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Hottest New Trend: Beijingers Building Illegal Basements

Posted: 02/3/2015 8:10 am


The collapse of an illegal basement belonging to a representative of the National People’s Conference last week revealed a new and disturbing trend in Beijing. In order to increase the size and value of their property, Beijing homeowners are building illegal basements. Mostly seen in the city’s east and west ends, basement construction is most prevalent among siheyuan, a traditional Beijing-style courtyard home.

Homeowners use reinforced concrete and steel to support their basements with ceilings only two meters high. While the doubled floor space can add up to 10 million yuan to the value of the home, the excavation involved in building these basements, risks the collapse of neighbouring properties. Basement expansions are illegal in Beijing, and no building permits are granted for such renovations.

Notwithstanding the risks involved, as well as the illegality of their construction, an industry insider surnamed Wang revealed that nothing is being done to prevent them:

Digging out your own basement is not about how much money you spend. Reinforced concrete isn’t the most valuable (resource here), what’s most valuable is the guanxi (relationships) that a family has that will prevent anyone from filing a report.

Mr. Zhang, a member of the Housing Agency, believes Guanxi is the key unspoken rule: Guanxi ensures that residents don’t inform authorities of the illegal construction and, conversely, prevents authorities from asking about them.

siheyuan basementPhotos: fznews


There’s a Measles Outbreak in Beijing Right Now, and It’s Expected to Get Worse

Posted: 01/28/2015 1:32 pm

immunizationAn outbreak of measles in Beijing has infected 23 people and continues to spread across China in spite of a national effort to eradicate the infectious disease.

The Beijing Center for Disease Control said the outbreak began on January 22 in a downtown office building on Chaoyangmen Road in Dongcheng District. In response, 3,000 people have been vaccinated.

Despite a widespread vaccination program across China, measles outbreaks in the country tend to happen each year. In November 2006, China boldly vowed to eradicate measles by 2012. While that year marked a record low for reports of measles in China, the disease has made a huge comeback since then.

In the first five months of 2014, China reported almost 36,000 cases of measles, already surpassing the 2013 annual total of 27,646 cases. It’s also nearly six times more than the total in 2012.

However, with concerns over food safety still lingering, the public reacted with distrust to mass immunization drives in 2010, criticizing them for targeting children already covered instead of at-risk groups like migrant children.

Researchers from the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development says that’s one possible reason for the resurgence. “Migrant children have been at the forefront of China’s measles epidemic,” it said, noting the poor quality healthcare available to China’s migrants.

Cai Haodong, an expert in infectious diseases at Beijing Ditan Hospital, said: “The incidence of measles is likely to rise, mostly in adults, because China has such a large mobile population and many have missed their vaccinations.”

Another explanation may be that the vaccinations are not effective. Sayer Ji points to this study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, saying:

“The number of measles cases reported in the first 10 months of 2013 – 26,443 – was three times the number reported in the whole of 2012″. This is all the more odd considering that since 2009 “.. the first dose of measles-virus-containing vaccine has reached more than 90% of the target population”.

Other experts assert that China’s vaccines are safe to use. ”China has made many efforts to increase the safety and quality of its vaccines,” said Dr Lisa Cairns, head of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) at WHO China.

Photo: China Daily


You Think Your Commute is Bad? None are Worse than Those in Beijing

Posted: 01/28/2015 8:53 am

traffic jamBeijing’s mayor recently said that addressing overpopulation is his city’s top priority. Perhaps, then, the mayor could turn away prospective Beijingers by informing them the capital has been named as having the worst commute in China.

A Baidu database called “My 2014 Work Commute” compiled the answers of over three million users to discover Beijing topped the list for longest commute in terms of both time and distance. The average Beijing commute lasts 52 minutes and is 19.2 kilometers long, more than three times that of the average commute of 50th place Shantou.

READ: Surprised? Beijing Crowned Most Congested City In China

Other first-tier cities rounded out the top names on the list. The average commute in Shanghai is 51 minutes and 18.8 kilometers long, putting it second. However, Shanghai also has the distinction of being the city with the most number of commuters who live outside of its territory, as many come from Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Zhoushan.

Guangzhou is another first-tier city near the top of the list of long commutes, averaging a time of 46 minutes and a distance of 15.2 kilometers. Just like Shanghai, Guangzhou has many commuters from Foshan and Dongguan.

So what does Beijing have to distinguish its commute from other cities? As the database shows, Beijing is home to some of the worst commutes in the country.

Commuters are trekking in to Beijing from Tongzhou, Changping, and Yanjiao from Hebei, a distance of over 50 kilometers. This also makes the commute from Tongzhou and Yanjiao to Guomao (CBD), Chaoyang District as the most congested route in the country.

How does your commute compare? The average commute in China is 9.2 kilometers and takes 28 minutes to complete.


Photo: qiqiang


Even Beijing’s Mayor Says the City is Unlivable

Posted: 01/27/2015 8:10 am

beijing smogIf waking up every day to grey, dreary mornings in Beijing is getting you down, you’re not alone. During a presentation at the 14th annual People’s Representative Conference, the Mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun, conceded that “Beijing is not a livable city“.

Here’s what he had to say:

In establishing a top-tier, internationalized livable and harmonious city, Beijing is currently establishing a system of standards, something that is very important. At the present time however, Beijing is not a livable city.


There was no shortage of days in 2014 where the PM 2.5 reading, which measures particulate matter in the air, was above 200, considered hazardous. Wang blamed the city’s pollution problem to a massive influx of vehicles and an uneven distribution of industrial factories. Currently, 71.8 percent of all factories in Beijing are concentrated in just six of the city’s districts.

To address these concerns, Beijing got rid of 476,000 vehicles last year that failed to meet emission standards. The city also dismantled 36 trading centers and closed 392 factories.

Yet, as bad as the city’s air quality has become, smog is not the Mayor’s top priority. He’s more concerned with over population:

Seeing that there is a mad rush of people flocking to the city, population control remains Beijing’s number one problem.

And so while the mayor’s speech included buzzwords like “living standards” and “greenification”, overpopulation sits at the top of the list. At 21.5 million residents, Beijing continues to grow at a feverish pace. There were 368,000 new arrivals to the city last year, and despite the poor air quality, the city is projecting similar numbers for 2015. The city has become so dense that its western area is packed with 25,700 people per square kilometer.

Wang continues to promise change, arguing his mandate is the people’s mandate:

As the economy achieves a new state of being, so does society. The government should not be afraid of being critical as this reflects the will of the people.

Photo: People’s Daily Online


Beijing Suffering from Heavy Pollution Today as AQI Reading Goes “Beyond Index”

Posted: 01/15/2015 4:01 pm

beijing smog air pollutionThe smog has rolled into Beijing again today, and it’s bad. “How bad?” you ask? It depends whom you ask. While the US embassy is reporting the air quality is so bad it is literally off the scale, the Chinese authorities has only issued a yellow air pollution alert.

Readings from the US embassy in Beijing say the quality of the air today is immeasurable because it is “beyond index”, meaning that the readings are over an AQI of 500, the standard previously set as the upper limit for recordings.  In contrast, the highest AQI reading published by Chinese sources so far has been 430.

Although the US embassy is sounding the alarm, no red alert has been issued thus far. The yellow alert was issued early this morning at 12:25am soon after the city received its first snowfall of the year.

Among other things, a red alert for air pollution would close public schools and implement a policy that would effectively take half the cars off Beijing roads, something that was done in preparation for the APEC summit last year and was responsible for “APEC blue” skies.

With visibility reduced to 500 meters, motorists are urged to be cautious to avoid getting into any traffic collisions due to the smog.

Chinese news outlets are reporting the situation as “severe”, but also point out that a category 3-4 wind is expected to blow the smog away later tonight.

beijing smog air pollutionbeijing smog air pollution


Photos: Weibo, CRI


Armed Thugs Violently Assaulting Beijing Expats With Chinese Girlfriends

Posted: 01/10/2015 5:38 pm

foreigner attackForeign guys in Beijing with Chinese girlfriends, beware: there appear to be a series of attacks targeting men seen with Chinese women in the capital.

The blog Beijing Cream interviewed the victim of the latest attack, an Australian student named “Michael”. He said a trio of armed Chinese men driving in a grey BMW attacked him on December 21 as he made his way back to his BCLU dormitory at around 2am.

Michael was with his Korean girlfriend Christine, but the attackers apparently thought she was Chinese. The trio of men beat Michael with bats and rods. After managing to disarm one of them, he and his girlfriend’s attempt to escape to the school dormitory failed when she accidentally fell down.

Michael said he did not remember what happened next, but CCTV footage shows Michael getting struck in the head. Other students then rushed to help. Police arrested the trio of men along with a Russian student when they arrived.

foreigner attackThis violent attack shares many similarities with other attacks in Beijing areas where foreigners are known to congregate. The World of Chinese outlines an attack last month in which the beating victim was asked if his girlfriend was Chinese. Later the same night, an eyewitness said he saw “four Chinese holding bats chasing a black guy, shouting at him” in an area nearby the previous incident.

Users on Reddit have detailed similar instances of getting beaten up or threatened under similar circumstances.

Despite the racially-charged nature of the attack, Michael wants to put the incident behind him. Michael has come forward to ask for more eyewitnesses or victims of these beatings to come forward:

“All three are now in jail,” said Michael. “However, if we can get more witnesses, they’ll serve a longer time in jail.” In legal terms, the men have been detained pending investigation. They can be held for up to 28 days without charge and should police decide to press charges, a case will be sent to the “procurator” for consideration.

Photos: Beijing Cream


Beijing Rolls Out 500 Electric Taxis to Try and Improve Air Quality

Posted: 01/6/2015 9:55 am

beijing electric taxisBeijing is adding 500 electric taxis to its current fleet in an effort to cut down on the city’s notorious air pollution. The EV200 cars are equipped with engines that provide 30kW of power under normal circumstances, and as much as 53kW at peak performance.

The cars are still limited by their lithium batteries, however, as each car can only drive between 200 km and 240 km before requiring a recharge. Taxi drivers will be able to recharge at the taxi dispatch centre, various battery chargers around town, and at their own home.

Beijing’s Transportation Committee member and Department Head of Transport and Taxis, Li Songke, announced that the electric taxis represent a larger initiative by the government to promote alternative energies. Li said:

The next step is to continue to improve the regulation and experience of electric taxis, and increase their use in order for the industry to continue to grow.

beijing electric taxisPhotos: auto gmw


Beijing Rings In The New Year With An Old Friend: Heavy Smog

Posted: 01/5/2015 1:41 pm

There is nothing new about Beijing’s biggest problem: smog. In fact, the city ushered in the new year with hazardous, smothering grey particulate matter. The air pollution in the capital from January 1 to 3 was so bad that at one point PM2.5 particles measured more than 200 micrograms per cubic meter, about eight times the level recommend by the World Health Organisation.

The WHO recommends daily exposure of not more than 25 micrograms per cubic metre over a 24-hour period, and any reading above 200 is considered “heavily polluted” by China’s national standards.

Southern Beijing suffered the most. The levels of PM2.5 in six districts including Tongzhou, Daxing and Xizhuang all exceeded that level on January 3, reported New Beijing Daily. The city’s meteorology centre issued a yellow alert for the smog on Saturday and said it would continue into Sunday.

The good news – at least temporarily – is the city’s air quality is improving a bit today and might even get better tomorrow as a blast of cold air arrives.

But prepare yourself for more smog that will revisit the city and other industrial provinces in the country later this year. One expert predicted the city’s air quality problem won’t be solved for another 20 to 30 years.

Photos: AP


New Beijing Airport to Open in 2019

Posted: 12/30/2014 11:00 am
beijing new airport

Groundbreaking ceremony for the Beijing New Airport on December 26, 2014.

At a cost of nearly RMB 80 billion, construction officially began on a new airport south of Beijing.

Located 46 kilometers from Tian’anmen Square, the new airport will serve the growing transportation needs of the burgeoning Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei supercity.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, China Bureau of Aviation director, Li Jiaxiang, boasted that the airport, scheduled to open in 2019:

…will have the capacity to handle 72 million visitors a year. Along with the (current) airport, these two Beijing facilities will be able to handle a passenger turnover of 150 million travelers a year, higher than any airport on earth.

beijing new airport

Crowds enjoying the Beijing New Airport groundbreaking ceremony.

Currently known as “Beijing New Airport”, the complex will include a 700,000 square meter passenger terminal, and 20,000 square meters of space for other facilities. About 620,000 planes are expected to pass through the seven runways the airport will have upon the airport’s completion.

Conceptual drawings show the airport looking like this:

beijing new airportThe new airport is located in an area that serves the three different regions of the future supercity: Daxing, Beijing; Langfang, Hebei; and Wuqing, Tianjin.

While the airport offers Beijing residents more traveling options, it is located much further from the city than the one currently in use. No Beijing Metro subway lines currently provide service to this area, as the most southern Beijing Metro station currently in operation is just outside the Sixth Ring Road.

To get a better idea of how far away it is from Beijing, check out this map. The location of the new airport is represented by the red “A”:

beijing new airport

This map shows where the airport is in relation to other prominent locations:

beijing new airportThe new airport’s location is 26 kilometers from Langfang, 37 kilometers from Beijing South Railway Station, 46 kilometers from downtown Beijing (Tian’anmen Square, seen in the middle of the rings), 67 kilometers from the Beijing Airport currently in operation, 85 kilometers from Tianjin Binhai Airport, and 197 kilometers from Shijiazhuang Airport in Hebei.

Photos: Sohu, Chinaso, Sobanks, 163, QQ,


Surprised? Beijing Crowned Most Congested City In China

Posted: 12/29/2014 11:00 am

Based on the most recent quarterly traffic report, Beijing has officially surpassed Shanghai as the most congested city in China. The average daily congestion time has increased 25 minutes since 2012, to one hour 55 minutes.

AutoNavi, a leading navigation service provider, reported that Beijing’s delay index was 1.74 during regular hours, and 2.12 during peak periods. An index reading of 2.0 means that you spend twice as much time in transit than you would otherwise. The index is based on data collected from 300 million devices installed in Chinese taxis and vehicles that record a vehicle’s speed, location and driving direction.

Frequent rain and smog were also cited as contributing to the city’s traffic problem, especially during the September school season.

The capital’s traffic gridlock has become so bad that many residents have dubbed it “Shoudu” (首堵), or primary congestion in English, which sounds like capital in Chinese. According to China Daily, the implications are more than simply an inconvenience: congestion costs Beijing approximately RMB 70 billion ($11.24 billion) per year, of which 80% is attributed to lost productivity, 10% to gas expenses, and 10% to environmental degradation.

According to Shenzhen News, the other cities on the top 10 list are Hangzhou, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Dalian, Jinan, Shenyang, Wenzhou, Guangzhou and Zhengzhou. Shenzhen ranked 12th on the list, with a congestion delay index of 1.97 during peak periods.

As for Beijing, officials are weighing different options to curb the city’s traffic problem, including imposing traffic congestion fees on private cars to encourage more drivers to use public transportation.

Photos: China Travel


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