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A question of security?

The PRC government is making an effort to systematically clear out foreigners residing and working in China, particularly those in Beijing. That the clear-out is widespread is not disputed and no one with a non-Chinese skin is safe no matter how long they have lived in China and no matter what they are there for. For any government to expel illegal immigrants is not unreasonable; there are expatriates living in China with no visa, expired visas or inappropriate visas, so they should not be too surprised when the PSB comes knocking on their door, but this goes much further. The rules regarding the issue of visas have been changed drastically and extensions to existing visas and residency permits are becoming very hard to obtain. Read through almost any blog written by an expatriate in China and you’ll soon get a feel of the problem. What is not so easy to ascertain is why this is happening.

The process started, in a low key way, some time last year when the PRC government began rounding up and deporting evangelists and missionaries [foreign evangelists are illegal in China], as reported on several websites, click here for one of them. Then early this year foreign students in Beijing were told they would have to vacate their quarters during the summer months. At the time a few people thought this a little odd, while others, myself included, felt there was probably a rational explanation somewhere and this was nothing to fuss about. During the Spring the process was extended to illegal migrant workers from neighbouring countries such as North Korea. Several of these ended up in the UK as asylum seekers as they dared not return to face Kim Jong-Il’s regime; several passed through the reception centre not far from where I live. Since then the net has spread and no one seems to be beyond its reach.

As work [‘Z’] and business [‘F”] visas have expired renewal has been denied or the application process made so long and tortuous people have given up and gone away. When ‘Z’ visas have been issued they have been limited to single entry only. Travel visas [‘L’], which once were available in a variety of formats have been reduced to one type only, 30 days, single entry. The days of multiple entry visas are over for now. One very odd rule of thumb has emerged, no one born after 1984 has been granted renewal of a ‘Z’ visa. So if you are a tourist and just wish to make one visit of 2 or 3 weeks this summer, no problem, but if you require anything else be prepared for a long wait and possible disappointment.

If it were just the ne’er-do-wells, who occasionally land up in China, who were affected I would have no qualms and might even applaud the government but this simply isn’t the case. This report on the Cup Of Cha weblog gives a general outline of the picture and this, this and this report from Simpson’s Paradox details the departure of, first, two of the blogger’s friends and not long after, her boyfriend’s sudden departure which will be followed soon by her own. Another well-known blogger has had to return to his home country to go through the visa application process, to the amusement of one or two of the commenters, as detailed in this report on The Opposite End Of China blog. A 71 year old man who who has been running his own company in China for several years has had to leave at short notice, as reported on the Wall Street Journal. And this report on the TIME magazine website outlines the problem and details a few more cases. Root around on the web long enough and you will accumulate a list as long as your arm of expulsion stories.

Another clearing out process has been taking place which doesn’t involve foreigners but could be equally relevant to this question. Dissenters and other trouble makers have been locked up, petty dissenters, petitioners and other undesirables who were a regular feature of the Beijing streets have been moved as far away from tourist areas as possible. This has all been part of the campaign to tidy up the streets and make them more agreeable for western eyes. Walk along any city centre street in Beijing and how many beggars do you see? See Ben’s Blog.

One of the effects, which I find hard to believe was intended, has been a downturn in international tourist traffic. Bookings this year are lower than for the same period last year and even for the month of August itself the figures are not good – see this report on the Economist website.

As to why this has happened we can only theorise. The official reason is ’security’. Whether this makes any sense or not doesn’t seem to matter as the Chinese authorities are determined to put on a show of strength, as shown on this China Daily report. Some of the measures shown are ideal for TV/Photo-ops but not a lot use for dealing with real terrorism or civil disturbances. In previous months the PLA and police have been hard at work undertaking training exercises and now it all comes to fruition in the form of a massive mobilisation and a string of spectacular displays of Chinese strength and prowess. Click on to any Chinese media website [e.g. Xinhua, QQ news] and you will see propaganda photos showing the PSB, PLA, PLAN and almost anyone else who wears a government uniform, going through their paces valiantly defending the motherland and fighting off the evils of the outside world. The PRC government claims to be fighting insurgents in the far west province of Xinjiang in the form of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement [ETIM] which in turn is claimed to be linked to Al’Qaeda. While resentment against the governing Han people does exist amongst the Uygur people of Xinjiang no-one seems to know if ETIM itself genuinely exists. Early this year Xinhua reported a raid on an ETIM gang in Urumqi – click here – and during the spring an airline hi-jacking/sabotage incident was reported – click here. A search on the internet will produce alternative reports of the same incidents but in not one of them is there one item evidence, photographic or otherwise, cited or referred to to prove that these incidents occurred. Even the Xinhua reports themselves, usually published some time after each incident, are devoid of any reference to evidence that the incidents took place. One incident was purported to have taken place in a residential neighbourhood and was said to have resulted in several deaths, but none of the neighbours knew anything of it. All of which calls into question just how real terrorism in China is. Even if it were real, in what way does expelling foreign residents make the Olympic games any more safe? Or is it, as some suggest, just an excuse for a continuing crackdown on anyone the authorities don’t like?

But back to the expulsions. If security is not the real reason for this, what is? Millions of tourists are expected to arrive in Beijing during the Games and along with them will be thousands of news reporters. The authorities want them all to see China at its best and to this end they have been beavering away for several years preparing the infrastructure, the amenities, environment and the people. Over all these elements the government has some degree of control and the authorities have good reason to feel reasonably confident about the preparations, e.g. the people have been put through many re-education programmes, such as how to queue in a civilised manner, how to not spit, how to clap harmoniously, etc, but the one thing the government cannot control is the foreign population [said by some to be around quarter of a million in Beijing]. To speak to a native Beijinger [北京公民] a reporter will probably need an interpreter, and the native Beijinger will probably already know what he must [and not] say to foreign reporters. To speak to a foreign resident would not be quite so irksome – and finding foreigners is remarkably easy, just stand in the high street of any large city and see how easy it is to spot the laowai amongst the surrounding sea of jet black hair and tanned faces – and if the questions were to become too probing who knows what might be said and then reported? Could there be a risk here? So, to present the world with a picture of an unflawed harmonious society the way ahead is to make sure that the only people available on the streets are re-educated natives and first time tourists, that way there will be no embarrassing stories to deal with.

北京欢迎您

Beijing welcomes you.

Here’s some really important health information – especially good at this time of the year!

Q: I’ve heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that’s it…don’t waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that’s like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruit and vegetables?

A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism for delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Sheep are a good source of field grass (leafy green vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily intake of vegetable products.

Q: Is beer or wine bad for me?

A: Look, it goes back to the earlier point about fruits and vegetables. As we all know, scientists divide everything in the world into three categories: animal, mineral, and vegetable. We all know that beer and wine are not animal or mineral, so that only leaves one thing, right? My advice: Have a burger and a beer and enjoy your vegetables.

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have a body, and you have body fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Can’t think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: ‘No Pain…Great’.

Q: Aren’t fried foods bad for you?

A: You’re not listening. These days foods are fried in vegetable oil. In fact, they’re permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: What’s the secret to healthy eating?

A: Thicker gravy.

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?

A: Are you crazy? HELLO …… Cocoa beans .. another vegetable!!! It’s the best feel-good food around!

Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets. Now go and have a biscuit……..flour comes from wheat, which is a veggie!

Finally; if swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.

Oh, and one more thing… “When life hands you lemons, ask for tequila and salt.”

Global warming, the evidence.

Here is the ultimate, irrefutable proof of global warming.

Alternative Olympic Games

Many thanks to Beijing Olympics Fan for alerting us to this webpage of wonders on the Mental Floss website.

The sports/activities/antics [delete as required] depicted on this page, each with a demo video clip, beat diving, dressage, and most other Olympic sports hands down. Shame upon BOCOG for not selecting wife-carrying [if you really think this is a time-waster just take a look at the prize] as an alternative event to hurdle racing and underwater hockey surely beats synchronised swimming every day of the week. Some of the names are self-explanatory, such as underwater hockey but others take a little thinking about. Ga-Ga for instance isn’t something that happens to grannies and granddads but is a form of Dodgeball, played in an octagonal pit. And for all the tired and jaded baseball watchers out there pesapallo is just what’s needed to turn a rather repetitive mediocre activity into genuine entertainment. No more neat and tidy circuits of the diamond to score, instead the players run an apparently random zig-zag route to make their points. It looks quite chaotic but apparently there are real rules [somewhere] and they are just as precise as those of the original game. Almost on a par with Extreme Ironing – now there’s real sport for real men [and women]. 🙂

No favour

An interesting article in The Guardian newspaper here. Just cast your mind back to the fuss over Sharon Stone’s comments, the storm in a teacup over the tea stains advert, the fiasco of the poster showing Tibetan monks on a rollercoaster, and a few other recent ‘insults’ to the Chinese nation. In every instance someone apologised unreservedly for each of these slurs against the Middle Kingdom and there was some kind of step-down – but why? Ms Stone’s comments were foolish, but did they matter? She is an actress not an intellect; did anyone genuinely expect intelligent comment? The slogan used by Procter and Gamble to advertise their Ariel detergent employed an idiom commonly used in English, ‘all the teas in China’, which somehow came to be seen as an insult to China. And the [mis]interpretation dreamt up by the Chinese blogger who stirred the brown stuff to set off the furore over the Coca-Cola poster is so stunningly far-fetched it borders on the surreal. Isn’t it time this great nation learned to accept that not everyone in the world is going to say nice things about it, that not every reference to ‘China’ amounts to a slight upon their motherland and, most important of all, learn to discriminate between trivia and serious comment?

Ma Jian argues that constantly apologising is not the way to deal with these over-reactions. According to the teachings of Kongzi there are three types of good friends and three types of not so good friends and Ma argues we are rapidly setting ourselves amongst the unreliable ones, but that is only part of the story. Not only are we pandering to a bunch of over-sensitive, nationalist halfwits but we are doing ourselves even fewer favours by encouraging them to become ever more vociferous and demanding. By repeatedly telling them, in effect, that we are wrong and then giving in to their demands are we not making future dealings with the Chinese people, and government, more difficult? If there was some truth in the complaints made an apology or change of stance would be in order but that has not been the case, and caving in to hysteria does no-one any good.

As a general rule people, and governments, respect those who are honest, they have more respect for those who are strong and more still for those both honest and strong. The Chinese people and government have the right to hold their own views on the world, about everything from the cosmos down to which is the best football team, and they also have the right to know that there are other viewpoints in existence in the world but must accept that not all of them are parallel with their own. If they are to regard us with respect, just as we should with them, there has to be a reason for that but our present kow-towing is not it.

The PRC government has a point when it says that it is unacceptable for outsiders to interfere with matters which are purely internal to another nation – and by that I mean no-one has any more right to dictate what sort of posters are pinned on hoardings in other countries than they have to dictate what colour socks we wear.

Related posts: The Hurt Feelings Of The Chinese on China Rises

Getting your head around big numbers

Everything in China happens on a big scale. This should be no surprise when bearing in mind that one fifth of the world’s population live there, but this snippet of information usually slips past without our accepting or realising its implications until we come face to face with it.

Some of the most arresting features of the world are located in China, the Taklamakan Desert, one of the coldest and driest deserts on earth, the Karst Mountains, one of the most stunning scenic spots in existence, the Changjiang, the third longest river in the world [Yangtze to most of the world] but it is when we get down to looking at some of the man-made features that we really start to sit up and take notice. The trend started many centuries ago when the ruling dynasty decided to build a wall to keep out the uncouth louts from the North. It took a while to build the wall and it was redesigned, re-jigged, re-hashed, restored and rebuilt many times before we finally ended up with the Great Wall of China, a fortified structure extending 6,400 kms from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west. Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who brought all the little bits of China under one rule [bashing people around doesn’t quite equate with the word ‘unite’] liked to do things in a big way and planned and built the biggest mausoleum for himself, ever. And the trend has continued ever since. The world’s first long distance canal, the Grand Canal, coupling Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province with Beijing was started in the 5th century BC but was not extended into its modern day form until the 6th century AD. It is 1,770 kilometres long, contains 24 locks and is still in use for carrying commercial traffic. By comparison canals in Britain were not built in a serious way until the 17th century and the difference in scale is striking. For example the Grand Union Canal, connecting London with Birmingham, built in the 18th century, is 220 kilometres in length, contains 166 locks and on average is only 6 yards wide.

In more modern times the structures built in China are even more ambitious. Earlier this year, after less than 5 years construction work, the Hangzhou Bay Bridge 36 kilometres long, connecting the cities of Shanghai and Ningbo was completed and opened. This will be the world’s longest sea bridge and the second longest, overall. The Chinese people love tall buildings and they are to be found in every city, some are quite likeable, some grotesque and others just a little quirky as every architect tries to leave his mark on the world. Probably two of the best known modern buildings in China are both found in the Pudong district of Shanghai, the Oriental Pearl Tower, the third tallest TV tower in the world at 468 metres high, and the Jin Mao Dasha, the fifth tallest building in the world at 420 metres high, but one of the strangest is the new CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, still under construction – it looks as if it will never stay upright. While we are on the topic of tall buildings the very tallest in the world, at the moment, is the Taipei 101 building, built in Taiwan, with 101 floors – and also rated, by some, to be one of the ugliest buildings of the world, click here. When I first visited Shenzhen, a very modern city in the south of China, it had no subway or metro system, but when on returning only two years later a system was in use and was being extended further. Some things take a while to build, such as the Great Wall and the Grand Canal, but other things in China can be done on a scale and at speeds which most of us are just not familiar with.

One of the best known projects to be built is the Three Gorges Dam which was started in 1993 and will not be fully complete until 2011. The dam, which is 2,300 metres long, 101 metres high, 115 metres thick at the base will produce a lake 660 kilometres long, approximately 1.5 kilometres wide and holding 39.3 cubic kilometres of water. To do this more than 4 million people have been relocated so they don’t go under the water; many small towns and innumerable villages plus over 1,000 sites of archaeological or historical interest will be lost. But navigation through the Three Gorges on the Changjiang will be easier and the power station will generate 22,500 megawatts of electricity. Before we leave this item and glibly skip forward to the next wonder of the world, just imagine trying to persuade 4 million people to move house in the UK; that’s more than the population of Glasgow, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Sheffield all rolled up together – think about it for a moment.

How many people in China live in big cities? Visiting any city in China you might be excused for thinking that everyone lives there, the streets are so busy with people, and most Chinese cities seem big by comparison with western counterparts but it isn’t quite as might be expected. The Chinese definition of a big city is a population centre of 5,000,000 people or more – and there are more than 10 of these in China! Although there has been a substantial shift in the population the majority still remain in rural areas, towns and small cities. Actual population figures vary according where they are obtained and how they are calculated in the first place, but possibly the largest of the municipalities, of which there are four [Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Tianjin], is Chongqing which is reputed to have a population of approximately 30,000,000 and an inner city population of between 4,500,000 and 12,000,000; this figure varies according to where the boundary between the urban area of Chongqing and the rural area is set and no one seems to agree on where that is.

On the sporting front it seems that if you give any game or activity to the Chinese it will come back twice as big and complicated as it was before, if not more. Take a simple tug-o’-war, stage it in a Chinese city and it isn’t quite so simple any more as we saw earlier this year when an event, involving two teams of 10,000 people each, a rope 1 kilometre in length and weighing 3 tons, was held in Changsha. Or a simple track event. I’m sure everyone knows what a 3-legged race is, a feat of cooperation between pairs of runners performed at a moderately quick pace. Not content with that the Chinese have come up with a 21-legged version of the race, which transforms a relatively sedate activity into something with the potential to break several limbs simultaneously should anything go wrong.

Returning to natural events, the recent disaster in Sichuan has involved some figures which are quite numbing. The number of people dead and missing is bad by any standard but these are small when compared with casualty lists and the numbers who are now homeless – more than 300,000 injured, and more than 5,000,000 people displaced. Five million; that is more than the population of the Republic of Ireland. One of the problems to be dealt with during the aftermath was the danger posed by earthquake-lakes and in one instance approximately 1.9 million people had to be moved to safer ground – that’s the population of Dublin plus a few more, shifted in one move to solve one small part of the problem. Last year the UK was beset by floods unseen before. No one doubts it cost a lot of money and was a real disaster for those directly affected. There was certainly a lot of noise made about it but I’m not sure it ranks the same as a disaster on a Chinese scale; 8 people died and 55,000 homes and other properties were damaged. If things were bad enough for 8 people to die and the population to get hot under the collar about it, how bad must it be for more than 60,000 to die and 5,000,000 to lose their homes? For up to date figures on casualties and how things are progressing, click here.

When China was an enclosed and inward looking nation none of this mattered to the rest of the world but now that it has chosen to interact what goes on in the Far East starts to matter a lot – and in a very personal way too. While China remained self-sufficient it made very little impression on the rest of the world but now there is a demand from within China for imports this has an effect. Remember, this is 20% of the world all under one government. Importing enough rubber boots to keep the population happy would have a big effect on everyone else i.e. no one else would have rubber boots for that year, there simply isn’t enough rubber in the world; but this is hypothesis, how about sticking to reality? In the days before China began importing oil the price of petrol was relatively steady, now that China is buying up supplies the price is rising. There are other factors involved too, but undisputably China is one of the major influences. This year, 2008, will probably be the last year that China is self-sufficient in food, this is due to rising expectations of the Chinese population and an increase in demand for higher living standards. Dietary shifts in China have been quite modest and the average Chinese person eats far less meat than any westerner but when that average change is multiplied by one fifth of the world population an overall world change becomes inevitable. If the squeals were loud when petrol prices started to soar, how loud will the noise be when food becomes expensive.

 

Related articles –

More Wealth, More Meat

From Poverty To Fast Food

Differences

Here is a posting worth reading. On the Frog In A Well blog is an article about some works of art by a Chinese artist, Yang Liu [or Liu Yang, depending on whether you prefer Chinese names westernised or in original order], currently on show in Germany. Each picture is intended to show differences between Chinese and German culture, which is why you see small Deutsch captions; in fact they could be said to illustrate differences between China and many western European countries, probably North America too.

Another website has pictures of the artist and the exhibition itself.

I’m not going to tell you what I think your conclusions should be or even say what my views are, only that I like the one about weather.