Who Was Liu Xiaobo?

You may have seen on the news on Thursday that imprisoned Chinese dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo passed away from liver cancer in a hospital in northeast China. He had been sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for his part in the writing of “Charter 08,” a document calling for political reform in China.

In case you are wondering who he is and the significance of his life and work, I recommend reading these two articles, both in the New York Review of Books:

The Passion of Liu Xiaobo, by Perry Link

After his release from Qincheng Prison in 1991, Liu was banned from publishing in China and fired from his teaching post at Beijing Normal University—even though students there had always loved his lectures. He began to support himself by writing for magazines in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas. The rise of the Internet in China in the early 2000s gave a huge boost to circulation of his essays, not only outside China but inside, too, as overseas friends found ways to skirt the government’s Great Firewall and send them back into China. Before 1989, his essays had been mostly on contemporary Chinese literature, but now he addressed topics in history, politics, and society, revealing a rich erudition.

China’s ‘Fault Lines’: Yu Jie on His New Biography of Liu Xiaobo, by Ian Johnson

In 2003, Yu converted to Christianity and increasingly complemented his provocative writing with political activism of his own. He was an early signer of Charter 08, the landmark human rights manifesto, and in 2010 cemented his position as a leading political critic by writing a biography of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in which he refers to his subject as “China’s best actor.” Last year, Yu completed a rough draft of his biography of Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an eleven-year prison sentence. Authorities warned Yu that he too would be jailed if the book was published and put him under house arrest for several months. In January, he fled China with his wife and son for the United States, where he now resides.

I spoke to Mr. Yu at a church in the Washington area.

It is a sad day for China.

Do You Know Where Your Underwear is Made?

I’m guessing that the answer “somewhere in China” popped into your head when you saw the title of this post. And of course you’d be correct. But which town in China? Can you answer that question?

Last week I ran across a great video, produced by The Economist, that takes a look at Gurao, a town in China that produces much of the world’s underwear.

Here’s the intro:

Next time you buy underwear that’s ‘Made in China’, chances are it has come from a town like Gurao, in south east China. Gurao has been dubbed the ‘town of underwear’. Its factories produce 350m bras and 430m vests and pairs of pants every year. They have made Gurao a prosperous and polluted place. But China’s one-trick industrial towns are also extremely vulnerable to shifting demand.

(email readers, click here to see the video)

Watching that video brought to my mind the third section of Peter Hessler’s wonderful book Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip, in which he introduces us to a man who sets out to make his fortune by producing tiny rings for bra straps!

Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip

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Happy Birthday, MacDonald’s

MacDonald’s opened its first restaurant in China 25 years ago. To commemorate that event, they rolled out a new sandwich called the Power Recharger Burger: 2 all beef patties, topped with 2 hot dogs, slathered with mustard.

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I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t look very appetizing to me!

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Road Trip Dreaming: Minnesota to Beijing

As I have written on this blog before, I love a good road trip. I have road-tripped my way around the US and Canada, Europe, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and taken a few trips around China.

One dream I have always had is driving from Minnesota to Beijing (I’m getting sick of that flight).

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So you can imagine my excitement when I read on a site called roadtrippers.com (yes, such a site exists) that the president of Russian Railways has proposed building a superhighway that would link New York and London, and run right through the Twin Cities.

The proposed route doesn’t actually enter China, but I’m sure that there will be a junction with a highway heading south.

I wonder if it’s too early to start packing the car….

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Image Credit: Roadtrippers.com

10 Things to Know About the 10-Year China Visa

Since writing with joy about obtaining a 10-year tourist visa to China last November, I’ve fielded a steady stream of question from friends (and strangers) about the new visa and how to get it. So I decided to put a post together about some things you need to know about the visa. They are in no particular order.

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1. It’s real. I admit that when it was announced that China would be issuing a 10-year tourist visa last fall, I was skeptical. But I applied for it and got it, so I know first hand that it is real.

2. This new validity period is the result of a bilateral agreement between the United States and China that was announced in November and designed to encourage more travel between the nations. Visa requirements for Chinese tourists and students coming to the US have been relaxed as well.

3. In section 2.1 of the application form, check “tourist.” (see an application example here)

4. In section 2.2 of the application form, check “other.”

5. This 10 year visa seems to be the new standard issue visa; however, the embassy/consulate reserves the right to issue it at their discretion.

6. You need to submit evidence of a booked flight itinerary. This can be a ticket or evidence of a booked, but not necessarily purchased reservation.

7. You need to submit evidence of confirmed lodging. You can book a hotel online, and cancel it later, if need be.

8. The visa is multiple-entry; this means that in the 10 years of its validity you can enter/exit China as many times as you want, staying up to 60 days at a time.

9. It is valid for 10 years even if your passport expires, SO LONG AS you retain possession of your expired passport and have it with you upon entry into China.

10. The cost is the same as the 1-year tourist visa, which means its ten times cheaper!

I used the good folks at Allied Passport in Washington, D.C. to obtain my visa. They were great to work with and I had my passport in hand in less then one week. You can visit their site for a detailed explanation of the requirements to obtain this visa, as well as a sample application form.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I have signed on to their affiliate program. When you apply for a visa through Allied, you can write my name (or the name of this blog) on your order form to get a $5.00 discount. In addition, I’ll get a referral fee.

The way I see it, everybody wins!

Image credit: Coming Up, by ronx ronquillo, via Flickr

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The Power of a Tweet

In a follow up to yesterday’s post about the disappearing pollution documentary in China, it’s interesting to note that it was a US Embassy Twitter feed that jump-started the conversation and concern about the growing problem of air pollution in China.

cctv in smog

 

A recent article in Wired tells the story in a post titled How the US Embassy Tweeted to Clear Beijing’s Air. Here’s a short excerpt:

WHEN THE US Embassy in Beijing started tweeting data from an air-quality monitor, no one could have anticipated its far-reaching consequences: It triggered profound change in China’s environmental policy, advanced air-quality science in some of the world’s most polluted cities, and prompted similar efforts in neighboring countries.

As the former Regional Strategic Advisor for USAID-Asia, I have seen first-hand that doing international development is incredibly difficult. Billions of dollars are spent annually with at best mixed results and, even with the best intentions, the money often fails to move the needle. That is why I was so inspired by the story of the US embassy’s low-cost, high-impact development project. They tapped into the transformative power of democratized data, and without even intending to, managed to achieve actual change.

Here’s how it happened.

In 2008, everyone knew Beijing was polluted, but we didn’t know how much. That year, the US Embassy in Beijing installed a rooftop air-quality monitor that cost the team about as much as a nice car. The device began automatically tweeting out data every hour to inform US citizens of the pollution’s severity (@beijingair).

For the first time in China, publicly available data focused on one of the most dangerous types of air pollutants, PM2.5—airborne fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter or about the thickness of a spider web’s thread. These tiny particles are small enough to penetrate your lungs and even enter your blood stream, causing serious cardiovascular and respiratory ailments. In fact, experts have recently shown that air pollution is responsible for more deaths worldwide annually than malaria and HIV combined.

In 2010, it became official: Beijing’s air quality was deemed “crazy bad” by the Embassy when the pollution exceeded the bounds of the EPA’s air quality index. This inadvertently undiplomatic tweet reached a growing audience via third-party apps that circumvented China’s twitter firewall. People were attracted by the reliability of the Embassy’s data, which helped them make daily decisions—whether it was safe to let their children play outside, for example.

This data often painted a bleaker picture than did the Chinese official pronouncements. Beijing residents, dissatisfied with the crudeness of China’s air quality monitoring efforts, put pressure on Chinese officials to acknowledge the scale of the problem and start taking proactive measures to tackle it.

I was living in Beijing at the time and followed this Twitter feed right away (although there were many days I wished I hadn’t). We knew the smog was bad (we could see it and taste it), but now we knew just how bad!

I remember the day a tweet declared the pollution in Beijing to be “crazy bad,” and the subsequent temper tantrum thrown by the Chinese government. As the article notes, they demanded the embassy stop monitoring and publishing the air quality measurements, to no avail. They even threatened to do monitor and publish information on the air quality in Washington in retaliation, to which the embassy responded, in effect, “go ahead, make my day.”

With the publication of this data, the jig was up for the Chinese government. No longer could they tell the people that the murky air was just fog.

It wasn’t long after all this that Twitter was blocked in China.

 

Friday Photo: Reading the Bible

In March of 2012, I travelled with Noel Piper in Sichuan province on a research trip. On the second Sunday of our journey, we found ourselves in the Protestant Church in Huili, Sichuan. Even though the church is in the heart of a city, most of the parishioners were peasants from the countryside, many of them elderly. During the service I spotted this woman intently reading her Bible. I couldn’t pass up the shot.

Bible-reading

Reading the Bible

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