Saturday, Jul 26, 2014, 2:14 AM CST – China

Special Report

2013 CHANGE AND CHALLENGE

The year that was 2013 saw China’s new leadership take full charge of a Communist Party increasingly concerned with a myriad of challenges from within and outside the country’s borders.

Wang Qishan

Bo Xilai

Li Tianyi

Luo Changping

Tang Hui

Xia Junfeng

Peng Liyuan

 Wang Qishan Balancing Act

After being named as one of the seven members of the Politburo, China’s central governing body, in November 2012, Wang Qishan made his diplomatic debut when he visited the US in December 2012 as a vice-premier. However, Wang’s real responsibility within the Party is to curb corruption, a widespread problem that the top leadership has warned may lead to its collapse.

In March, Wang, who heads the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, pledged that the new leadership’s anti-corruption campaign would target both “tigers” and “flies.” By the end of November 2013, 11 senior provincial officials had been removed from office, more than twice the number that fell during the previous leadership’s first year after assuming power. It is estimated that more than 1,000 bureau-level officials have been sacked during the same time. Wang is said to be the second most powerful person in China, with only President Xi Jinping wielding more clout.

Analysts argue that Wang’s approach is different from that of the previous leadership in that it focuses on punishment rather than prevention. In the past, anti-corruption efforts had focused more on prevention, as this was thought to address the root causes of corruption. However, as these efforts failed, harsher punishments are now considered to be the most effective method of reining in officials.

One of the many new tactics to have been adopted is the sending of “circuit inspection teams” to different provinces and government agencies, with the goal of spotting corruption and creating an atmosphere of “shock and awe.”

 

Bo Xilai   Riches to Rags

The trial of Bo Xilai, a former member of the powerful Politburo and Party chief of southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality in August finally brought to a close the sensational political drama triggered by the attempted defection of Wang Lijun, Bo’s deputy, to the US Embassy in Chengdu in February 2012.

Bo received a life sentence after being found guilty of taking bribes and abusing his power in order to dismiss Wang, his former police chief, to cover up the murder of British businessman and family friend Neil Heywood by Bo’s estranged wife Gu Kailai.

With Gu and Wang respectively sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve and 15 years in jail earlier this year, the punishment handed down to Bo, whose campaign against organized crime led to harsh persecution of local entrepreneurs, is not surprising. What was surprising is how the trail was conducted – unlike other high-profile trials which are usually conducted behind closed doors, the court released a purportedly live transcript of the trial through online news portals and Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, which depicted Bo vociferously defending himself, refuting all charges against him and challenging the prosecution’s case point by point.

The authorities hailed the trial as a symbol of progress in China’s judicial system, though many remain skeptical. After Bo appealed, a second trial was conducted in October, amid much less fanfare and with no live feed. The verdict was upheld.

 

Li Tianyi   Princeling Pariah

The trial of Li Tianyi, a 17-year-old man who was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison for gang raping a woman in a Beijing hotel, was perhaps China’s most sensational legal case of 2013.
 

The son of General Li Shuangjiang, a famous 74-year-old army singer known for his renditions of patriotic songs, and Meng Ge, also a well-known singer in China’s People’s Liberation Army, Li Tianyi had previously made headlines in 2011 when he attacked a couple over a traffic dispute, despite allegedly driving illegally himself at the time. He was sentenced to one year in a labor camp for the incident.he trial of Li Tianyi, a 17-year-old man who was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison for gang raping a woman in a Beijing hotel, was perhaps China’s most sensational legal case of 2013.

Despite the legal requirement to protect the identity of minors, the case went viral in China’s media, with Li being called everything from “spoiled brat” to “dangerous criminal.” In an effort to save her son, Li’s mother and lawyers also took to the media, variously claiming that the victim was a prostitute and that the alleged rape was actually consensual sex. The strategy backfired, and led to a further public outcry over the privileges of the rich. Li was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

For many, the case reflected the growing public anger at China’s so-called “second-generation rich,” the privileged children of officials, celebrities and wealthy businesspeople, who often seem to live above the law.

 

Luo Changping  Open Season

This 33-year-old investigative journalist and the deputy editor-in-chief of leading news magazine Caijing, Luo posted accusations on his Weibo account late 2012 accusing a senior government official of graft.

Luo was the first Chinese reporter to dare to use the real name of an official in a non-State-approved report on corruption, exposing him to retaliation from the accused. Luo claimed that Liu Tienan, a former deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top macroeconomic planning body, of involvement in corruption, academic fraud and adultery.

Liu was sacked and expelled from the Communist Party in May, and will stand trial for corruption. Luo was honored with an Integrity Award from anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in November.

 

Xia Junfeng  Hero or Villain?

No death sentence in China this year garnered more sympathy than that of Xia Junfeng, a street food vendor who had stabbed to death two chengguan, or urban management officers, and seriously injured another in a scuffle in the chengguan office.

The incident occurred on May 16, 2009 when Xia, a kebab vendor in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, was detained by chengguan for operating without a license. Xia pulled a knife from his pocket and killed two officers before fleeing. He was soon arrested and sentenced to death, and his appeal was rejected in 2011. After the case came to light, public support for the murderer grew as the chengguan’s image as a ruthless and lawless organization was picked over in the media. In order to assuage public anger, the supreme court took two years to review the case before issuing the death sentence. Xia was executed on September 25, 2013.

The public protest went viral online on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, the key issue in the debate being whether or not Xia’s actions were in self-defense. It was widely speculated that Xia was assaulted in the chengguan office before launching a fatal counter-attack.

Angry netizens compared Xia’s sentence with that handed down to Gu Kailai, wife of the fallen Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai, who was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve (essentially life imprisonment) for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Many argued that the verdict was yet more evidence that China’s different social classes are subject to different laws.

 

Tang Hui  A Mother’s Suffering

After five years of efforts to bring those responsible for the gang rape of her 11-year-old daughter to justice, Tang Hui, a 38-year-old mother from Hunan Province, was sentenced to 18 months of “re-education through labor” for “interference in public functions” in 2011. According to local authorities, those who carried out the gang rape have now been arrested and convicted.

Since then, Tang has become an iconic figure, while the public has grown increasingly angry with power abuses by the country’s law enforcement authorities. After Tang’s case was exposed, a spate of cases were revealed in which people were wrongfully sent to extra-legal labor camps.

With the public outcry raised by Tang’s and other cases, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged in January that the government would “work hard to ensure that the public feel they have received fair justice in every single legal case in China.” More specifically, the authorities pledged to scrap within the year the extra-legal “re-education through labor” system, which allows the police to detain an individual for up to four years without trial.

In July, a court in Hunan ruled that Tang should be compensated with 2,641 yuan (US$433) for her wrongful detention.

 

Deng Yaping   Falling Star

The manager of State-owned search engine Jike was left with egg on her face when the ill-fated portal was closed down after a miserable declare. A former Olympic ping-pong champion, Deng was appointed to head the search service launched by Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily three years ago to fill the gap left behind by Google when it closed down its servers on the Chinese mainland in early 2010 after a dispute over government restrictions on the Internet.

Though the appointment of a ping-pong player to the top position in an IT company was widely seen as a joke among netizens, Deng expressed ambitions to build Jike into a major player in the domestic market and even overseas.

Two billion yuan (US$328m) later, the search engine had obtained almost zero percent of China’s search market. It was reported that Jike would be merged with panguso.com, another State-run search engine under the Xinhua News Agency, which was launched about the same time as Jike and failed almost as spectacularly to capture an audience.

Indeed, the combined market share of Jike and Panguso was less than 0.04 percent, despite the government attempting to force all China’s civil servants and employees in State-owned enterprises to exclusively use one or the other while at work. By all accounts, this decree has gone unheeded.

 

Pony Ma   Global Creative

The unusually-named chairman and CEO of Tencent, one of China’s largest IT giants, saw his application WeChat become the hottest social networking platform in China, overtaking Sina Weibo, the Chinese Twitter equivalent that has been bleeding users due to its enhanced censorship and a perceived failure to respond to the needs of its users.

WeChat is so far the first IT innovation devised by a Chinese company to gain popularity overseas, with a growing user base in Southeast Asia and the US setting the stage for further global expansion. This could be vital for Tencent, given that the company has long been accused of ripping off products made by US competitors, as well as plagiarizing its domestic rivals.

Tencent has also been approved to offer various banking services, and it has already attached gaming and online payment service to its WeChat platform, boosting potential profitability.

 

 Jack Ma   Loud and Proud

The president of Alibaba further expanded the e-commerce company’s presence in the financial sector by authorizing issuance of loans to merchants on its e-commerce portals Alibaba, Tmall and Taobao in 2012.

Alibaba’s bid to permit online sales of financial products and insurance was greenlit by the authorities in June, and five months after its launch, sales of its first fund, namely Yu E Bao, totaled 100 billion yuan (US$16.4bn), making it China’s bestselling financial product.

Other IT giants such as Baidu and Tencent have copied Ma’s online financial service model this year, a major challenge to State banks that used to be protected by law from private sector competition.

In its online retail business, Ma’s company is also doing better than ever. During the nationwide shopping spree that took place over the unofficial Singles’ Day (November 11), Tmall and Taobao sold 35 billion yuan (US$5.7bn) worth of goods, an 83 percent increase on sales on the same day last year.

 

 Zhou Xiaochuan   Sticking Around

Zhou Xiaochuan, 65, had been expected to retire as Governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBC) in 2013, until the central government decided to keep him on in the office he has occupied for more than 10 years. Known as one of the country’s core reformist officials, Zhou has major influence not only on monetary policy, but, crucially, on financial reform. China’s economic growth has slowed down due to restrictive policies concerning property prices alongside shrinking exports and inefficient investment. The central bank has always been under conflicting pressures to keep the market stable while also liberalizing economic policy. In June this year, for example, the PBC refused to inject capital into the interbank market which was undergoing a brief liquidity crisis, causing widespread, if short-lived, market panic. 

Zhou later acknowledged that the PBC’s actions were designed to give “a warning” to banks that circumvented regulations to borrow short-term money to lend to long-term projects initiated by local governments and property developers. Restrictions on loan interest rates were removed in July and in September a new benchmark lending rate system based on major Chinese banks’ rates for their best clients was introduced. While progress on interest rate reform has been widely hailed, the central bank under Zhou’s leadership has also been criticized for printing too much money and continuing to purchase US Treasury bonds in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. There have also been complaints that the devaluation of the yuan on the domestic market has swallowed consumer wealth, and others have claimed that the allowance for appreciation of the yuan against the US dollar has led to losses of Chinese exporters and investment of foreign exchange reserves.

 

Wang Yaping   Space School

As China’s second ever female astronaut, Wang Yaping joined two male colleagues on the Shenzhou X mission in June 2013. From the Tiangong I orbital module, Wang delivered a live lecture on aerospace science on June 20, making her China’s first ever “teacher in space.” She later conducted experiments demonstrating the effects of weightlessness on the movement of objects and the surface tension of liquids to over 60 million Chinese middle school students and teachers. Through a live video feed, she also interacted with more than 330 students at a Beijing high school. Much has been made of China’s handful of female astronauts, most of whom are hand-picked from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force as much for their clean-cut, patriotic images as their professional credentials, something which has drawn criticism from some quarters.

 

Wan Long   Meat Mogul

Wan Long, owner of Hong Kong-based Shuanghui International Holdings, became the world’s top butcher overnight in September, after purchasing US-based meat-processing giant Smithfield Foods. The US$4.7 billion deal turned out to be the biggest ever Chinese takeover of a US company, outdoing other notable Chinese overseas ventures including Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s PC business in 2004 and Wanda’s acquisition of AMC earlier this year.

Wan, 73, has spent his entire career in the meat industry. He joined Shuanghui in 1968 and rose to a factory director in 1984, eventually turning it into China’s biggest meat producer with an annual production volume of 2.7 million tons. With the acquisition, Wan said, Shuanghui aimed to learn food safety and efficient management practices from Smithfield.

Wan has no intention to retire in the near future, and is reported to be in preparation to seek up to US$6 billion in an initial public offering in Hong Kong to compensate for the deal valued at US$7.1 billion including debt. The offering is expected to begin early next year, media reported.

 

Peng Liyuan   Fashion Forward

Standing alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping during his various overseas visits and presidential appointments, China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan has become an international fashion icon with her chic fashion sense since her debut in March.

A household name even before becoming President Xi’s wife, Peng’s high-profile presence defies a tradition among Chinese top leaders, who are reluctant to parade their wives in public. While President Xi deals with international diplomacy, Peng has become something of a cultural icon, helping to improve the country’s international image.

Championing Chinese fashion labels on her various officials tours with President Xi, the 50-year-old former military folk singer has provoked comparisons with American First Lady Michelle Obama – many in China were disappointed when Michelle Obama was absent from a bilateral meeting between President Xi and President Obama in California in June, suspecting that the First Lady of the United States was unwilling to risk being outshone by Peng.

Making waves at home and abroad, Peng’s popularity has helped to improve China’s soft power and its international image. In May, Forbes ranked Peng at 54 on its 2013 list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. In August, Peng was named in Vanity Fair’s 2013 International Best Dressed list. Peng also holds a position at the United Nations World Health Organization as a goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

As Xi is expected to remain in power for the next decade, Peng will likely continue to be an important asset for China’s soft power.

 

Evergrande Soccer Club  Rare Champions

In mid-November, Guangzhou Evergrande Soccer Club won the 2013 Asian Soccer Confederation (AFC) Champions League title, the first Chinese club to do so in 23 years. The Guangzhou-based professional club drew with South Korea’s FC Seoul 1-1 at home to claim the trophy in the second and final leg in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province following a 2-2 draw in Seoul. The team’s success has been credited to their Italian coach Marcello Lippi of Italy, who bolstered the team’s lineup with a raft of skilled foreign players. A total bonus package of more than 150 million yuan (US$24.63 million) was awarded to players following the match, which was watched by some 50,000 fans packed into Guangzhou’s Tianhe Stadium, with millions more watching on TV. Some drew unfavorable comparisons with China’s national team, long plagued by poor performance, match-fixing, corruption scandals and poor retention of players. While some saw Evergrande’s success as a potential source of hope, others pointed out the contribution of both foreign players and, crucially, a foreign coach, to ensuring success. 

 

Feng Xiaogang Revival or Retreat?

China Central Television (CCTV) announced in July that popular movie director Feng Xiaogang would direct the network’s 2014 Chinese New Year Gala. Although mostly known for his comedies, Feng has attempted to tackle more weighty fare in recent years, including the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and the famine that struck Henan Province in 1942. These forays into drama, while winning praise from the Chinese authorities, have disappointed fans of Feng’s lighter and infinitely more popular family comedies. The CCTV Chinese New Year Gala has also come under fire for its content in recent years, having evolved from a folksy and light-hearted show first broadcast in 1982 to a multi-million dollar spectacular padding out comedy sketches and musical numbers with thinly-veiled propaganda. Younger audiences have abandoned the broadcast in favor of more crowd-pleasing regional versions and Internet entertainment, and Feng’s appointment is expected to bring some of the old sparkle back to a stale format. “Directing the Spring Festival Gala is not my line of work,” Feng said during a press conference. 

 

Jia Zhangke     The Roots of Violence

As one of the leading figures in the so-called sixth generation of Chinese filmmakers and one of international cinema’s most celebrated artists, Jia Zhangke is no stranger to controversy. His unflinching portrayals of poverty, alienated youth and the impact of economic expansion on Chinese society and the environment have guaranteed the censorship of his entire output on the Chinese mainland, even as he has become an international luminary. His latest work, A Touch of Sin, won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival. Centering on four stories based on real events, two in particular – that of a massage parlor worker who fights off the unwanted advances of a customer, and another involving a man who takes the law into his own hands after a clash with officials – mean the film’s release in China remains unlikely. Critics have described the film as “ultra violent” and compared it to the work of Quentin Tarantino, but, in Jia’s own words, he does not admire or worship violence, but wishes to examine its “roots.”

 

Wang Feng      Rocky Romance

After weeks of media speculation, veteran rocker Wang Feng broke a long silence to publicly declare his love for actress Zhang Ziyi in an 8-minute-long declaration during a November concert in Shanghai. Soon after accounts of their pair’s involvement began circulating after Zhang publicly broke off a romance with TV presenter Sa Beining, Wang divorced his wife, which set the rumor mill into overdrive. Both Wang and Zhang were subjected to public backlash – both have been criticized for their behavior in past relationships. “I want to make you the happiest woman in the world,” Wang remarked in his address, adding that he hopes they can appear together in public in the future, rather than literally wearing masks when outside their homes. He then dedicated a performance of the song I Love You So Much to Zhang, who was seated in the front row.

 

Faye Wong     End of an Era

Singing superstar Faye Wong announced her split from actor husband Li Yapeng via her Weibo account in the fall after eight years of marriage. “Our affinity and connection as a husband and wife in this life has come to an end,” Wong wrote on the Twitter-like microblogging platform. “I’m well. Please take care of yourselves.” Li Yapeng made a similar announcement. “What I want is a family, but you are destined to be a legend.” In 2006, the celebrity couple set up the Smile Angel Foundation, a charity for Chinese children with cleft palates, after their daughter Li Yan was born with the condition. After their divorce was announced, Li said their daughter would be taken into his custody and that there would not be any disputes over money because the pair had kept their finances separate.

 

Catchphrases of the year

The Legend of Zhen Huan is a wildly popular TV drama series dealing with fictionalized power struggles in the harem of the Yongzheng Emperor of the mid-Qing Dynasty. The show’s dramatic style, shrewd casting and cliffhanger plotlines made it an instant hit, with some calling it China’s answer to Downton Abbey.

臣妾做不到啊

Such a thing, this one cannot do!

This archaic phrase, which refers to the speaker in the third person, originated with the character of the Empress Yixiu (Ada Choi), responding to a comment that she should stop loving her increasingly cold husband. When a screenshot of one of Choi’s more melodramatic expressions went viral, the accompanying line became a catchphrase used when someone is asked to do something they are unwilling or unable to do, such as eat less, stop playing online games or spending too much money.

贱人就是矫情

Bitches gonna bitch.

This line is delivered by the character Concubine Hua (Jiang Xin), female lead Zhen Huan’s arch-rival for the Emperor’s affections, whose catty and duplicitous personality became a huge hit with the show’s fan base. Anyone, particularly women, seen as venal, calculating or false (all things Hua accuses Zhen Huan of being in her dealings with the Emperor), can expect this insult to be directed at them, usually behind their backs.

注定孤独一生

You are doomed to live a solitary life.

Originally a mocking response from a netizen to a post in which a young man described how he had failed to pick up on hints dropped by female admirers, this phrase became popular among young Web users. Used in relation to young men who are unaware of the tactics employed by young women in courtship, a number of anecdotes have also gone viral after their originators were deemed “doomed to live a solitary life.” One story in particular, where a young man, upon arriving at a girl’s dormitory late at night following a request for laptop repair, stormed out, indignant that his IT skills had been slighted when the lady in question claimed it was too late for him to finish the job and he’d have to sleep over, proved popular with netizens.

待我长发及腰,少年娶我可好?

Would you wait for me until my hair reaches my waist?

After one half of a young couple posted two pictures online with the comment “You kept me company as my hair grew from my shoulders to my waist. I kept you company as you grew from a green boy into a mature man,” a budding poet attempted to turn the post into verse, only to find his phrasing the subject of widespread online satire. A few gems included: “Once my hair reaches my waist, I’ll use it to strangle you,” and “Once my hair reaches my waist, how will I use the toilet?”

土豪, 我们做朋友吧

New money, let’s be pals!

With tuhao, “new money,” becoming an epithet for China’s growing number of spendthrift overnight millionaires, the following joke, satirizing those who wish to curry favor with the idle rich, went viral.

A young man met a monk, and said: “I am very rich, so why I don’t feel at all happy?” The monk asked: “How rich are you?” The young man replied: “I have millions of dollars in the bank, plus three apartments in downtown Beijing.” The monk silently held out his hand. The young man said: “Ah, you wish for me to give thanks for what I have!” The monk responded: “Nope. New money – let’s be pals!”

 

毁三观

Overturn the Three Outlooks

In late 2013, netizens began using this phrase, roughly equivalent to “Mind. Blown.” to describe anything which forced them to reconsider their worldview – the Three Outlooks in Chinese tradition being one’s outlook on life, morality and the physical world. When actress Yuan Shanshan appeared in public sporting a blonde “Medusa” hairstyle, for example, Internet users announced that this had overturned their Three Outlooks. Similarly, a digital simulation showing the effect of the gravitational pull of various heavenly bodies on the Earth was dubbed a map of the “Earth with its Three Outlooks overturned” by netizens.

 

我和我的小伙伴们都惊呆了

My playmates and I were all dumbfounded.

When a school student was asked to give an account of the origins of China’s traditional Dragon Boat Festival, a celebration honoring the Warring States era poet Qu Yuan (340-278 B.C.) who drowned himself after his country’s downfall, he took the patriotism idea and really ran with it. Recasting Qu Yuan as a People’s Liberation Army officer in a one-man engagement with the rival Kuomintang during the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), he gave a dramatic account of his imagined heroism. “The battle lasted 10 days and eventually only Qu Yuan and a Kuomintang officer were left alive,” the student wrote. “Qu Yuan shot the Kuomintang officer dead with his last bullet. ‘Long Live Chairman Mao and the Communist Party,’ he cried, and jumped into a river nearby. My playmates and I were all dumbfounded.” “I am also dumbfounded,” commented his teacher, giving rise to a new phrase for expressing surprise. 

 

 

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