department loyalist. Guangdong has long enjoyed a freedom of the press largely absent in much of China, and the recent crackdown under Wang’s watch is certainly cause for concern.

Although Wang has no doubt encouraged public participation in the political process, be it an acceptance of non-governmental organizations (Guangdong’s NGO’s are given greater autonomy than anywhere else in the country), or his ability to handle high profile events such as last year’s Wukan Village crisis, he remains a party loyalist. And while Wang may be willing to encourage greater political and social latitude, such latitude will only be permitted provided it’s in the interests of the Party.

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Guangzhou students protest university gender quotas Wed, 12 Sep 2012 05:00:38 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> As Chinese students are all too familiar with, the annual national university entrance exams, known as “gaokao”, are intense. Following months of preparation, the fate of their academic futures comes down to two days of examinations. Although struggling with fierce competition from other students is difficult enough, students are now facing another obstacle that no amount of studying can overcome: university gender quotas.

A recent story published in the China Daily revealed that Chinese universities are increasingly relying on gender quotas to determine acceptance. At the Beijing Foreign Studies University for example, entry to the German language department requires an admission score of 598 for men, yet women require a substantially higher score of 639. At the prestigious Renmin University, the minimum admission score for four different language majors is currently set at 601 for men, but women require a score of 614.

This issue is not, however, unique to the north. According to a story in Radio Free Asia, the same issue is occurring in Guangzhou and, understandably, female students are none too impressed.

Guangzhou student, Ouyang Le, was denied a place at a prominent International Relations department on the basis of gender quotas, despite an exceptional score on her national exams. Rather than accept the decision, Ouyang turned to Weibo to voice her frustration. In doing so, a number of female students joined with her and staged a protest of a policy they see as nothing other than discriminatory. The women shaved their heads which, according to Ouyang, is synonymous in Cantonese with “empty-handed and impoverished”, and proceeded to read a letter addressed to the Beijing Education Ministry.

According to Ouyang, and in response, the ministry claimed that certain schools and institutes were allowed to have differing admission scores for men and women applying to “special professions” on the basis of “national interests”. The professions considered “special”, as well as the national interests in question, remain unknown.

Not everyone views the gender quotas as discriminatory. According to Yuan Zhenguo, president of the National Institute of Education Sciences, the policy “reflects the market demand” and argues that some jobs simply need men instead of women.

China has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which includes ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, education and employment. Notwithstanding, women in China obviously continue to face major barriers with regard to education and labour equality. According to Guangzhou human rights lawyer, Tang Jingling, although the law continues to evolve, further cultural change must occur: “The system itself is synonymous with power, but it can be changed through culture”, Tang said. “Only a system that concerns itself with justice will be able to erase the last traces of this culture of discrimination.”

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China experiments with Guangdong again, this time to reduce red tape Thu, 23 Aug 2012 06:32:52 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> When it comes to large scale Chinese reform, Beijing often looks to Guangdong as the guinea pig. According to a story in today’s South China Morning Post, Beijing is once again looking to the south, this time in an attempt to reduce bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation. The paper reports Guangdong has been chosen to pilot what has been officially dubbed “The administrative examination and approval system”.  It was approved yesterday by the State Council.

Commencing immediately and running till 2015, the reforms will include eliminating or simplifying 314 types of government approval; most notably, small business and private investment.

The decision is something of a victory for Guangdong party boss Wang Yang, who remains a contender to enter the Politburo Standing Committee later this year. An outspoken proponent of political and legal reform in China, the pilot program suggests the central government is warming to Yang and his push for change: “To solve the problem of vested interest groups holding up reform, we must first perform surgery on the party and the government,” Wang told the National People’s Congress in March. It would appear as if they have listened.

How deep the reforms will run remains to be seen but for now at least, it appears Guangdong is to be front and center of something potentially very big in China.

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Shenzhen electric taxi may have caught fire due to leaking battery Fri, 08 Jun 2012 03:11:38 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> A few weeks ago, we told you about three Shenzhen residents who were killed when their electric taxi was struck by a speeding Nissan GT-R. Within seconds of the impact, the taxi caught fire, incinerating the driver and his two female passengers. The accident raised questions over the safety of Shenzhen’s electric taxis, which are manufactured by locally-based BYD. According to a report in Reuters, it now appears that the fire may have been caused by a leaky battery.

Stella Li, Senior Vice President of BYD, said there is a “big chance” that liquid electrolyte, one of the three main battery components, may have leaked after the crash and caught fire. Although police are still investigating the accident, evidence of a faulty battery would be a huge blow to BYD. On the first day of trading following the accident, the Warren Buffett-backed company watched as its stock fell to a seven-month low. And while BYD has already sold close to 500 e6 electric cars throughout China, more bad news regarding the safety of its batteries could be disastrous not only to BYD, but to the future of the electric car business in general.

While Li admits a leaky battery may have caused the fire, she maintains that BYD’s batteries are inherently safe: “No car company could design an electric car or a gasoline-fueled car that could withstand a 180-kph crash, especially from being slammed from the backside” Li said. Whether or not that is true, according to a chief engineer at Toyota, the damage has already been done: “I am not sure if calm and measured attitudes toward electric cars would prevail in the market… It worries me.” Whether the Chinese market will truly take to electric vehicles remains to be seen; needless to say, however, restoring faith will not be easy.

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The Spin Doctor – Bill Ryder-Jones, “If…” Sun, 22 Jan 2012 14:31:49 +0000 Ewan Christie Continue reading ]]> Bill Ryder-Jones, “If…” (Double Six Records)

4.0 out of 5

I’ve never read Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler but after listening to Bill Ryder-Jones’ debut LP If…, I’m certainly inclined to. Inspired by  the Italian avant-garde author’s 1979 novel, If… is Jones’ vision of what the text might sound like accompanied by music. Recorded with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at a friary in England, If… is a remarkably accessible blend of stark instrumental orchestration with just enough vocals to tie it all together; quite a departure from the 60’s psych-rock of the Liverpudlian’s work with his former band, The Coral.

Conjuring imagery of a grandiose European adventure, according to Jones, each composition encapsulates a chapter of Calvino’s text: The steamy small-town railway station in northern Italy depicted in the instrumental opener “If…”, onward to the opulent European city envisioned in “The Reader (Malbork)”, to a hospital along the coast in “Leaning (The Star of Sweden)”, and finally, reaching the album’s conclusion with “Some Absolute End (The End)”. What’s so rewarding about If… is how well the album plays regardless of your familiarity (or lack thereof) with the source material. While Jones’ inspiration is decidedly European, If… is malleable enough to work in whatever setting you might find yourself. Throw on a pair of headphones, head out your front door, and you’ll quickly realize that Jones’ beautiful string and piano arrangements are perfect fodder for walking the streets of any neighbourhood.

While there’s nothing very pop about If… it feels as much a pop record as a classical record. This is due in large part to Jones’ subdued vocal work on tracks such as “Le Grand Desordre”, and “Give Me A Name” where string arrangements built around an acoustic guitar or piano wouldn’t feel out of place on an Elliott Smith or Nick Drake record. “Enlace”, while being one of the more compelling moments on the record, is also the only moment that feels out of place. Some last bastion of Jones’ pysch-rock origins, the track somewhat awkwardly transitions halfway through from a simple piano measure and accompanying percussion to a breakout jam, complete with fuzzed-out electric guitar. “I don’t know what I was thinking here… it’s a bit silly really” said Jones describing “Enlace” in a recent interview. And while he’s absolutely right, it makes the guitars and crashing percussion no less enjoyable.

Although Jones has received no shortage of accolades in the UK, critics in North America and Asia have been slow to respond, which is a shame. If… is a wonderfully understated record, and truly unique both in its appropriation of a novel as soundtrack material, and as a genre bending blend of orchestral and vocal compositions. Much the way Colin Stetson made critics question the traditional parameters of a jazz record with last year’s excellent New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, Jones is challenging the conventions of what a classical soundtrack is and should be.

Read previous Spin Doctor reviews here

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