Last Friday, Chinese president Xi Jinping walked into Qingfeng restaurant in western Beijing and, after waiting in line, ordered six pork buns, one dish of fried pig liver, and one vegetable dish. After paying 21 yuan (about $3.50) in cash, Xi ate his meal at a communal table and chatted with customers before departing.
Initially, Chinese Internet users suspected the photos of the event were fake—earlier this year, a story that Xi had personally hailed a Beijing cab proved to be a hoax—but once China’s official news agencies confirmed their veracity, the images went viral. The next day, customers flocked to the Qingfeng restaurant, and, after braving a line that snaked out the door, ordered the exact meal their president had eaten.
In China, where important officials seldom mingle with the general public, Xi’s casual lunch showed fresh evidence of his populist streak.
Read more. [Image: Sina Weibo]
Today was the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth, and as the event is celebrated in grand style in Beijing and around China, images of the Chairman are even more ubiquitous than usual this week: A rumored $2.5 billion was invested in celebrations in honor of the figure whose portrait watches over Tiananmen Square and is fastened to the gate of the Forbidden City.
In spite of the birthday celebrations, Mao’s status is marked by a growing ambivalence. Officially, a Communist Party Resolution dictated by Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, declared that Mao was 70 percent right, and 30 percent wrong (with the most grievous errors being the disasters of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward). And this mixed legacy makes it hard to pin down exactly what about Mao Party leaders want to celebrate, and what about him they don’t. Who could have anticipated this?
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
On the dictator’s 120th birthday, Sidney Rittenberg—whose life story entwines with the turbulent history of the People’s Republic—describes his interactions with the man who still dominates China 37 years after his death.
Read more. [Image: Sidney Rittenberg]
At first I didn’t believe the news this evening that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had visited Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. I didn’t believe it, because such a move would be guaranteed to make a delicate situation in East Asia far, far worse. So Abe wouldn’t actually do it, right?
It turns out that he has. For a Japanese leader to visit Yasukuni, in the midst of tensions with China, is not quite equivalent to a German chancellor visiting Auschwitz or Buchenwald in the midst of some disagreement with Israel. Or a white American politician visiting some lynching site knowing that the NAACP is watching. But it’s close.
Is it useful? Maybe not. But it’s definitely cool.
On June 22, 2013, murder occurred on the “roof of the world.” Ten mountaineers were killed at the foot of Nanga Parbat—the world’s ninth-tallest peak, located in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on the border with China where some of the world’s tallest mountain ranges converge. The victims included American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Nepali, Pakistani, Slovakian, and Ukrainian nationals, and the audacious attack shattered a rare sense of calm in Pakistan’s northernmost corner, bewildering locals. Members of the Pakistani Taliban doggedly scaled the heights to the mountaineers’ camp at an altitude of 15,000 feet and stormed the tents in the dead of night dressed as paramilitary police. One media outlet’s coverage flashed a haunting image of vulnerability: an orange tent on the mountain slopes bathed in moonlight.
Five days later, I boarded a plane to Gilgit-Baltistan.
I had set out to complete a journey I began 10 years ago: to traverse the mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) connecting China and Pakistan. A decade earlier, I had traveled along the 800 mile-long KKH from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region to the border with Pakistan. My travels became my college thesis—an analysis of the relationship between China, Pakistan, and Xinjiang’s restive Uighur Muslims in light of the traffic of militancy, drugs, and arms from Pakistan to Xinjiang. I argued that the KKH, a symbol of Chinese-Pakistani friendship, had proven to be both a blessing and a curse.
Now I set out to complete the journey from the Pakistani side in a week-long trip by plane, car, and boat. Once again, I discovered how lofty international relations and local communities intersect on the KKH—from tales of a “new Great Game” between China and America and infrastructure woes along the Pak-China Economic Corridor, to remarkable strides for women’s empowerment and development in communities keen to plug into China’s prosperity. I wound my way up through a land of glaciers, ibex, and snow leopards to the Khunjerab Pass at 14,000 feet—one of the world’s highest international border crossings. All the while, I was shadowed by the murder on the roof of the world.
Read more. [Image: Ziad Haider]
Five celebrity fathers and their children traipse around China, riding camels through the western deserts, fishing off the east coast, and selling vegetables for their bus fare home in remote southwestern Yunnan province. One dad doesn’t know how to do his daughter’s hair, but give him a couple of episodes—he’ll figure it out. Another one must survive with his son for three days in the desert, where, because neither can cook, the two only eat instant noodles.
These story lines are part of Where Are We Going Dad? which, since its debut in October, has become one of China’s most popular television shows, averaging more than 600 million viewers each week (and more than 640 million downloads online). Sponsorship rights for the show’s second season sold for 312 million yuan (about $50 million), more than ten times higher than the rights to the first season. And searches for Where Are We Going Dad? turn up over 40 million hits on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter.
Read more. [Image: Hunan Television]
With two weeks left in the year, it’s safe to say this: For the foreign media in China, 2013 has been the worst year in decades. And things could soon get worse: As of this writing, only some of the 24 China-based reporters with Bloomberg News and The New York Times have received press cards from the Chinese government, and have yet to receive visas stamped in their passports. Should the visa renewal deadline pass, these journalists will be expelled—and two of the world’s largest news organizations will not have a single full-time reporter based in the country next year.
Even if the journalists eventually get their visas renewed, the climate surrounding foreign reporting in China has changed. In November, The New York Times reported that Bloomberg News spiked an investigation into the assets of China’s wealthiest man, real estate developer Wang Jianlin, in order to maintain its access to the country. This type of self-censorship exists also for individual journalists, who have an incentive to avoid sensitive subjects that may jeopardize their livelihood.
Within the United States, China’s crackdown has forced Americans to come to terms with an unsettling reality: As China grows wealthier and more powerful, it is becoming less tolerant of foreign media. And more broadly, the idea that a developing China would inevitably become more liberal—dubbed the “China fantasy” by author James Mann in his excellent book of the same name—isn’t happening.
Read more. [Image: Jason Lee/Reuters]
Dozens of upscale bars, restaurants and boutiques line Wudaoying Hutong in Beijing’s Dongcheng neighborhood. Sometimes billed as the capital’s Brooklyn, the narrow alleyway features a nightly mix of hip young locals and foreign expatriates. With its hot pink sign featuring a winged banana logo, Natooke matched the neighborhood’s colorful aesthetic. But its business revolves around a product that, as recently as a few years ago, would have been unthinkable in China: fixed-gear bicycles.
A neatly organized, wood-floored space, Natooke’s walls are mounted with racks of bike parts—everything from frames and wheels to hubs and handlebar grips—in a range of bold colors. Buyers, guided by the expertise of Ines Brunn, the shop’s founder, and her staff of young hipsters, select each element to create a custom-built, fixed-gear bike.
Shops like these are common in the big cities of North America and Europe, but Natooke was the first such business to arrive in China. Today, it’s the epicenter of the youth bike scene in Beijing, and its impact has been felt across the country.
Read more. [Image: Ines Brunn]
On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a story about the National Security Agency. It focused in part on the role the NSA plays trying to thwart cyber attacks against the United States. It’s good that America has smart people focused on our cyber-vulnerabilities. Foreign adversaries certainly have an incentive to exploit some of them, just as the U.S. and Israel used Stuxnet to exploit vulnerabilities in Iran’s cyber-security.
What confounds me is the plot that 60 Minutes presented as one that the NSA has thwarted. In their telling, the agency may well have saved the global financial system from a viable Chinese attempt to destroy every computer in the world!
Read more. [Image: Reuters]