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Look Like Venice? This is China’s Latest White Elephant… in Dalian

Posted: 10/21/2014 9:35 am


A boat cruises past European-style castles in the Venice replica in Dalian.

Dalian, the capital of Liaoning Province in northern China, has unveiled an RMB 5 billion replica of Venice, with 200 European-style castles, Gondolas and four kilometre-long canals, Xinhua reported.

The colossal construction project, dubbed the “Venice of the East” by local media, is the city’s ambitious move to boost tourism in the area. Boasting that it was the closest thing China had to Venice, Xinhua said the look and the amount of water in the canals were equal to the Italian city.

The announcement of China’s Venice came just days after President Xi Jinping criticized foreign-looking architecture at a Beijing symposium on the arts. Most online comments regarding the Venetian replica asked, “Why does domestic Chinese architecture always copy their foreign counterparts and lack unique, Asian characteristics?”

Judging by the photos of the site shown in the Xinhua report, the Venetian copy looks deserted just two days after its opening, with one, lone Gondola cruising the middle of the shallow canal.

Photos: CFP



Premier Li Keqiang Blogs on New English Language State Council Website

Posted: 10/8/2014 5:09 pm

state council website

state council websiteBeijing is looking to improve its relations with the outside world by launching a new version of its English website for the State Council amid global attention on how the government is handling unrest in Hong Kong.

The new website arrived this morning, reports China Daily. The meticulously-designed official website, at, offers a number of services to foreigners. For instance, the top-ranked service on the website allows users to learn guidelines and download forms so that they can start investing in the country.

Visitors can also learn more about the Party Secretary of the State Council, Premier Li Keqiang, and what he thinks on specific topics.

The site currently has a story called “Hopes high for Premier’s visit”, which outlines all the nice things German dignitaries have to say about Li.

state council website

In the story “Premier welcomes experts”, Li talks to foreigners about some of their visa issues:

I know that it takes quite a long time for foreign experts to get a permanent permit to live in China. The Chinese government has decided to cut that government power, and give more power to the market and society … You won’t need to worry, if you want to live in the country for a long time, so that you will be able to focus more on helping China’s modernization.

And yet, no details or specifics are given to clarify why expats shouldn’t need to worry in procuring a green card. Of the 633,000 expats living in China in 2012, only 1,202 were awarded a permanent residence card — that’s 0.19 percent of the total expat population.

But hey, now that it’s easier than ever to access government information, do you have something you want to tell the Premier of China? Maybe you want to share your difficult experience in getting a green card, or give some friendly advice on political reform? Now you can send the Premier an e-mail.


Photos: China Daily, screenshots from


Career Politician with No Legal Background Appointed Top Judge in Zhejiang

Posted: 09/25/2014 11:52 am

Newly appointed judges in China’s northern Shenyang took an oath facing China’s national flag to strictly enforce the law, serve the people, and be honest and upright.

Picking an official who has zero knowledge of the law to be a top judge is like choosing Kim Kardashian to lead the next Martin Scorsese movie. It’s just a completely bad idea.

But that didn’t stop Pingyang County in Zhejiang Province from giving it go. The county has boldly nominated its Party chief Wang Zhongyi to be the top judge of the Taizhou Municipal Intermediate Court despite the fact that Wang doesn’t have any legal background or work experience in the judicial system, Nandu reported on September 24.

The Zhejiang Provincial Government made the announcement online on September 22, and it has since drawn a huge backlash online from commentators and even a fellow court in Beijing.

The Fangzhuang court in Fengtai District in Beijing responded to the news with three pressing questions regarding the credibility of a judge, namely: “Can the judge really have his own informed opinions during case deliberation if he doesn’t have a legal background or work experience in the justice system? Can he even hear court cases? Is he capable of handling cases?” But the Beijing court’s Weibo post was quickly deleted on Tuesday after it was widely reposted.

Most of the online comments took the news as a proof of China’s lack of judicial independence. One user wrote, “Without judicial independence, the legal system becomes a laughingstock.” Others simply were confused by the country’s official appointment standards, with one user saying, “Didn’t the head of animal husbandry recently become an education chief? Officials in the Middle Kingdom are almighty.”

Another user said this story pales in comparison to that of Zhou Yongkang, a man who went from being an oil worker to China’s security tsar overseeing the country’s legal and judicial affairs from 2007 to 2012. He wrote, “A person who used to run the oil industry can become China’s head of Politics and Law Committee. This is nothing.” As a side note, Zhou is also currently being investigated for graft, the most senior official targeted for corruption in decades.

According to a law professor interviewed in the article, one has to at least pass judicial tests before even being considered for a post like this. However, judges do not necessarily need a legal background. Allegiance to the communist party and understanding the country’s policies and situations take precedence over any professional knowledge, he said, a practice loathed by legal experts and lawyers.

The story came at a time when Xi Jinping, the country’s president, is expected to underline the role of constitution at next month’s fourth plenum. More liberals are asking for greater checks and balances on the government’s powers to bolster the Party’s credibility, SCMP reported. But in a small county in Zhejiang, that message has fallen on deaf ears.

Photos: CFPMark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images


Angry At The Local Government, Buddhist Monastery in Yunnan Closes

Posted: 08/18/2014 9:15 am

Panlong Monastery, east of Tien Lake in Yunnan Province, shut its doors on August 15, 2014, defying the local government’s push for the Buddhist monastery to become more commercialized, reported local Chinese newspaper, Spring City Evening Post.

The monastery’s vocal protest is extraordinary, given that a number of monasteries have embraced the flashy lifestyle of the “Mundane World”.

Visitors to the monastery were met with a notice, reading, “Dear visitors and Buddhist followers, the local government’s plan to upgrade Panlong Monastery for commercial purposes and introduce a corporate management model has disrupted the normal orders in Panlong Monastery. Therefore, we decided to shut our doors for quiet meditation. Hope you can understand.”

The monastery did not indicate when it would reopen to the public.

The monastery’s protest came one day after local governments in Jingning and Jingcheng held a conference at the monastery, without any warning, on its “future development and regulation”.

One of the proposals involved refurbishing one of its buildings, which was ideal for viewing the scenic views of Tien Lake and Jingcheng city, fuelling speculation of a possible ticket price increase.

Ren Qing, a monk who has been practicing Buddhism for 17 years at the monastery, was not thrilled about the government’s plans. “The government had a meeting on August 14, and proposed many commercial plans, which were immediately rejected by our abbot and many fellow monks. We buddhist monks cannot lead a commercialized life,” said Ren Qing.

Some buddhist monks, however, have long ignored the stringent Buddhist rules and lived their lives according to their own wants and desires. Earlier this month, a monastery in Xiaogan, Hubei Province, held a Kaiguang, or a consecration ceremony, for none other than a Ferrari vehicle. Consecration is believed to bring good luck to any objects presented in the presence of a Buddha. In May, a monk in Wenzhou was stopped by police for drunk driving.

After the monastery’s protest, the newspaper said local officials in Jingcheng talked with the abbot and stressed “it won’t take over or sell Panlong Monastery in any form”.

Photos: China News


Tighten, Not Fasten, Your Belts: No More First Class Flights for Guangdong Officials

Posted: 04/11/2014 8:00 am

Is the Guangdong government taking a cue from former US ambassador Gary Locke who stunned Chinese netizens when he was photographed flying in a coach class on a plane?

Yangcheng Evening News on April 10 reported that the Guangdong government has issued a directive banning any department-level (usually mid-ranking) government officials from flying business class or first class on official trips.

In addition to downgrading their plane classes to coach, officials were also ordered to dial back their daily expenses on transportation, accommodation and meals. Provincial officials are only allowed RMB 800 (about $130) a night for accommodation, and department-level officials were allocated RMB 490 (about $79) a night. Other attachés can only spend RMB 340 (about $55) a day, the report said.

Their expenses on food and local transportation also have a fixed limit of RMB 100 ($16.1) and RMB 80 ($13) respectively, for provincial and department-level officials, it added.

To help officials make “economic and convenient choices,” the government introduced a benchmark of some sort saying that the selection should not affect one’s usual work or jeopardize one’s safety, according to the directive.

This comes just a day after Guangdong officials were ordered to disclose their budgets for weddings and funerals, and give a 10-day notice to the government when planning the events.

President Xi Jinping has introduced a series of austerity rules to clamp down government extravagance including expensive liquors like Maotai, fancy mooncakes and number of overseas trips.

But will this lead to any tangible results to eradicate bureaucracy and build a more accountable government, or will it be another directive thrown under a pile of archives? Let’s wait and check the first-class cancellation figures from airline companies on Monday.

Home page photo from China News


Mainland China “leases” land to Macau in historical first

Posted: 08/27/2013 10:30 am

In an interesting recent development that was actually finalized back in July — but one that perhaps only the keenest China-watchers will have read about — Macau is now one square kilometre larger thanks to the University of Macau’s new campus on Hengqin Island, a small area of the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone in south Guangdong.

“[This] is a historical moment and a monumental milestone for the development of both Macau and the Chinese mainland… [and] also bears testimony to the flexibility, innovation and potential of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. Many people would regard such changes as inconceivable,” China Daily said in an article last week.

As if to signal just the extent to which the Central Government is serious about the area on Hengqin Island becoming a legitimate part of Macau under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework (as with Hong Kong), people there will be able to “practice academic freedom, have unrestricted Internet access, and enjoy social and political rights as they do in Macau [or Hong Kong].”

What is perhaps even more fascinating is the possibilities that this latest cooperation between the mainland and a Special Administrative Region could signal for the future.

“The Hengqin model can also serve as an important reference for the Hong Kong SAR (HKSAR), where development has come to a bottleneck. With the support of the central government, Shenzhen can consider leasing portions of its land to the HKSAR allowing the HKSAR government to exercise jurisdiction over it.”

What we are therefore seeing here may be the beginning of an entirely new and fundamentally different chapter in the story of China’s administration until now. We may begin to see more and more cooperation and “leasing” of highly innovative or developed areas in the mainland to various SAR regions. That is something that could potentially benefit both sides, and could be a step in the right direction in the longer-term goal of uniting the people’s of the “Two Systems.”

“Macau and Hong Kong will be asserting greater influence on the area. In the 1980s, Shenzhen was an economic experiment, and now this is a governance experiment,” Fu Hualing, a constitutional scholar at the University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times in July. For more details and insights into the whole project, I suggest you the a look at the NYT article, which includes research and interviews with experts in the field.

In any case, expect Hong Kong and Macau to have more influence in the Guangdong region as integration between the three areas is further realised — perhaps in unexpected ways. For now, the lease acquired by the Macau government on Hengqin only lasts 40 years, but it’s an interesting experiment and could perhaps be extended indefinitely after that. Tellingly, Macau’s status as a semi-autonomous region also expires in 2049.

Photo credit: University of Macau


Shenzhen to have safe tap water later this year

Posted: 02/15/2012 9:53 am

Last Tuesday, Shenzhen’s Water Affairs Bureau announced that residents of the city can expect to have safe and clean drinking water pouring from their taps as early as the second half of 2012.

Part of this is the result of 18.1 bln RMB invested throughout the current Five Year Plan, writes the Southern Daily newspaper, raising Shenzhen’s wastewater treatment ratio from 36% to upwards of 91%, but also in part due to new water sources. Shenzhen’s current main source of drinking water, East River, is also the single largest source of raw water supply for Hong Kong.

Shenzhen also announced that it has raised its wastewater reuse ratio from 1% to 27.1%. The city is slated to undergo a water quality inspection in July to evaluate how its drinking water holds up against provincial and national water quality standards.

Interestingly, the Southern Daily story seems to imply that Shenzhen was only able to achieve this somewhat miraculous feat after privatizing its water treatment facilities.


Nongmingong: Not Just a Name

Posted: 01/9/2012 1:17 pm

A bit of news from the microblogs last week: the Guangdong government’s plan to abolish use of the label ‘peasant-worker’ (“nongmingong“) to refer to migrant workers in the PRD has stirred up a wave of discussion and critical commentary online. Southern Daily has covered the story.

The nongmingong label appeared in the 1990s in China, and is used to refer to people who come from rural areas, people who make money in cities but lack any recognition of an identity, meaning that they never become citizens of the city in which they live and instead remain known just as “workers”——workers without residence registered by the city.

Most netizens applaud the abolishment of the term, as it is seen as a form of prejudice against peasant (from a rural area) workers. However, a small percentage of netizens insist that the nongmingong itself is just one kind of objective phenomena, and the term has nothing to do with discrimination. Sound familiar, laowai?

This coincides with other recent news which directly impacts nongmingong: the difficulties they’ve had in recent days in trying to purchase a train ticket home for Chinese New Year through the new system allowing tickets to be purchased online, and also through constantly occupied telephone channels. This isn’t just a problem of not being able to get through on the train ticket hotline, but rather symptomatic of the larger issue of migrant workers being unable to benefit from urban development. While they struggle to support their families on their meager wages, they also miss out on welfare, subsidies and other social benefits enjoyed by (registered, recognized) urban residents. What nongmingong lack and need is humane care and an effective protection system.

So, what can be done? Will finding a new and gentle name to replace nongmingong, or the invention of new technologies, make getting “home” any more convenient? Of course not. What they themselves demand is “care, respect and education.”

This is what the government and all PRD citizens should pay attention to, not just the shouting of slogans.

In summary, it comes down to the process of realizing human rights in China, in which there are bound to be gaps or disconnection between ideology and common experience.


Dongguan bosses live the high life in city’s “Zhongnanhai”

Posted: 06/23/2011 11:10 am

Maybe credit Sina Weibo, or perhaps inflation, or a citizenry that is becoming much more socially active. Whatever it is, it seems an increasing number of scandals are breaking these days, many of them right here in the PRD.

While the past few days have seen sex scandals and riots rocking the PRD, another has caught the attention of PRD residents and the big wigs up in Beijing: elaborate villas in Dongguan allegedly built with ill-gotten funds by corrupt local officials.

The China Daily reports there are six seven-story villas built on a hillside in Tangxia District overlooking a reservoir, which are a convenient five-minute drive from government offices. Locals call it Dongguan’s Zhongnanhai, which is the government compound in Beijing. Many of the villas were built in the late 1990s and reportedly changed hands for as little as 500 yuan per square metre.

“But commercial land nearby changed hands at an average of 15,000 yuan a sq m at that time,” said [an] official.

Villas are now being sold at an average of more than 20,000 yuan a sq m in Tangxia, according to local property agents.

“Many officials spent less than 1 million yuan on building a villa, including luxury interior decoration. And now each villa is valued at more than 10 million yuan by many property agents,” he added.

No Party or government officials from Tangxia commented on the case on Tuesday.

Maybe the most encouraging part in all of these incidents is the increasing insistence among local residence for fairness and honesty from their leaders. Also from the China Daily:

Liang Honglie, a white-collar worker in Guangzhou, said it has gone too far when officials, who call themselves “servants of the people”, live in luxury villas.

“The relevant department should fully investigate the case and reveal its findings,” he told China Daily. “Those who are found to have broken laws and regulations should be punished severely.”

Chen Qingde, a migrant worker from Hunan province, said officials should think more about improving workers’ conditions instead of abusing their power and position for personal gain.

“Many migrant workers are still living in shabby houses in Tangxia,” Chen said. “In some migrant workers’ dormitories, 10 to 20 people have to share a room that measures 20 to 30 sq m.”

Dongguan has launched an investigation into the case.

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