ZGBriefs | March 8, 2018

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Featured Article

China’s Cities Are Making Migrant Workers Profoundly Lonely (March 6, 2018, Sixth Tone)
Shenzhen is hardly anyone’s laojia. Of the millions of people who live here, most have ties with the city that stretch back no further than a generation. Even those with Shenzhen hukou are unlikely to think of themselves as natives, having acquired permits in the last 30 years or so.

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Special Section: National People’s Congress

China’s Parliament Is a Growing Billionaires’ Club (March 1, 2018, The New York Times)
In a country where the Communist Party makes all the big decisions, Chinese lawmakers hold very little political power. But they have plenty of money — $650 billion of it — and that’s growing.

Eight signs that Xi Jinping was planning to cement his grip on China (March 3, 2018, The Guardian)
Over the past five years he has worked doggedly to build a cult of personality, endearing himself to the populace as a father figure while requiring unwavering loyalty from officials and cracking down harshly on dissent. This is how Xi cemented his grip on China.

Xi Jinping gives himself a pat on the back for ‘five extraordinary years’ (March 4, 2018, South China Morning Post)
President Xi Jinping gave himself a pat on the back on Sunday, attributing China’s achievements in the past five years to the party’s strong leadership ahead of a parliamentary gathering that is set to clear the way for him to stay in power beyond 2023.

Hu Jia and NPC: China's dissidents silenced by enforced 'holidays' (March 4, 2018, BBC)
The BBC captured rare footage of one of the most prominent Chinese rights critics, Hu Jia, as he was sent on an enforced "holiday", paid for by the police, to keep him away.

China's parliament opens amid possibility of lifelong rule by President Xi Jinping (March 5, 2018, The Los Angeles Times)
The National People's Congress opened its annual session Monday with an expected show of unity, loyalty, and pomp — nearly 3,000 handpicked delegates met at the Great Hall of the People, a massive edifice flanking Tiananmen Square, to display their allegiance to the Communist Party and its leader.

China told to follow the leader Xi Jinping in thought, word and deed (March 5, 2018, The Guardian)
The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, has kicked off a potentially momentous political summit in Beijing by instructing Communist party officials to “resolutely uphold” the primacy of president Xi Jinping and follow their sovereign in thought, word and deed.

Chinese grumble about 'emperor' as congress fetes Xi (March 5, 2018, AFP)
Belying Communist Party claims that "the masses" unanimously support the removal of presidential term limits, many Chinese like Li have disregarded censors to complain about the move as the rubber-stamp parliament prepares to approve it on Sunday.

Congress Is in Session (March 5, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
Even though the NPC meets only once a year, for two weeks, and serves as a “rubber stamp” for what has already been decided by Party and government leaders, it is an important window into what the Chinese leadership is thinking and planning.

China dramatically boosts spending on internal security (March 6, 2018, Market Watch)
Beijing’s budgets for internal and external security have grown faster than the economy as a whole for several years, but domestic security spending has grown far faster — to where it exceeds the national defense budget by roughly 20%.

China’s Military Spending: A ChinaFile Conversation (March 6, 2018, China File) What message does Beijing’s new military budget figure send to the United States, and to China’s neighbors?

China’s National People’s Congress is meeting this week. Don’t expect checks and balances (March 7, 2018, The Washington Post)
The full NPC meets just once a year in March, usually for a period of about two weeks. NPC deputies serve five-year terms, and the newly “elected” group (the 13th NPC) will take office this year. Here are three things to know about this session.

Government / Politics / Foreign Affairs

China’s constitutional conundrum (February 28, 2018, Brookings)
The revisions also reflect one of the greatest paradoxes of Xi’s leadership, at once pushing for a greater emphasis on what he calls “law-based governance” and stronger legal institutions while enshrining his name in the law under which he is supposed to govern, not rule over.

Maybe the Law Does Actually Matter to Xi Jinping (March 1, 2018, China File)
Most scholars and policy experts, myself included, thought that, even if Xi did manage to stay in power for more than two terms, he would do so by keeping the positions of Party Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, while some trusted ally would assume the post of President—à la Putin and Medvedev.

Video: How China’s Media Sold Xi Jinping’s Power Grab (March 1, 2018, The New York Times)

China says lifting term limits is about protecting authority of party (March 4, 2018, Reuters)
Asked whether the constitutional amendment would mean Xi would stay in office for life, Zhang Yesui, a vice foreign minister and spokesman for parliament, did not offer a direct answer. Instead he referred to the party constitution, which has no term limits for who heads the party and heads the military, positions Xi also holds and which are considered more senior in the country’s hierarchy than the presidency.

China Is Not a Garden-Variety Dictatorship (March 5, 2018, The Atlantic)
On March 2, I spoke with Pei via Google Doc to inquire how it felt to deliver one of modern political science’s most powerful and resounding “I told you so”s.

America’s Other Espionage Challenge: China (March 5, 2018, The New York Times)
The preoccupation with Russia, in fact, has obscured the significant inroads made by Chinese intelligence and cyberspies. In some cases, China has proved more skillful than Russia in infiltrating American intelligence.

China Is Making a Bold Military Power Play (March 6, 2018, Bloomberg)
As lawmakers meet this week to cement Xi Jinping’s power at home, China’s president is also looking to boost his country’s military might abroad. He’s overhauled China’s military to challenge U.S. supremacy in the Indo-Pacific, most visibly with a plan to put half-a-dozen aircraft carriers in the world’s oceans.


Xinjiang, crosses, domes, statues destroyed: the new 'Sinicized' Cultural Revolution  (March 2, 2018, Asia News)
"It's a new Cultural Revolution": this most frequent online comment in reaction to photos of the church of Yining (Xinjiang) stripped of the crosses that stood on the building, of the statues that stood on its tympanum and the decorations and paintings that embellished the facade.

Guerrillas for God: How Hong Kong’s Pastors Are Delivering the Message to China’s Christians (March 5, 2018, TIME)
While Hong Kong’s pastors are not allowed to proselytize, sermonize or establish churches in mainland China without official permission, many defy these prohibitions to cultivate a network of underground “house churches” in homes and workplaces.

Pastoring Post-90s Christians (March 6, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
What difficulties do youth in China face today? How do Chinese pastors tackle this difficult ministry challenge? What are some behind-the-scenes frustrations for pastors today who work with youth?

Podcast: China Just Made Life Way Harder for Christians (March 7, 2018, Christianity Today)
Yang joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss the roots of the government’s anti-religion attitudes, how Christians are speaking out against the recent term limits, and the fledgling Chinese missions movement.

3 Questions: The 2018 World Watch List (March 7, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
Each year the World Watch List ranks the top 50 countries where Christians face persecution—whether political, social, religious, or otherwise. Here the team at World Watch Research, which publishes the list, discusses China’s ranking.

Society / Life

End of Spring Festival Brings Left-Behind Kids Back Into Focus (March 3, 2018, Sixth Tone)
As this year’s Spring Festival travel period draws to a close, millions of children are saying long goodbyes to their parents, who are returning to their jobs in faraway cities.

How the ‘Anti-Parents’ Online Forum Helps Troubled Children (March 4, 2018, Sixth Tone)
Some victims of abuse said that they had tried to talk to their parents about their experiences, but were ignored or even blamed for them.

Why China’s Elderly ‘Huddle to Stay Warm’ (March 5, 2018, Sixth Tone)
Away from the city’s traffic, smog, and high prices, a community of pensioners is pioneering a new way to retire.

Good Samaritans Gone Wrong (March 5, 2018, The World of Chinese)
On March 5, 1963, Chairman Mao decreed in famous calligraphy that “We should all learn from Comrade Lei Feng.” Currently, this day is an annual opportunity for Chinese schools to organize mandatory community service and “armband volunteers” to show off their skills in honor of the martyred foot soldier.

Tens of Millions of China's Perpetually-Single Men Will Fill Their Lonely Lives With Pets, Anime, and Pop Idols (March 5, 2018, The Beijinger)
China's prolonged gender disparity will result in an increased consumer demand for pet ownership, variety and reality entertainment shows, anime and manga, and video games by a rising demographic of adults with money to spend, but no family to spend it on.

Wuhan Is China’s Happiest City, Survey Says (March 7, 2018, Sixth Tone)
The capital of central China’s Hubei province ranked at the top of the China Economic Life Survey (2017-2018), an annual report from China Central Television. The complete findings, broadcast Wednesday evening, listed provinces and cities that distinguished themselves in categories ranging from health and education to household income and general happiness.

Economics / Trade / Business

China's global trade plan is piling huge debt on smaller nations (March 5, 2018, CNN)
Loans from China's Belt and Road Initiative "will significantly add to the risk of debt distress" for eight countries, including Pakistan, Montenegro and Djibouti, according to a report published Sunday by the Center for Global Development, a US-based nonprofit think tank.

China Business Scam Week, Part 1: Come to China to Sign the Contract (March 6, 2018, China Law Blog)
I cannot help but start out with what may just be the oldest scams out there and one that is roaring its ugly head with a vengeance again: the “you need to come to China to sign the contract or for a signing ceremony scam.”  This scam has been around forever and yet Western companies still fall for it.

Chinese Home Prices Among World’s Fastest Growing, Report Says (March 6, 2018, Sixth Tone)
Chinese home prices are rising faster than anywhere else in the world, with the country’s cities comprising 24 of the 50 fastest-growing global real estate markets despite government attempts to prevent overheating, according to a report released Monday.

How China’s internet boom is creating new jobs in the country’s rural areas (March 7, 2018, South China Morning Post)
With the development of China’s broadband infrastructure as well as rapid adoption of online shopping and mobile payments, the rural areas are shaping up to become the next engine of growth for the world’s largest e-commerce market.

The U.S. Businesses at Risk From Trade War With China (March 7, 2018, Bloomberg)
Such moves could prompt retaliation from President Xi Jinping and lead to a Chinese backlash against American businesses. The following are among those most at risk.


Eyeing 2022 Olympics, China Calls for Winter Sports in Schools (March 2, 2018, Sixth Tone)
After China’s lackluster performance at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the two government bureaus released a joint plan on Tuesday that aims to make winter sports more accessible to students — some of whom might become world-class athletes.

China’s long arm reaches into American campuses (March 7, 2018, Foreign Policy)
While many countries, including the United States, fund educational activities abroad, the Chinese government’s direct support for, and control over, student groups appears to be unique. Beijing’s influence over these groups is also beginning to raise questions and concerns among students on American campuses, who fear they will be accused of being agents of espionage.

Science / Technology

China Presses Its Internet Censorship Efforts Across the Globe (march 2, 2018, The New York Times)
For years, China has exerted digital control with a system of internet filters known as the Great Firewall, which allows authorities to limit what people see online. To broaden its censorship efforts, Beijing is venturing outside the Great Firewall and paying more attention to what its citizens are saying on non-Chinese apps and services.

Chinese toddler disables mom's iPhone for 47 years (March 6, 2018, CNBC)
A two-year-old boy in Shanghai disabled his mother's iPhone for the equivalent of 47 years after playing with it and repeatedly entering the wrong passcode, according to a Chinese media report.

WeChat Now Has Over 1 Billion Active Monthly Users Worldwide (March 7, 2018, The Beijinger)
The one billion mark comes not long after Tencent’s third-quarter results in November, which show that WeChat’s monthly active user had passed 980 million, a significant 15.8 percent increase compared to the same period of the previous year.

Arts / Entertainment / Media

The 10 Best Chinese Language Movies of 2017 (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan) (March 2, 2018, China Policy Institute)
Here are ten of the best films released last year, with a focus on diversity. Some of the films premiered in 2016, but since they circulated mostly in 2017, I took the liberty of including them.

Lost and Love: A Film Review (March 2, 2018, ChinaSource Blog)
In the film, Lost and Love (the Chinese title 失孤, Shi Gu, literally means “Lost Orphan”) writer and director Peng Sanyuan takes viewers on a journey that is both aesthetically breathtaking and emotionally heartbreaking. She enlists the help of award-winning cinematographer, Mark Lee Ping-bing, who convinces you by the end of the film that you haven’t lived until you’ve road-tripped through the mountains of China. While being enthralled with the beauty of China’s landscape, you become emotionally ruined by his portrayal of every parent’s worst nightmare—losing a child.

History / Culture

Court Confidential (February 26, 2018, The World of Chinese)
China’s emperors were no strangers to the curse of bad data—and built their own secret system to avoid it.

Travel / Food

Push your mediocre spice tolerance to the limit (March 1, 2018, Roads and Kingdoms)
Within a few seconds, my lips were overwhelmed by a distinctive tingly numbness, a confusing sensation I had never felt before. I was quickly drenched in sweat and ready to admit defeat. “Exhilarating, isn’t it?” the chef asked. I nodded in pain.

Language / Language Learning

Sad Sangs (February 28, 2018, The World of Chinese)
But increasingly, the post-1980s and 90s generations are embracing a completely different approach toward life: They hate to be “motivated,” have little interest in material success, and happily define themselves as nobodies, even losers. Indeed, there’s now a term for this phenomenon—丧 (sàng), a Chinese character associated with funerals, meaning disheartened, dispirited, or depressed.

Living Cross-culturally

News Pummeling: The Downside of Blissful Expat Ignorance (February 26, 2018, A Life Overseas)
There is something legitimately tranquil about NOT being audibly and visually pummeled by every juicy tabloid scandal, every mindless political squabble, every horrible, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching headline and news flash.


Operational Guide for Foreign NGOs Completing Annual Reports Online (March 6, 2018, The China NGO Project)


Left Out: Grace Jackson reviews Leftover in China by Roseann Lake (March 7, 2018, China Channel)
A vibrant survey of marriage and dating in contemporary Beijing, the book is supported with research and interviews, and peppered with personal insights into the romantic lives of China’s educated, urban and doggedly unwed young women.

Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa (Writing Chinese)
From one of China’s foremost authors, Jia Pingwa’s Happy Dreams is a powerful depiction of life in industrializing contemporary China, in all its humor and pathos, as seen through the eyes of Happy Liu, a charming and clever rural laborer who leaves his home for the gritty, harsh streets of Xi’an in search of better life.

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