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Did the Times Censor a Story on Foreign Abortions in China?

Posted: 11/27/2014 11:23 am

China Curmudgeon received this story in our inbox recently from an anonymous source who claims it was spiked by the Times to ensure its reporters continue to have their journalist visas renewed. There is obviously no way for us to verify whether it is real or not – or maybe satire? – so leave it up to you…

Editor’s Note: It seems fake hospital names, terminated pregnancies in the 8th month, and an author known for his satire weren’t enough clues. So to be clear to all readers: this is satirical. It was written by the lovely and talented China Curmudgeon. We sincerely apologize to those who feel misled, and can assure you we have access to a telephone should we ever need to verify something…

For pregnant expatriate women living in Beijing, the feeling is becoming increasingly common. So are the stares, the accusing looks, the friends who stop calling.

For Clarissa Wellington, it came as a surprise. After learning she was expecting last June, she announced her pregnancy to overjoyed friends at brunch in the Chinese capital, where she and her husband have lived for nearly three years.

“Everyone was congratulating us like you’d expect your friends to,” she said. “Then someone asked when we were leaving China. They all assumed we’d leave because I was pregnant.”

Mrs. Wellington recalls the mood at the gathering shifted abruptly when her husband said they planned to stay in Beijing for three to four more years.

“The whole table went silent,” Mrs. Wellington said. “They were shocked. No, it was like they were horrified.”

Air pollution levels in Beijing often fluctuate between harmful and hazardous according to a World Health Organization index, and lung cancer is the city’s top cause of death. Food products are generally considered unsafe.

While many foreign employees of multinationals find working in the Chinese capital has short-term career benefits thanks to high salaries and increasingly common “environmental hardship” allowances, their children can end up paying the long-term cost. Babies are especially at risk. As an infant’s body develops, exposure to toxic pollutants through air, food and water can lead to a wide range of lifelong health problems.

Mrs. Wellington says her plan to raise a child in Beijing for several years made her an outcast in her circle of expatriate friends. Social invitations dried up, and several rounds of Facebook un-friending left her feeling alone.

The only people who attended her baby shower were Chinese colleagues of her husband.

“The whole experience made us stop and reconsider if we really wanted to raise a child in this kind of pollution,” Mrs. Wellington said. “We did some research about what the air in Beijing does to babies, and we decided to wait. That’s why we chose to abort.”

With the pregnancy now terminated, Mrs. Wellington is still in Beijing, waiting out the last months of her husband’s contract at an international law firm. In January the couple plans to return to San Francisco, where they hope to re-conceive in what they consider a more
appropriate environment for children.

“We did it for Micah,” she said, placing a hand on her stomach. “That’s what we were going to name him. But the air in Beijing is so bad that neither of us wanted Micah to even take one breath here.”


In many expat communities in Beijing, abortion is well on its way to becoming the preferred, socially acceptable alternative to the prospect of raising a young child in the world’s most polluted capital city.

“I love kids, and that’s why we ended it,” said Mandy Thompson, a training consultant from Wisconsin who had an abortion in October, just over eight months into her pregnancy.

“Sometimes I think about if we’d decided to have the baby and then went home after a year or two,” she said. “And then I know we definitely made the right decision. The first two years of a baby’s life are the most important for development. And Beijing is no place for human beings, especially the smallest and most vulnerable ones.”

Her husband agrees. When his wife first suggested ending the pregnancy, Randy Thompson was shocked. But with friends and family all trying to convince the couple to choose abortion, he gradually warmed to the idea.

“One day we were stuck in gridlock on third ring, discussing whether to abort or not,” Mr. Thompson said, referring to one of Beijing’s notoriously backed-up freeways that encircle the city. “I remember looking out the window and I couldn’t see the sun. There was light,
but no sunlight. Right then I decided I didn’t want to bring a child into a place like this. We can have a baby later, one that will grow up healthy.”

At Beijing Pacific Family Hospital, a foreign-run clinic with several Western doctors fronting a larger part-time Chinese staff drawn from local hospitals, consultations for abortions have skyrocketed over the last year. Roughly half the expatriate couples who come for prenatal
exams also request information about ending the pregnancy.

“It’s not that they don’t want children,” said Dr. Mark Moore, an obstetrician at Beijing Pacific. “They just don’t want to compromise the child’s health. So now we’re seeing a lot of couples saying ‘let’s do the right thing.’ That means aborting now and having children later, when they’re far away from Beijing.”


Earlier this year the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences published a study calling Beijing nearly “uninhabitable” due to extreme environmental pollution. Another recent study by Chinese and foreign researchers found the long-term effects of China’s pollution
shortens human lives in the country’s north by an average of 5.5 years.

But for many Chinese citizens, national pride translates into strong support for pollution.

“China is a powerful country, and we are surpassing the West in many ways,” said taxi driver Wen Jiqing in a thick Beijing accent peppered with profanity, pausing to hack and spit. As is common in the capital, he calls heavy pollution “poor weather.”

Liu Zheng, a twenty-three year-old intern at an online retailer, moved to Beijing last year after graduating college in her hometown of Xingtai, where the major industry is coal mining. She said she could immediately feel the effects of Beijing’s air on her body. Even now, her throat still burns, and her eyes are consistently red and irritated.

“We should support the government,” Ms. Liu said on a busy street corner when asked her opinion on the city’s air quality, her voice muffled by a thin cotton face-mask. “Pollution is a natural part of development. Anyone who criticizes our pollution is against China.”

When asked if she would ever raise children in Beijing, Ms. Liu replied, “I just found out I’m sterile, and I have absolutely no idea why.”

With most parents in Beijing fighting a losing battle to keep their children healthy, many expecting couples are finding that choosing between childbirth and terminating the pregnancy can be a source of marital tension.

Allison Webber, a management consultant from Canada, is seven months pregnant and says she’s leaning towards abortion.

“I’m starting accept that forcing your kids to live here is a form of child abuse,” she said. “It might be good for my career, but the fact is, it has an effect on a child’s health. I don’t want to be responsible for giving my children asthma.”

Her husband wants to keep the baby, and points to pollution domes that cover sports fields at some of Beijing’s international schools as proof the city’s massive pollution is not prohibitive to raising a child.

“But he smokes, so what does he know,” Mrs. Webber said, sipping imported bottled water at a cafe recently.

“Actually, I know quite a bit,” her husband said from the seat next to her. “Can we not have this conversation here?”

Mrs. Webber shook her head in disgust and looked at the smog outside.

“I just can’t raise a child in this pollution,” she said quietly. “I hate this fucking city.”


Home Page Photo Credit: SCMP


Reversal: Beijing Skies Are “APEC Blue” While Guangzhou Suffers

Posted: 11/7/2014 9:00 am

Air pollution is always a hot topic in China, but particularly this week as world leaders gather in Beijing for the APEC summit. Photos on social media show glorious blue skies in Beijing, which have been cleared of dangerous PM 2.5 to impress foreign guests. Some online now describe the skies as “APEC blue”, with APEC standing for Air Pollution Effectively Controlled.

The same can’t be said for Guangzhou, however, which unfortunately doesn’t have any important people in town.

Just days after Guangzhou’s Mayor, Chen Jianhua, made a grand gesture to show his commitment to curbing the city’s air pollution, Guangzhou’s Air Quality Index (AQI) hit 192, just 9 points shy of the “Very Unhealthy” reading of 201 or higher.

Readings from 18 of the city’s monitoring stations showed it was a particularly smoggy day, with two of the readings collected from Lizhi Xicun and Zengceng Xintang showing 192, which fall in the “Unhealthy” range of 150 to 200, reported New Express Daily.

The readings prompted the city to issue an orange smog alert, just nine days after issuing the last heavy smog alert, the report said.

At this rate, Mayor Chen just might get his wish. For those of you who regularly take the bus, keep your eyes peeled on those particularly smoggy days; you may find yourself hobnobbing with the Mayor on your morning commute.

 Photos: New Express Daily 


Thousands Take to the Streets to Protest Waste Incinerator Project in Huizhou

Posted: 09/15/2014 9:26 am

Huizhou residents in central Guangdong Province took to streets on September 13 to protest a government waste incinerator project, fearing the waste treatment plant could contaminate the air and drinking water of several PRD cities, reported i-Cable.

Local residents also worry that fumes discharged from the plant will be toxic and could cause cancer, RTHK said.

The exact number of protesters is not immediately known, but judging by photos uploaded by Weibo users that show protesters inundating the town of Bocheng where the plant is to be located, several thousand turned out.

Protesterss held red banners reading, “Firmly against the building of a waste incinerator, we swear an oath of death to defend our beautiful home”.

The proposed waste incinerator is expected to burn 2,600 tones of waste a day upon completion next year. The project attracted millions of yuan of investment from the government, the report said.

RTHK reported several protesters were hauled away by police, while netizens said the heavy police presence resulted in some injuries.

Below are more images uploaded to Weibo:

Photos: Weibo user 王小萍萍萍–淺淺-


30 Years Worth of Garbage in Massive 9-Story Pile May Finally Be Dealt With

Posted: 08/11/2014 6:40 pm

shijiazhuang garbage pile hubei pollutionChina has enjoyed a tumultuous 30 years of progress, but with a stronger economy comes the by-product of a growing consumer society: a lot of garbage.

In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hubei Province, the Baifo Village committee has finally decided to do something about the mountain of garbage located at Huanghe Avenue and Zhufeng Boulevard. The mountain of garbage is 30 meters high and is the result of garbage accumulated over 30 years. It’s about the same height as an eight or nine story building.

shijiazhuang garbage pile hubei pollution

While there is now interest in finally dealing with the mound of garbage, it won’t come cheap. The government of Chang’an District and the Tangu sub-district office have calculated the cost of completely removing the garbage at RMB 30 million.

One would think nobody would want to live anywhere near this presumably stinky pile of garbage, but no protests have been reported so far. That’s in stark contrast to Guangdong, where garbage dumps have seen increasing opposition from residents.

Environmental issues have become the leading cause of social unrest in China, replacing land disputes, Bloomberg has reported. And it’s a problem that is only increasing in scope: every year as China creates more than 360 million tons of waste annually, an amount that grows by 8% each year, reported China Dialogue.

shijiazhuang garbage pile hubei pollutionshijiazhuang garbage pile hubei pollutionshijiazhuang garbage pile hubei pollutionshijiazhuang garbage pile hubei pollution


Photos: China News


Tesla to Expand to Guangzhou and Shenzhen Despite Consumer Apathy

Posted: 07/7/2014 7:15 pm

tesla car electricNew LinkedIn job advertisements indicate boutique electric car maker Tesla may soon be coming to Guangzhou and Shenzhen, reports Car News China.

While Tesla itself hasn’t made an official announcement, their Linkedin profile lists jobs in the two PRD cities as well as Chengdu. This would be in addition to their one store in Beijing, and two others coming in Shanghai and Hangzhou.

But while Tesla is expanding fast in China, electric charging infrastructure may be struggling to keep up.

READ: Shenzhen Home to 50 of China’s Billionaires

Shenzhen invested RMB 1 billion in 2010 to build 89 charging stations and 29,500 charging piles, but only seven charging stations and 2,273 slow-charging piles were open by the end of 2013, reports Want China Times.

Furthermore, the electric car industry has been supported solely by government sales in recent years.  A high-level executive at one auto company who asked not to be identified told Caixin that fewer than 2,000 new electric cars have been sold to the general public since 2009.

electric car charging

But while electric charging facilities remain idle and customer interest remains weak, local authorities appear undeterred in their drive for more electric cars.

Shenzhen expects to have 25,000 electric vehicles on its roads by the end of next year. To meet this goal, it has ordered every new residential complex to provide charging facilities for electric cars regardless of whether any residents drive the vehicles, reports Investor Intel. Without the charging facilities, the apartments will not be allowed to go on sale.

READ: Six Million Cars to Be Taken Off Streets in China to Fight Pollution

But most tellingly, a massive market will be created once Elon Musk and Tesla build a gigafactory capable of producing batteries for 500,000 electric cars a year, reports the Economist.

With luxury car sales falling all across China, we can only assume Elon Musk knows what he’s doing.

tesla car electric


Photos: Car News China, Investor Intel, the Telegraph


Shenzhen Residents Protest “Smelliest Landfill in History” By Giving it an Award

Posted: 06/2/2014 8:00 am

shenzhen smelliest garbage dump protest demonstrationThe glorious days of China’s top landfill project is over. Over the years, Qingshui River Xiaping landfill in Shenzhen has nabbed some of the most revered accolades possible including a “national model landfill project” award in 2006 and named “a first-rate non-harmful landfill” by China’s then Ministry of Construction.

Eight years later however, the landfill has been given the honor of “the smelliest landfill in history”, a title which local odor-ridden residents have put into words on a jinqi, an honorary banner, and presented to a representative from the garbage dump. The jinqi is usually presented to persons or organisations for their exceptional achievements.

The award was conferred during a mass protest on May 31 when local residents in South Bantian District used their cars to block more than 100 garbage trucks from entering the landfill, “causing serious traffic congestion in several areas in Qingshui River District,” Phoenix News reported. Residents were seen holding signs calling for the landfill’s closure that read:

The bad odor of the Xiaping garbage dump is disturbing the people!


Firmly request the closure of Xiaping garbage dump!


The protest took place just two days after China Environmental News published a report saying the landfill lacks the proper infrastructure to treat waste overflow leaked from the waste piled in the landfill. During the rainy season in Shenzhen, the amount of leachate discharged from the landfill can reach up to 2,000 tons a day, far surpassing the landfill’s designed processing amount of 1,600 tons.

According to photos taken by the newspaper, grey and red-colored waste waters were seen being discharged directly into the city’s sewage system without being treated. The protest underscores the growing tension between China’s fast urbanization and a deteriorating environment as residents have grown more concerned about environment-related issues.

The environment has replaced land disputes in the country as the top cause for social unrest, Bloomberg reported. Every year, the country creates more than 360 million tons of domestic waste, and the quantity is growing by 8% each year, reported China Dialogue.

Most of the country’s waste is dealt with in one of three ways: about 50% is dumped in landfills, 12% is burned and less than 10% is recycled into fertilizer. The rest is left untreated.

If the proper waste management steps are not taken, the tension over the nation’s garbage practices will continue to simmer, if not explode soon. And it’s such a shame: that’s some beautiful embroidery.

shenzhen smelliest garbage dump protest demonstration

shenzhen smelliest garbage dump protest demonstrationshenzhen smelliest garbage dump protest demonstrationshenzhen smelliest garbage dump protest demonstration

The red-colored jingqi reads:

The smelliest dump in all of history
When will there be a reprieve from this vile odor that disturbs the people?

Photos: Takefoto, Phoenix News

Charles Liu contributed to this report


Six Million Cars to Be Taken Off Streets in China to Fight Pollution

Posted: 05/29/2014 11:30 am

car emissionsA national initiative to fight pollution will include the removal of some six million cars from around the major urban centers of China that include the Pearl River Delta, reports Bloomberg.

Cars that do not meet fuel efficiency standards will be taken off the road. Another proposed step to help improve air pollution is the introduction of higher-grade gasoline that will burn more cleanly.

Xu Shaoxi, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said outdated production facilities and industries powered by coal would be targeted for closure in order to “curb” excessive industrial growth.



Slick New App Gives You Pollution Data With a Bit of Attitude

Posted: 05/21/2014 5:40 pm

In most parts of the world, people check the weather before they go outside. That may happen in China too, but the more important question is, “What is today’s PM2.5?”

The fact we even know what that means is a sad commentary on the times we live in. While most of us (though not all) have clearly made peace with China’s lung-blackening pollution levels, we still want to know when it makes more sense to watch a movie rather than go for a run. To help with that, a slick new iOS app called Airpocalypse has been released detailing pollution levels in 16 Chinese cities, including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong (Zhuhai clearly not needing it).

There are many apps out there already, but this one adds the current temperature, forecast and the pollution report, and does it all with a bit of ‘tude. The app’s slogan? “The air in China sucks. We hate it too.”

You can download it here (iOS only at this point). Check out the screenshots below.


Picture This: Guangdong River Turns Bright Red

Posted: 05/14/2014 7:09 pm

color river boluo county guangdong pollution water

Rivers in Boluo County near the city of Huizhou, Guangdong have suddenly turned bright colors—like those in a painting.

After the many storms that have deluged Guangdong Province with heavy rain, rivers have completely turned bright red or blue, reports Xinhua.

A printing factory is believed to be the cause of the discoloration, and has been ordered to close down.

color river boluo county guangdong pollution water

But as it probably should be: the opaque hues that have turned nature into a canvas of idyllic watercolors is not long to have its water colored.

color river boluo county guangdong pollution watercolor river boluo county guangdong pollution water

Photos: China Daily via Weibo


Guangzhou Businesses Defy New Rule on Light Pollution

Posted: 05/5/2014 10:18 am

After a long-awaited regulation was finally introduced on May 1 to tackle Guangzhou’s glaring light pollution problem, nearly all downtown illuminated signs and LED screens continued to shine in defiance of the new rule, allowing Guangzhou to maintain its reputation as “the city without night“.

The regulation, known as the “Management of Outdoor Advertisement Boards and Signs”, says in article 12 that all outdoor LED screens including advertisements and signs should be turned off from 10:30pm to 7:30am every day. But a tour of many Guangzhou commercial areas by a reporter from the New Express Daily on the same night showed a defiant scene where LED screens continued to glow well into the night. In an ironic twist to the story, one giant LED screen in the Peace World Plaza was seen displaying messages during prohibited hours from the government regulator supposedly responsible for light pollution control.

Despite recommendations that evening lights be set at a maximum of 15 lumens, the illumination on Beijng Road, a main shopping street in Guangzhou, was recorded at more than 1,000 lumens, more than 60 times the international standard. Li Guangming, a doctor with the Guangzhou Research Institute of Environmental Protection, said that light pollution could cause health problems including stress, anxiety and even cause problems in people’s sex lives.

When the reporter brought the incidents to the department, the government dodged responsibility and passed the buck to the environmental protection department, saying, “The luminous light pollution should be handled by the environmental department, and we can only give them suggestions. The responsibility lies with them.”  When the reporter grilled the department about their assigned responsibility, the person on the other end of the phone said they knew nothing about the new rule and did not receive any notification about how to handle such cases.

It’s little surprise that government bureaucracy and poor accountability are sabotaging the regulation’s enforcement, but another hurdle for the law may be the financially-assured advertisers who spend millions on the LED ads. The LED screen on Peace World Plaza, the second biggest in Guangzhou, cost advertisers RMB 302 million ($48.3 million) to secure a six-year user license starting from 2011.

In addition, the regulation is less likely to render any fruitful results as it does not include any fines or punishments even though discussions of financial incentives started in 2010. What’s more, the regulation left out two other major sources of light pollution: neon light and message scrollers. Neither was included under the narrative of the new regulation, the report said.

It’s unknown if the seemingly doomed regulation will be introduced in other cities in Guangdong, but Zhongshan should be the next in line to at least tighten the content displayed on their LED screens. A technician mistakenly played a 20-minute long pornographic film on a giant LED screen at Fuye Square in February last year.

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