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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, April 3 Issue


Caring for the Dead: It's the Thought That Counts (April 1, 2014, Sinosphere)

Mia Li writes about the surprisingly modern and commercial twist to this traditional custom:

Too busy to care for your dead relatives? Can't afford a train ticket home? Chinese who cannot go home and sweep family graves this weekend for the traditional "tomb sweeping" festival, known as Qingming (pronounced Chingming), can rent professional tomb sweepers from online companies. The people will be clean, show respect and even hold a mobile phone to the grave so that you can talk to your loved ones, some companies say.

And of course, the online e-commerce site Taobao is in the middle of it all:

A simple search for "grave sweeping for you" on Taobao, China's biggest online shopping site, brings up dozens of companies offering the service in more than 20 cities across China.

The standard package includes bringing flowers and food, cleaning and beautifying the gravestone, standing respectfully in silence, and burning paper and incense. It all takes about 30 minutes and costs between 100 and 800 renminbi, or $16 to $130, depending on the prosperity level of the city. And it's sweep first, charge later: The customer gets 10 photos of the activities as proof, before having to pay.

It really is the thought that counts.

Feng-shui-friendly Rose Hills cemetery cultivates Chinese clientele (March 31, 2014, Los Angeles Times)

Frank Shyong writes about the ways in which US cemeteries, particularly those in Southern California, are reaching out to the growing Chinese immigrant community.

Bruce Lazenby remembers the spring morning when the management staff of Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier gathered in a boardroom, baffled by the events of the weekend. In two days, the cemetery had seen Dodger Stadium-size crowds of Chinese mourners. Their cars backed up traffic for miles. Every trash can overflowed, and at many of the graves, people had laid out a confusing feast: fruits, vegetables, entire dishes on disposable plates wrapped in plastic. The staff later learned that the crowds were celebrating the Qingming Festival, a Chinese holiday on which families tend the graves of relatives and leave food offerings.

Lazenby, the cemetery's executive director, said that weekend in 1991 was a wake-up call.

"At that point, we began to realize how important our Chinese business was," he said.

The 1,400-acre cemetery, so large that mourners need maps and cars to get around, began a massive transformation to compete for an increasingly lucrative Chinese funeral business that has seen some family "estates" go for six figures.

Since 1991, it increased the size of the Chinese-speaking staff by nearly seven times, to 160. Executives learned about Chinese astrology and stepped up construction of feng shui amenities. Salesmen built relationships with feng shui masters.

It's an interesting aspect of the immigrant experience that is often overlooked.

This week also saw two excellent reports by Sui-Lee Wee at Reuters on the Catholic Church in China.

China's underground resistance (March 31, 2014, Reuters)

In this article, Wee reports on her visit to an underground Catholic Church in Hebei Province:

"Come in and have a look." The welcoming sign on the gates of a ramshackle building with metal walls off a highway near this industrial city in northern China masks a grim reality: this is an underground Catholic church barely tolerated by Communist Party authorities.

Inside, a 30-year-old priest tells hundreds of Catholics, some sitting cross-legged on the floor because the pews are full, that he had just visited a parishioner, diagnosed with cancer years ago and told he was soon going to die. "But because of his faith, he is still alive and he told me how important believing was, how it kept him going," the priest says.

This underground Catholic church, which has no name, is a testament to the Roman Catholic Church's ability to survive as well - outside the control of the Communist Party. The priest, who declined to be identified, said his church has been operating since 1989 and now has a congregation of 1,500 to 2,000.

The priest then goes on to explain how local officials are constantly pestering him to join the Patriotic Catholic Association, and why he refuses to do so.

Special Report: The bishop who stood up to China (March 31, 2014, Reuters)

In this article Wee profiles Father Ma Daqin, who tried to resign from his "political position" in the Patriotic Catholic Association to focus on his clerical duties. The authorities were not amused.

It was shaping as a win in the Communist Party's quest to contain a longtime nemesis, the Roman Catholic Church.

In July 2012, a priest named Thaddeus Ma Daqin was to be ordained auxiliary bishop of Shanghai. The Communist body that has governed the church for six decades had angered the Holy See by appointing bishops without Vatican approval. Known as the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, it was now about to install Ma, one of its own officials, as deputy in China's largest Catholic diocese.

"The anticipation was he would be a yes man," says Jim Mulroney, a priest and editor of the Hong Kong-based Sunday Examiner, a Catholic newspaper.

Instead, standing before a thousand Catholics and government officials at Saint Ignatius Cathedral, Ma spurned the party: It wouldn't be "convenient" for him to remain in the Patriotic Association, he said. Many in the crowd erupted into thunderous applause. People wept. Ma had switched sides - and a crisis was under way.

Since that day he has been kept in seclusion (house arrest) in a seminary outside of Shanghai and stripped of his Bishopric. Despite this, however, Wee notes that there are signs of a potential thaw in Sino-Vatican relations, and that China may even be willing to release Father Ma:

The Chinese government has privately signaled it could appoint Ma as the next full bishop of Shanghai, a position now vacant, and release two long-jailed bishops loyal to the Vatican, according to a source close to the Holy See. This person said several people had conveyed that message to a Vatican official in private meetings.

The rest of the article is an overview of the key issues that divide China and the Vatican and the story of Bishop Ma. As they say, read the whole thing!

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Yuan He/European Pressphoto Agency at Sinosphere

Today we are starting a new feature, linking this blog with another of our publications, the ZGBriefs Newsletter. Every Friday, we will highlight four articles from the ZGBriefs newsletter that we consider the must read articles of the week.

Herewith are this weeks:

The good, the bad and the exiled? Chinas Class of 77 (CNN)

In this article, Jaimie FlorCruz, CNNs Beijing correspondent, reflects on his time as a student at Beijing University beginning in 1977, and some of his fellow students. These include Premier Li Keqiang, disgraced former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, and exiled dissident Wang Juntao. Its an interesting look at the university careers of these three men, and the different paths they took beyond the academy walls.

When I enrolled at Beida in the fall of 1977, the university was steeped in the political ferment that followed Chairman Mao's death and the start of Deng Xiaoping's reforms.

My classmates, many of whom had worked on farms or in factories during the Cultural Revolution, were viewed by many as China's crme de la crme. They belonged to the storied "Class of '77" who passed the first college entrance exams held after the Cultural Revolution.

During the four years I spent at Beida, I met many other fascinating fellow students who went on to become important players in China's divisive political scene.

Among them was Bo Xilai, once one of the most powerful politicians in China, now disgraced and sentenced to life in prison for corruption and abuse of power.

Kept women (Aeon Magazine)

One of the unfortunate features of society in old China (pre1949) was the practice of having multiple wives, or concubines. When the Communist Party came to power in 1949, it was banned. With the relaxation of state control over the private lives of individuals (somewhat), coupled with the economic prosperity, this practice has made a comeback (albeit not officially sanctioned) in modern China. This article is a rather in-depth look at the modern phenomenon of mistresses in China today.

Shanshans $550 shoes came from her lover, but the soles of her feet, as hard as leather, came from her childhood. We used to play barefoot in the village, she told me. All the girls in the karaoke bar had feet like this.

At 26, Shanshan has come a long way from rural Sichuan, one of Chinas poorer southern provinces, famous for the spiciness of its food and its women. Today her lover, Mr Wu, keeps her in a Beijing apartment that cost 2.5 million yuan ($410,000), and visits whenever he can find the time away from his wife.

Inside the world of Chinas shadow banks (Marketplace)

In the West there is often concern about the financial health of Chinas banking system, and rightly so. However, there may be something more worrying than the Chinese banking system, and that is the shadow banking system, an off-the-books, totally unregulated banking system that a Chinese think-tank suggests is already at 40% of GDP.

"I began making cigarette lighters 20 years ago," continues Huang. "Four of my family members each put in $1,500 and lent it to me without interest. Thats what we call a Wenzhou loan."

Thanks to his Wenzhou loan, Huang Fajing made a fortune selling cigarette lightersChinese media now call him the lighter king.

On his road to cigarette lighter fame and fortune, the Lighter King watched on as more money flowed into Wenzhou. Over time, loans were no longer limited to just family and friends. The Wenzhou loan, says Huang, became a lot less innocent.

"Bigger groups of lenders began to form. They pooled money together and took turns taking out loans. Then they started lending money with very high interest rates - to strangers."

The House Churches Understanding of the Three-Self Church, Chinese Government and Themselves (Pacific Institute for Social Sciences)

This article, written by a house church leader in China (translated), gives an interesting glimpse into the division between the house churches and the official Three-Self Church.

The primary issue for Chinese house churches today is how to manage the relationship with the Three-Self Church and the Chinese government. The relationships among the Three-Self Church, house churches and the government are very complicated. We can only discuss them briefly at this time. If God permits, we should discuss them in greater depth in the future.

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ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio