ZGBriefs | October 31, 2019

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Featured Article

Houses divided  (October 24, 2019, World Magazine)
I spoke to 10 Hong Kong church leaders about what it’s been like pastoring during such tumultuous times: Some avoid all discussion about politics inside the church, while others bring up current events in their sermons despite pushback. They all described the difficulty in finding unity among the Christian community at this time.

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Government / Politics / Foreign Affairs

Making Political Mythology  (October 24, 2019, China Media Project)
For generations in China, the status of self-effacing soldier Lei Feng as the pre-eminent model of the ideal citizen has seemed unassailable. The myth of Lei Feng has been dusted off and recycled periodically over the decades, the last peak coming in 2013 to mark fifty years since Mao Zedong’s formal launch of the “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” campaign — which came in 1963 with the widespread publication of the hero’s greatly embellished diary.

Sakharov Prize: Jailed Uighur academic Ilham Tohti wins award  (October 24, 2019, BBC)
Although still in jail, Mr Tohti, 49, has been recognised for drawing attention to ethnic tensions in Xinjiang. A ceremony awarding him the Sakharov Prize in his absence will be held in Strasbourg in December.

Can China’s Government Advance Its Case on Twitter? — A ChinaFile Conversation  (October 24, 2019, China File)
How successful have Chinese officials been at their use of English-language social media? Has the Chinese Party-state’s use of Facebook and Twitter been good or bad for Chinese soft power?

Xi’s in Charge: What the Fourth Plenum Tells Us about Xi Jinping’s Hold on Power  (October 25, 2019, Center for Strategic and International Studies)
These difficulties have prompted speculation that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is facing a growing backlash amongst the Party elite, but the focus of the upcoming plenum on a key element of “Xi Jinping Thought” indicates that he remains firmly in power.

‘No Regrets’: Hong Kong’s Protesters Test China’s Limits  (October 27, 2019, The New York Times)
Hard-line protesters and the authorities are locked in an impasse that feels as if it is edging closer to a fatality or perhaps even an intervention by Chinese troops that could further endanger the civil liberties long enjoyed by the territory’s seven million residents.

Joshua Wong Disqualified From Running In Hong Kong Council Elections  (October 29, 2019, NPR)
Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has been barred from running in local district council elections after an official said his calls for "self-determination" in the territory were inconsistent with pledging an oath of allegiance to the city and its constitution.

At Least 150 Detainees Have Died in One Xinjiang Internment Camp: Police Officer  (October 29, 2019, Radio Free Asia)
A police officer confirmed the figure while RFA’s Uyghur Service was investigating unconfirmed reports that more than 200 people from a township in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture’s Kuchar (Kuche) county had died in detention.

Carrie Lam says she will 'tackle violence head on' as recession hits Hong Kong  (October 29, 2019, The Guardian)
When asked what political solutions her government would seek to end unrest, in addition to the economic measures, Lam said: “The situation we are now facing is anti-government violence. So the most effective solution is to tackle the violence head on. For the government to resort to measures that will appease the violent rioters, I don’t think that is a solution.”

What Is Happening at China’s Secret Plenum?  (October 30, 2019, Foreign Policy)
What’s on the agenda at the plenum is guesswork, but the economy is likely to dominate, between China’s slowing growth and the ongoing trade war. While the unrest in Hong Kong is another crisis issue, there is broad consensus over China’s hard-line approach. 

China’s complicated relationship with Central Asia  (October 30, 2019, East Asia Forum)
The story of China in Central Asia is a complicated and nuanced one of an emergent region which is being swallowed up by a neighbour who cares little about it, focussed instead on its geopolitical clash with Washington. Locals at an individual level do not care about these broader issues and are instead trying to navigate their way to prosperity among the economic boom they see in China. 


Imprisoned Chinese House Church Member Released  (October 24, 2019, International Christian Concern)
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on October 22, Gou Zhongcan from Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) in Sichuan was released and returned home to Bazhou city. Gou was detained in March and spent the last seven months in prison. Gou is currently recovering since his vision deteriorated in prison. Otherwise, he is generally in good health, according to another ERCC member, Jia Xuewei.

Hope for Hong Kong  (October 26, 2019, The Gospel Coalition)
Hong Kong churches are facing an unprecedented test, and it’s becoming harder to discern how they’re called to be a blessing to the city. But precisely in this time, churches can point people to the gospel. Perhaps the way forward is not in pleasing different sides of society or in forming an alliance with the right faction. The way forward may lie in protecting the distinctiveness of being the church of Christ and, as such, being the scaffold of God’s heavenly kingdom come to earth.

The Challenge of Relationships in the Church  (October 29, 2019, Chinese Church Voices)
In this article from Behold Magazine, Lu Ju discusses how relationships influence the church, particularly in reference to the way cliques and factions can damage the witness of the church. Lu argues that the Bible calls on Christians to uphold the universal or “catholic” nature of the church by humbly serving and reaching out to all people and cultures.

Conference on Study of Christianity Held in Beijing, Focusing on "Rural Religious Fervor"  (October 29, 2019, China Christian Daily)
On October 19-20, 2019, the Conference on the Study of Christianity and the Chinese Symposium on the Study of Christianity was held in Beijing. The conference was organized by the Center for Christian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Society / Life

Mahjong: Police clamp down on China's most loved game  (October 24, 2019, BBC)
Police in Yushan in southeast China first announced the ban at the weekend, saying it was to curb illegal gambling and "purify social conduct". This led to shock and outrage with many calling the strategic, tile-based game the "quintessence of Chinese culture". Police then clarified that only unlicensed parlours would be shut.

Top 12 Chinese Social Media and Blog Platforms  (October 25, 2019, Sapore di China)

UK Truck deaths shock the Chinese internet  (October 25, 2019, Inkstone News)
The suggestion from the British authorities that the victims could be illegal migrants risking their lives to be in the UK left many Chinese netizens, especially those who are middle class and live in cities, in disbelief. 

The ‘Naughty Grandma’ Competing for Likes on TikTok  (October 28, 2019, Sixth Tone)
At least once per week, Chen travels 16 kilometers across Chongqing to record a series of clips that have been carefully planned by her three-person management team — an agent, director, and videographer. Chen’s playful on-screen persona has struck a chord with Chinese netizens, and she has amassed more than 2 million followers.

How Shenzhen’s Urban Village Advocates Are Learning From Failure  (October 28, 2019, Sixth Tone)
But the greatest impact of the 2017 biennale may have been how it shifted public perceptions regarding the aesthetic value of urban villages. All of a sudden, people went from scorning these spaces as a blight to appreciating their beauty. After commercial media began reporting on them positively, some even saw a wave of gentrification.

'Defend China's honour': Beijing releases new morality guidelines for citizens  (October 29, 2019, The Guardian)
China has released new “morality” guidelines for its citizens on everything from civic education and how parents should teach their children to rubbish sorting and the appropriate etiquette for raising the national flag. The “Outline for the Implementation of the Moral Construction of Citizens in the New Era” calls on Chinese citizens to be honest and polite, to be “civilised” when dining, travelling, or watching a sports competition, and “defend China’s honour” while abroad.

The Windows of Wong Tai Sin  (October 30, 2019, Reuters)
The struggles of the people who live in the concrete towers of a Kowloon working-class district are woven into the soul of the city. As protests pit neighbor against neighbor, residents face a test of what locals call “the Lion Rock spirit” – a sense of unity and grit in the face of hardship.

Beijing Metro to Begin Security 'Sorting' Based on Facial Recognition  (October 30, 2019, Radio Free Asia)
Authorities in the Chinese capital are planning to use facial recognition on the Beijing metro system to 'sort' millions of passengers by estimated security risk. 
The metro will be beefing up its "passenger credit system" that tracks the behavior of passengers across the network and penalizes anyone with a low score, officials said.

The end of funerals in China?  (October 30, 2019, Asia Dialogue)
For a Party that would like to have the ability to rewrite its own history at any time, having history carved into tombstones is inconvenient.

New Crosswalk Signals, More Surveillance in Shanghai  (October 30, 2019, Sinosplice)
Combine these facts with the AI-powered facial recognition craze that’s sweeping Shanghai, as well as the fact that video cameras in Shanghai can already identify and auto-fine automobiles in real time, and it becomes pretty obvious what’s coming: these crosswalk posts are going to start identifying any jaywalking citizens and fining them automatically.

Economics / Trade / Business

China’s Official GDP Growth Rate Does Not Agree With Reality  (October 23, 2019, China Change)
When I went to places to observe, research, and talk to people, the local government officials are much more frank about the fact that their regions are experiencing negative growth.

China’s countryside ‘returning to poverty’ as lack of reforms help fuel urban-rural divide  (October 26, 2019, South China Morning Post)
China's rural economy is at the heart of national policy, but the income gap between the country’s villages and cities is widening. Experts say the government needs to kick start much-needed reforms of the rural pension system and land rights, with US trade war increasing pressure.

In China’s capital of Halloween slime and ooze, the trade war is a scary subject  (October 31, 2019, The Washington Post)
The air in Yiwu is thick with industrial particles, plastic fumes, and frustration. The first two are by-products of this gritty city’s status as a hub for consumer-goods exports. Coat hangers and polystyrene toy planes, Halloween skeletons and saxophone-playing Santas, Yiwu sells them all by the container-full. The frustration has been around only about a year, since it became clear that President Trump wouldn’t settle for a quick, tweetable victory in his trade war with China. False starts and foundered deals have compounded the angst.

China sends top financial officials to clean up debt-laden provinces amid growing signs of economic risk  (October 30, 2019, South China Morning Post)
The postings, compiled by the South China Morning Post from government announcements, come amid signs of growing financial stress across the country, with local governments facing tight budgets  as the economy slows and revenues plunge following tax cuts mandated by Beijing. 


Wesleyan University decides not to pursue opening college in China, citing academic freedom and difference in ‘vision’  (October 25, 2019, South China Morning Post)
Wesleyan University has decided not to pursue an invitation to explore opening a college in China, the president of the private liberal arts school said Thursday. President Michael Roth said that he met potential partners in the venture on a recent trip to China and that it became evident their vision for the school did not line up with Wesleyan’s focus on liberal education.

Chinese universities told to improve policies to tackle sexual harassment  (October 30, 2019, South China Morning Post)
China’s education ministry has urged universities to improve the way they handle allegations of sexual harassment, such as special committees to tackle the problem, according to state media reports. Since the #MeToo feminist movement gained global momentum, several high-profile cases of sexual harassment and assault have come to light in China.

To Follow China’s Rules, UK Schools Rely on Domestic Partners  (October 30, 2019, Sixth Tone)
With China’s education policy in perpetual flux, British schools hope local partners can keep them in Beijing’s good graces.

Health / Environment

China's ocean waste surges 27% in 2018: ministry  (October 29, 2019, Reuters)
China dumped a total of 200.7 million cubic meters of waste into its coastal waters in 2018, a 27% rise on the previous year and the highest level in at least a decade, the country’s environment ministry said on Tuesday.

History / Culture

Some thank Zhou Enlai for saving China from Mao’s excesses  (October 24, 2019, The Economist)
When Zhou died in 1976 he was beloved by Chinese who did not know him well. Vast throngs of Beijingers filled Tiananmen Square in the spring of that year to mourn him, risking arrests and police beatings to remember a leader they credited with moderating the worst excesses of that fanatical era. 

Travel / Food

China’s Best Fast-Food Restaurants: These Are the 11 Most Popular Chains in the PRC  (October 24, 2019, What’s on Weibo)
The China Cuisine Association (CCA) released a list ranking the strongest fast-food companies in China this month. The list is a top 70 (!), but here, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of the top 11 in this ranking list of fast-food restaurants in China.

Betel Nuts, Hunan’s Popular But Cancerous Snack  (October 25, 2019, Sixth Tone)
Tan is one of thousands of oral cancer patients in Hunan province, where the condition occurs at a rate about 30% higher than the national average. Doctors say there is a clear link with betel nut consumption, but their warnings are usually met with indifference — and sometimes intimidation.

'Scary' glass bridges shut in Chinese province  (October 31, 2019, BBC)
There are an estimated 2,300 glass bridges in China. According to state media outlet ECNS, there are also an "undetermined number of glass walkways or slides". The glass attractions are an attempt to attract thrill-seeking tourists and capitalise on China's growing domestic tourism.

Arts / Entertainment / Media

My Visit to the Ai Weiwei: Bare Life Exhibition  (October 28, 2019, ChinaSource Blog)
I had heard of Ai Weiwei. I knew he was a Chinese contemporary artist and activist, and that controversy has followed him much of his life. But, I had never had an opportunity to see any of his artistic pursuits. So, when I realized that a major exhibition of his art was to be on display, just walking distance from my home, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Ai Weiwei as an artist.

Language / Language Learning

Choice Chengyu: Cat Got Your Tongue?  (October 30, 2019, The World of Chinese)
There are also many chengyu employing the character for “cat,” 猫 (māo), or 狸 (lí) in ancient times, though not all are positive. Many refer to the cat and the rat as a pair, based on the traditional enmity between the two animals.

Living Cross-culturally

Learning to Be a Learner  (October 30, 2019, ChinaSource Blog)
I imagined myself in a Wednesday night small group at a church somewhere in suburban America listening to a small group leader say: "Next week a young Chinese couple will be joining us to talk about their parenting experiences. They have some really great stuff to share. Their English is decent, but they do have a bit of an accent and sometimes they use words and phrases incorrectly. But, they have some good things to share and the time should be quite beneficial."


Rebranding China: Contested Status Signaling in the Changing Global Order  (October 24, 2019, China File)
As competing pressures mount across domestic, regional, and international audiences, China must pivot between different representational tactics. Rebranding China demystifies how the state represents its global position by analyzing recent military transformations, regional diplomacy, and international financial negotiations.

Links for Researchers

Monitoring the implementation of China’s Overseas NGO Law: The view from Europe  (Asia Research Institute)
A key objective of this Ford Foundation-funded research project is to monitor and evaluate the state of implementation of China’s Overseas NGO Law (henceforth: the law) by documenting the intended and unintended consequences of the law for European non-profit organisations and their Chinese partners. 

Call for Papers: Purdue Symposium 2020; Generational Legacies: The Family in Chinese Christianity  (Center on Religion and Chinese Society)
May 4-5, 2020 (arriving May 3, departing May 6)
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA
This conference seeks to examine Chinese Christianity through the lens of the family. Chinese culture has a strong emphases on the family and expressions of Christianity in China are often family-centered. Therefore, understanding the role of the family in Chinese Christianity is critical for understanding Chinese Christianity. The Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University invites presentation proposals that look at various aspects of the family in Chinese Christianity.


A Few Good Podcasts  (October 25, 2019, ChinaSource Blog)
What better way to enjoy autumn than curling up with that pumpkin spice [fill in the blank] and listening to a China-related podcast? Allow me to commend the following.

Image credit: Hong Kong DT Church, by Jeremy Rover, via Flickr
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement 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