Three China Stories

One of the things I do as part of my “day job” is to produce a weekly online newsletter with curated news stories from China. I usually include a few dozen stories, but there are always a few that, for some reason, stand out.

Here are three news stories out of China that caught my attention this week:

NPR journalist Rob Schmitz travelled to Sichuan Province to report on a property developer who was so moved by the movie Titanic that he decided to build a life-size replica in his small, land-locked city:

A lot of questions spring to mind on arriving at the construction site for a full-scale Chinese replica of the Titanic: Why is this being built in the remote countryside, 1,000 miles from the sea? Why is this being built? And simply: Why?

The question that comes to my mind is, why not?

The New Yorker has an excellent photo essay about China’s so-called “Belt and Road” initiative to invest in infrastructure development from China to Europe, along a new “Silk Road.” It already includes a rail line that carries goods from China to London.

If bridges, pipelines, and railroads are the arteries of the modern world, then China is positioning itself as the beating heart. […] Like most Chinese official-speak, the phrase “Belt and Road” obscures more than it clarifies: the “belt” will be composed of land routes running from China to Scandinavia, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Middle East; the “road” refers to shipping lanes connecting China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In the fall, the photographer Davide Monteleone traced stretches of one of the land routes, travelling from Yiwu, in the southeastern province of Zhejiang, to Khorgos, home to one of the world’s largest dry ports, and to Aktau, in Kazakhstan, on the Caspian Sea.

The photos are amazing!

Unfortunately, China is known as a place where anything and everything can be faked, from buildings to boots, from milk to money. Now comes word from the Chinese site Sixth Tone of restaurants in Hebei Province serving up fake donkey burgers:

Restaurants in a Chinese city known as the “hometown of donkey burgers” might not have been dishing up what it advertised, as a recent investigative report found that cheaper meat from mules, horses, and pigs was frequently being used instead. […]  Several people involved in the fake donkey meat trade said that demand for the genuine article has grown rapidly in recent years, leading to price hikes so large that some vendors in Hejian have instead turned to mule and horse meat — often imported frozen from overseas — and even pork.

Yes, you read that right: there is a HIGH demand for donkey meat. It’s a delicacy in north China, particularly in Hebei Province. I wrote about the popularity of donkey burgers in a post way back in 2006:

There’s a new culinary sensation sweeping the masses of Beijing lately—Donkey Burgers.   They are not burgers as you or I may conceive of them–a meat patty on a bun.  Rather, Beijing donkey burgers are BBQ donkey meat inside something that is very much like pocket bread.  There’s a small restaurant near where I work that specializes in them.

Today, while eating there, I noticed a sign on the wall–a poem of sorts– that I’d never seen before, extolling the virtures of donkey burgers.

It said, “xiang changshou, chi lurou; yao jiankang, he lu tang.”

Translated, it means:  “If you want to live a long life, eat donkey meat; if you want to be healthy, drink donkey soup.”

I’ve recently taken to trying to find out how widespread the love of donkey-meat is, so have been doing informal polls among my Chinese friends. The results: those from the north or northeast of the country are aware of the culinary value of donkeys, and those from the south turn up their noses. (But, keep in mind, folks from the south eat all manner of other strange creatures like civit cats!). One friend from the northeast even went so far as to quote a famous saying about donkey meat: Tianshang longrou; Dixia lurou. (In heaven there is dragon meat; on earth there is donkey meat.

Well, as clever as the sign and poem are, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to try a donkey burger!  Sorry folks, my loyalties are with Culvers!!!

Related posts:

Moon Cakes or Donkey Meat?

Donkey Burgers


China By the Numbers

On March 5, Premier Li Keqiang delivered the 2016 government work report at the opening session of the annual National People’s Congress in Beijing. As government work reports go, it follows a very strict script: listing of all the glorious accomplishments of the past year and then setting forth all the glorious things that the government will accomplish this year. And of course it has all happened under the glorious leadership of the Communist Party with Chairman Xi Jinping as the core.


I waded through the English translation of the entire 18,000-character report (so you don’t have to), and pulled out some of the key numbers Premier Li listed for the past year:

4.02%                        registered urban unemployment

5.6%                           decline in sulfur emissions

6.7%                           economic growth

1900 km                    new high speed rail lines

6700 km                    new expressways

290,000km                rural roads

5.5 million km            fiber optic cables

15,000                         new businesses added daily

6 million                     dilapidated urban homes renovated

12.4 million                reduction in people living in rural poverty areas

13.4 million                new urban jobs

21.3 million                growth in the number of students from poor rural areas enrolled in universities

120 million                overseas trips

340 million                new 4G mobile subscribers

The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time has posted links to the original report as well as their translation. You can find them all here. There are also links to other reports as well.

Here is a round-up of other articles covering and analyzing this year’s National People’s Congress:

Words Count: Chinese State of the Nation Speech All About the ‘Party’(March 5, 2017, China Real Time)
The Chinese government’s annual policy blueprint runs more than 18,000 Chinese characters. Only a fraction of them are necessary to grasp this year’s theme: a dramatic emphasis on the Communist Party, in particular its leader.

China begins annual political sessions with synchronized tea pouring and the shadow of a leadership shuffle (March 5, 2017, The Los Angeles Times)
The National People’s Congress, a largely ceremonial body, sticks to a script and proceeds like an overly choreographed play — down to servers’ synchronized pouring of tea. But officials are working even harder this year to praise their boss and make sure nothing goes wrong. The reason: A leadership shakeup this fall could lay the foundation for President Xi Jinping to extend his years in power.

The Pomp and Politics of China’s Annual Congress (March 7, 2017, Bloomberg)
The National People’s Congress is many things. It’s China’s top legislative body and a rubber stamp for policies hammered out behind closed doors by the ruling Communist Party. It’s the only time each year that many top officials in the world’s second-biggest economy face the press. Above all, it’s a master class in orchestration.

China’s political propaganda gets a digital makeover (March 14, 2017, BBC)
China has been trying and failing for years to get its people, especially its young people, to care about its political system. Could it now be close to working out how to do just this?

If you’re into all the nitty-gritty details, check out the special section on the Xinhua News Agency website, which includes this graphic depicting the accomplishments of 2016:

Here’s a graphic representation of the accomplishments, courtesy of Xinhua News Agency:


Once this event is over, preparations will kick into high gear for the next big meeting in October: The 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

That’s the important one!

Related Posts:

New Regulations in the Works?

Do’s and Don’t’s

Image credit: by Ding Zhou, via Flickr

Note: This post originally appeared at ChinaSource.

Get Your “Four Comprehensives” On

The Chinese Communist Party is at it again — promoting it’s own awesomeness with an animated rap video (with a side of Beethoven).


Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:

“Listen to me: four comprehensives, four comprehensives, building a moderately prosperous society is the goal;

Repeat after me: four comprehensives, four comprehensives, reform is the impetus;

Repeat after me: four comprehensives, four comprehensives, ruling by law is guarantee;

Repeat after me: four comprehensives, four comprehensives, party-building is the key.

And here is full video, in all it’s glory….

(Email readers: click here to see the video)

Image credit: South China Morning Post

Related Posts:

Reviewing the Year in Rap

Thirteen Five

I Love a Parade

Chinese Dreaming

Where Are the Liu Mei?

In the late 1990’s, I had the chance to study Chinese one-on-one with a professor in Beijing. At the beginning of my very first lesson, in a small classroom at the college where he taught, Professor Y’s first words to me were, “I’m not a member of the Party, and so we can discuss any topic you want.” He wasn’t kidding.


What started out as a language class turned into a crash course in Chinese history, politics, culture, and contemporary society from the point of view of an educated Chinese man with no political agenda to push. Nobody helped me understand the interconnectedness of the past and present in China more than he did.

During one of our sessions, Professor Y taught me two terms: liu su and liu mei (留苏, 留美 ). Liu is the first character of the word liuxuesheng, which means foreign student, or a student who goes abroad to study. An American studying in China is a liuxuesheng. A Chinese student who studies outside of China is a liuxuesheng. Su is short for Sulian, Soviet Union, and mei is short for Meiguo, the United States.

He explained to me that in the early years of the People’s Republic, most Chinese liuxuesheng went to the Soviet Union to study. They were liusu. They immersed themselves in Marxism and Leninism, and returned to take up leadership positions in the Party and government.

In the 1980’s, following the launch of the Reform and Opening Policy by Deng Xiaoping, the government began sending liuxuesheng to America to study. They are liumei. They are immersing themselves in science, technology, and, and in many cases, western notions of policy and governance. Many are encountering the Gospel and becoming Christ-followers.

What would it mean for China, Professor Y and I wondered, when the returning liumei rose to positions of power in the Party and Government.

Whenever I read an article about Chinese students in the US, I think about Professor Y and that fantastic discussion we had. L

Last week Foreign Policy published a long story titled The Most Chinese Universities in America about the growing numbers of Chinese students enrolled in American universities:

In the 1970s, they came from Iran, riding the wave of the oil boom. Then in the first decade of the second millennium, they came from India, filling up graduate programs in business and science. Now, it’s Chinese students who comprise the largest group of international pupils in the United States, buoyed by a growing Chinese middle class that’s willing to pay top dollar for their children’s educations. According to an annual report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), in the 2014-2015 academic year more than 304,000 Chinese students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, an almost five-fold increase from just a decade earlier.

Using the annual report issued by The Institute of International Education as a starting point, Foreign Policy researchers examined Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statistics on F-1 visas to try to determine exactly where the Chinese students (liumei) are.

Here is the top ten (ranked by # of visas):

  1. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  2. University of Southern California
  3. Purdue University
  4. Northeastern University
  5. Columbia University
  6. Michigan State University
  7. Ohio State University
  8. University of California, Los Angeles
  9. Indiana University
  10. University of California at Berkeley

I note with interest that the University of Minnesota is not among the top ten.

Image credit: by JanetandPhil, via Flickr

Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post that was originally published in the From the West Courtyard Blog at ChinaSource.

Related Posts:

Chinese Students in the U.S.

The Chinese are Coming!

Thirteen Five

The “China watcher” corner of The Internet nearly ground to a halt on Monday night and Tuesday after Xinhua, China’s official news agency posted this bizarre video to YouTube.

It’s a video designed to promote the upcoming release of the the government’s five-year economic plan (yes, China is still socialist enough that they do this), the 13th such plan since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Shi san wu (十三五 ) — 13.5 — is a short hand reference, and apparently one that lends itself to a catchy rhyme.

In case you’re wondering about the significance of the five-year plan, here’s what The Economist has to say about it:

“In the era of Mao Zedong, China’s five-year plans were strictly implemented. The Communist Party set specific production quotas — for instance, for steel and grain — that work units had to meet. This central direction and, often, misdirection squandered resources to disastrous effect, leaving much of the country impoverished. In the 1980’s as the government loosened its grip on the economy, it also became a bit more relaxed about the five-year plans. Rather than rigid agendas, they have become more like rough guides to how leaders want to steer the country.

The five-year plans are no longer just economic in focus. Much attention is also given to environmental protection (there are targets for cutting carbon emissions and curbing energy use) and to social programmes such as health insurance. In the absence of democracy, the five-year plans are the closest thing to an election manifesto for the Communist Party, laying out its longer-term priorities. But since the party still has overwhelming power, the plans carry more weight than ordinary manifestos. All major actors — local officials, banks, and big companies, both state-owned and private — change their strategies and their rhetoric to look like they are in line with the plans.”

And as for the video itself, it’s not something that you can un-see, and for that I offer my apologies!

Make it look like a parade

Years ago I had a poster hanging in my room that said: “When you’re being run out of town, get in front and make it look like a parade.”

I thought of that this morning when I read an article in the People’s Daily (Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece) that referenced the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets of Hong Kong on July 1. It was a demonstration to demand more political autonomy from Beijing, but you’d never know that from this statement by China’s Vice-President (they have one?):

“On Tuesday, the Hong Kong government and residents held more than 200 activities to mark the return of the special administrative region to China 17 years ago, including flag-raisings and visits to the garrison of the Chinese army. Organizers estimated that 450,000 attended these activities.”

There you have it! It wasn’t a demonstration; it was a PARADE!

Here’s an amazing time-lapse video of the “parade:”

(if you receive this post by email and cannot view the video, go here)

Here’s how The New York Times reported on the demonstration:

The appeal of democratic ideas drew thousands of protesters into the streets of Hong Kong on Tuesday in a defiant but largely peaceful march advocating free and open elections for the territory’s chief executive.

A nearly solid river of protesters, most of them young, poured out of Victoria Park through the afternoon and into the evening, heading for the skyscraper-lined canyons of downtown Hong Kong, Asia’s top financial center.

The article provides an excellent overview of the historical background and issues involved, as well as a short video about one of the 17-year old organizers.

More photos of the demonstration can be found here. (Huffington Post)

Dueling Aircraft Carrier (Videos)

To celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Aviation Industry Corporation (a state-owned company) released this video of China’s J-15 carrier plane and the country’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

Round about the same time, the US Navy released their own video of the USS George Washington-based “Royal Maces” squadron showing their stuff.

Let’s just hope that the duel never moves beyond video clips!


China Divided in Half

It is often said that there are two China’s — urban China and rural China. But according to this map, recently published on Tea Leaf Nation, China can be split in half according to GDP distribution. Here’s the description:

Foreign Policy compiled GDP figures reported by municipalities across China and found that 35 cities contributed just under half of China’s GDP in 2013.

The map (below) merits two caveats. First, the definition of a “city” in the PRC includes all counties, county-level cities, and city districts it governs. (Chongqing, for example, is a megacity in southwest China with a population of just under 30 million that covers 31,814 square miles, netting in smaller towns that lie far away from the bustling, recognizably urban center.) Second, multiple regions will sometimes take credit for the same dollar of GDP, such that the sum of reported numbers exceeds the top-line national statistic. Nonetheless, the below map provides a revealing look at just how much China’s GDP growth machine depends on a few regions:


 There you have it — the two China’s! Wow!