If there were a theme to the three articles that we have chosen this week, it would be information.
The Internet, which China connected to 20 years ago, means that the government no longer has the monopoly on what information can either get into or out of China. Hence, one of the first things the Sanjiang Church parishioners do when faced with imminent demolition is to use the Internet to get the information out and rally public (and global) opinion. Yet, when it comes to publishing a book, the censors still wield a heavy hand to make sure Chinese readers are exposed to only "approved" versions of historical events. Information remains strictly controlled.
From snail mail to 4G, China celebrates 20 years of Internet connectivity (April 24, 2014, EIN News)
The website EIN News re-posted a story originally done by CNN to mark the 20th anniversary of China's first connection with the Internet. The descriptions of the technological changes and development are interesting; but even more interesting are the descriptions of how the Internet's impact on Chinese individuals, society, and the economy:
Internet connectivity is changing the lives, lifestyle and consumer behavior of many ordinary Chinese.
Nowadays, typical urbanites begin their day turning on their computers, tablets and smartphones to check their emails or get on social media platforms.
More than half of Chinese Internet users communicate and share information via social networks such as Weibo, QQ and WeChat.
Thanks to the thriving IT industry, hundreds of thousands of people have started private businesses. Some of them have emerged as major players in the global IT industry and are among the richest entrepreneurs in China.
E-commerce offers nearly two million direct jobs and over 13 million indirect ones domestically. China also hosts one of the world's leading e-trade businesses called Alibaba that, based on gross trade, is already bigger than eBay and Amazon combined.
As the saying goes, "you've come a long way, baby!"
And The Walls Came Tumbling Down in China's 'Jerusalem' (May 2, 2014, Christianity Today)
Christianity Today posted a good round up of coverage of the Sanjiang Chuch demolition. We were of course pleased that they referenced a couple of ChinaSource posts, but of particular interest is an in-depth analysis (in interview form) by the folks at Open Doors. In response to the question, "What does this incident tell us about persecution in China?", they had this to say:
It shows us there is always more than meets the eye. Again, unfortunately for the Christians, the authorities have solid ground to tear the church down if they want to enforce the law. It is very common that Chinese officials do not want to be seen as incapable by their seniors and they try to avoid making trouble. We heard about a number of conflicts between churches and the authorities and eventually they compromised and saved faces to each other. 'Saving faces' in Chinese culture is more important than abiding the law. To summarize: the conflict between the church and the local government had to do with the violation of regulations and the way the government dealt with it. It was not a clash between the ideological enemies 'communists' and Christians, but rather two parties who couldn't save face.
That may not be the most sensational take on what happened, but it's a smart one.
China's Censored World (May 2, 2014, The New York Times)
Anything written by former Chicago Tribune correspondent Evan Osnos is worth reading, and this piece he wrote for The New York Times is no exception. He writes of his dealings with Chinese publishers as they tried to get him to re-work his forthcoming book (Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China) for translation and publication in China.
But as I considered publishing a book in China, local publishers gradually filled in a road map of the censored world. On behalf of a company in Beijing, an agent wrote, "To allow the publication in China, the author will agree to revise nearly 1/4 of the contents." The publisher had itemized trouble spots chapter by chapter, beginning with a line in the prologue: "China has never been more pluralistic, urban, and prosperous, yet it is the only country in the world with a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in prison." (The first half of the sentence could stay.)
He decided not to have his book published in China, and explains why:
In the end, I decided not to publish my book in mainland China. (It will be available to Chinese readers from a publisher in Taiwan.) To produce a "special version" that plays down dissent, trims the Great Leap Forward, and recites the official history of Bo Xilai's corruption would not help Chinese readers. On the contrary, it would endorse a false image of the past and present. As a writer, my side of the bargain is to give the truest story I can.
Kudos to Osnos!
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:
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.
Image credit: Internet Cafe, by Hal Dick, via Flickr