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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, December 19 Issue


What do Christmas, the one-child policy, and high end art collecting have in common? They are all subjects of the articles we selected as among the most interesting for this week.

Christmas crusade (Global Times)

The state-run Global Times has run a number of articles in recent months about Christianity in China. This week, in a piece titled "Christmas Crusade," journalist Liu Dong writes about the growing popularity of Christmas in China and how churches and individual Christians use the holiday for evangelistic outreach.

He opens by describing a group of Christians in a mall handing out flyers inviting shoppers to attend a Good News Christmas party at their church:

It is 6:30 pm and rush hour, as well as the busiest time for Zhang Hong's bakery in downtown Shanghai. The downtown areas of Shanghai, just like any other major Chinese city, have been decorated with Christmas trees, smiling Santa Claus faces and colorful advertisements for all kinds of Christmas gifts, bringing a strong festival atmosphere akin to that of the traditional Spring Festival.

One group of uninvited guests standing in front of her door attracts her attention. Three well-dressed young men who look like white-collar workers held up banners in their hands and distributed posters to passersby inviting them to attend a Christmas Good News Party held by their church.

"Although we look similar to those who distribute commercials, we are different in nature. What we deliver is Jesus, and we focus on people's souls," said one of the three.

While for many Chinese Christmas is a time for shopping and revelry, not everyone has decided to immerse themselves in the carnival of consumerism, but are instead seeking to restore its original meaning.

He then goes on to chronicle the growing popularity of Christmas in China:

Christmas is, without doubt, becoming increasingly popular in China. Although Chinese people may not know the origins of Christmas, this has not affected their enthusiasm for the holiday, as the real reason for its popularity is not religious beliefs but consumption. Economic factors have brought Christmas into the lives of millions of Chinese people.However, with the rapid development of Christianity in China over the past 20 years, especially with the new phenomenon of worship services held in houses, office buildings and commercial spaces emerging in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and economically developed eastern coastal cities, more and more Chinese people are, for the first time, walking into churches for Christmas.

Please pray for individual Christians and churches all over China this week as they look for opportunities to talk about the real meaning of Christmas.

The End of China's One-Child Policy? An Interview with Mei Fong (Dissent)

The Chinese government recently announced that it would relax (slightly) some of the provisions of the one-child policy. Given the demographic realities facing the country, some argue that the government has no choice but to begin winding the whole thing down. While much has been written about the policy and its effects on society as a whole, less is known about its impact on the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. Journalist Mei Fong is currently working on a book about that, and was recently interviewed by Professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom.

What exactly did the recent Third Plenum reveal about Xi Jinping's strategy for dealing with the big issues facing China in the nine years left in his time heading the Chinese Communist Party? Initially, the consensus seemed to be that the meeting lacked the kind of dramatic calls for change that some hoped for or expected. But as more details were released, commentators began to see signs that Xi was ready to restart stalled social and economic reforms, though not political and civil libertarian ones.

It's become increasingly clear that China faces an important demographic challenge due to its graying population. The international press has long been fascinated by the birth limitation drive typically described as the "One-Child Policy," so not surprisingly, much attention has been given to news that the CCP seems ready to walk back from its efforts to limit most couples to a single child. This struck me as an ideal time to send some questions to Mei Fong, a Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter who is working on a book about that policy.

Mei Fong answers one of his questions by talking about the so-called "Little Emperors" and "bachelor villages:

For example, we're used to thinking of China's Little Emperors as cosseted kids wearing open-pants trousersbut the first generation is now hitting its thirties and beginning to shoulder the burden of parents who are facing hypertension, cancer, and other indignities of age. Not much has been written about that in a compelling way because, let's face it, old age is not a sexy topic, but it is very much a part of what China will face. In little over a decade, every fourth person in China is going to be over sixty. That's crazy. And in craziness lie the seeds of a good story. And that's just one aspect of the one-child policy. I am looking at other aspects as well, like its effects on dating culture and marriage. For instance, I will take the reader to one of China's "bachelor villages," where there are huge numbers of single men with very little chance of finding eligible brides. In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, on the other hand, the one-child policy has fostered China's first generation of high-achieving career women, who are finding it hard to find mates of similar status. This kind of imbalance makes the dating mores of "Sex and the City" look as sane as Sunday school.

How and to what extent the government changes this policy will be one of the most interesting things to watch in the coming years.

Video: The New Collectors (The New York Times)

Photo-journalist Jonah Kessel has produced a short film, "Sold! In China," offering a fascinating look at the art-collecting fever that has gripped the super-rich in China:

Like their predecessors across history and geography, China's newly rich have set out to collect the very best the world has to offer: homes, wines, cars and, with a special passion, Chinese art.

They joust with one another at auction houses, where the fevered bidding has driven up prices to the point that some jades, ceramics, calligraphy and paintings now fetch huge sums. In 2011, for instance, a Ming dynasty vase sold for $140 million at an auction in Macau.

Partly because of these free-spending bidders, China now possesses the second-largest art market in the world, after the United States.

The film tells the story of a wealthy art collector from Shanghai:

Like other wealthy business executives, Liu Yiqian, 50, a financier from Shanghai, who Forbes estimates is worth $790 million, has amassed a huge collection and plans to exhibit his treasures in two private museums in Shanghai. He has already opened the first, a 100,000-square-foot space. Admission is $9.

Mr. Liu, who got his start driving a taxi and never attended college, says he collects everything: Song dynasty paintings, porcelain made during the Qing dynasty, works from the Cultural Revolution and paintings by some of the country's best contemporary artists, like Fang Lijun.

"I don't have a specialization," he said during an interview in his office in one of the city's tallest buildings, the Shanghai World Financial Center. "As long as it's Chinese, I'll collect it."

It's an interesting glimpse into a sub-culture to which most of us have little access.

Image credit: propaganda posters, one child policy, by katte belletje, via Flickr

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio