Everyday farm scenes taking screens by storm

Source: SCMP (11/12/17)
Films of Everyday Farm Scenes in China May Not Be Blue Planet But They Are Taking Screens by Storm
Ducks waddle, corn dries, eels give catchers the slip: live-streams of such scenes are a big deal for online broadcasting in China. And for the villagers filming them, it’s not just about fun, but money, too

They could be film stars: ducks on a highway in Yangzhou, China. File Photo

An uprising is underway in rural China and this very 21st century peasant revolution will definitely be televised.

In its vanguard are hard-working sons of the soil like Li Bo, a farmer in the northeast of the country who has discovered a new and unexpected furrow to plough thanks to a concerted push into the countryside by China’s online broadcasting industry.

The 41-year-old farmer from Wuchang village has unearthed a talent for movie direction, and all he needs is an eye for a story, a bit of imagination and his trusty smartphone. Continue reading

List of poor counties shrinks

Source: SCMP (11/2/17)
China’s list of poorest counties shrinks for the first time in 30 years
Officials highlight first statistical success stories in anti-poverty campaign that forms key part of Xi Jinping’s agenda
By Mimi Lau

Anti-poverty measures have targeted remote and rural parts of China. Photo: Xinhua

China has removed 28 counties off its list of the poorest places in the country – the first time in over 30 years that the list of areas suffering extreme poverty has been reduced – under a drive by Xi Jinping to eradicate the problem.

Xia Gengsheng, of the State Council Leading Group Office on Poverty Alleviation and Development, said on Wednesday that 26 counties in nine provinces would soon be removed from the extreme poverty list following the removal of Jinggangshan in Jiangxi and Lankao in Henan in February.

Eliminating poverty is a key aspect of Xi’s ambition of making China a “modern socialist country” by 2050. Continue reading

Sexual life in modern China

Source: NY Review of Books (10/26/17)
By Ian Johnson

Wang Xiaobo, Beijing, 1996; photograph by Mark Leong

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Chinese writers grappled with the traumas of the Mao period, seeking to make sense of their suffering. As in the imperial era, most had been servants of the state, loyalists who might criticize but never seek to overthrow the system. And yet they had been persecuted by Mao, forced to labor in the fields or shovel manure for offering even the most timid opinions.

Many wrote what came to be known as scar literature, recounting the tribulations of educated people like themselves. A few wrote sex-fueled accounts of coming of age in the vast reaches of Inner Mongolia or the imagined romanticism of Tibet. Almost all of them were self-pitying and insipid, produced by people who were aggrieved by but not reflective about having served a system that killed millions. Continue reading

Sexual harassment in China (1)

Source: SCMP (10/18/17)
Anger as Chinese media claim harassment is just a western problem
State newspaper says China does not have Harvey Weinstein-type predators because ‘men are taught to be protective of women’
By Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

The China Daily said harassment in China was less.

The China Daily said harassment less common in China compared with western countries. Photograph: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

China’s flagship English newspaper has come under fire over the publication of a commentary claiming the type of sexual harassment allegedly perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein could never happen in China because of its cultural traditions.

Critics reacted swiftly and furiously to the article in the state-run China Daily, with many women saying they had been sexually harassed in China or pointing to prominent examples, many of which have previously gone viral.

Chinese state media often works to portray problems in the west as nonexistent in China, highlighting cases of police brutality, mass protests and high-profile cases of violence against women overseas. Crises abroad are often contrasted with positive domestic news, a key pillar of China’s propaganda machine. Continue reading

Analysis of one-child policy sparks uproar

Posted by: Anne Hennochiz <annemh2@gmail.com>
Source: Science Magazine (10/18/17)
Analysis of China’s one-child policy sparks uproar
By Mara Hvistendahl

A new study of China’s one-child policy is roiling demography, sparking calls for the field’s leading journal to withdraw the paper. The controversy has ignited a debate over scholarly values in a discipline that some say often prioritizes reducing population growth above all else.

Chinese officials have long claimed that the one-child policy—in place from 1980 to 2016—averted some 400 million births, which they say aided global environmental efforts. Scholars, in turn, have contested that number as flawed. But in a paper published in the journal Demography in August, Daniel Goodkind—an analyst at the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland, who published as an independent researcher—argues that the figure may, in fact, have merit. Continue reading

No one wants to marry anymore

Source: Forbes (8/17/17)
No One In China Wants To Get Married Anymore, And It’s Making Beijing Nervous
By Yue Wang, Forbes Staff

A couple pose for wedding photos on the historic Bund in Shanghai on October 29, 2013. (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

If there’s one thing Cui Shuxin can happily live without, it’s marriage. The 29-year-old, who works as a director in a global public relations firm in Beijing, doesn’t want to tie the knot with her boyfriend any time soon, unlike her mother, who got married at 20.

“I want to focus on career,” Cui said, adding that she is writing her third book. “You have to be well off by yourself first before establishing a family.”

Cui isn’t alone in thinking this way. As China becomes richer and more powerful under President Xi Jinping’s first five-year term, the country is grappling with a profound shift: marriage rates are going down while divorces are rising sharply. The trend, already prevalent in developed economies, has much more serious implications for China: It badly needs couples to give birth to more babies to ease a rapidly aging population and drive up family-related purchases, as Beijing tries to sustain growth by shoring up consumption.

The fall in marriage, in part stemming from more than three decades of the one-child birth control policy, is largely driven by a mindset shift on Chinese women’s part. As the country’s rapid development translates into more and more opportunities, women no longer view marriage as a path to security. They are delaying it for education and career, a choice that was frowned upon in as early as 2007, when unmarried women over 27 were derisively called shengnu, or leftover women.

“Chinese society is definitely getting more tolerant towards different ways of living,” said Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies in Nankai University in Tianjin. “More and more people choose to not get married, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have partners.”

Last year, new marriages fell by 6.7% to 11.4 million, marking the third consecutive year of decline since 2013, according to government data. Meanwhile, divorce saw consecutive increases since 2012, climbing a further 8% to 416 million in 2016.

Chart by Yue Wang. Source: China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs

Chinese men are feeling the impact more acutely. The one-child policy, introduced in 1979 when Beijing argued having too many mouths to feed would hold back growth, has led the country to have big gender gaps, as parents often preferred male babies. This means that by 2020, there will be 30 million unmarried men in China. And in 2055, about 15% of men in China won’t be married when they are 50.

Further complicating their marriage prospects is the long-held tradition that a man must be able to provide a house and a car before tying the knot – no easy task considering China’s skyrocketing housing prices. The financial burden means men aren’t marrying until they save enough, giving rise to a problem known as shengnan, or leftover men, according to Yu Jia, an assistant professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“Whomever I marry must make more money than me, because I don’t want my husband to be a drag on my life,” said Allen Yang, a 27-year-old woman working for a global law firm in Beijing. “I don’t mind staying single if I can’t find a suitable partner.”

All these make it hard for China to defuse its demographic time bomb: By 2050, one in three Chinese is projected to be older than 60, pressuring the already overburdened social welfare system and dragging down growth. Unlike in the U.S., where 40% of children are born out of the wedlock, marriage is considered a must for people to have children in the country, which largely views birth outside marriage a disgrace.

On the economic front, the falling marriage rate adds to spending uncertainties, said Nankai University’s Yuan. Singles, arguably, spend less than married households on appliances, homes and family-related services, prompting businesses to market cheaper and mini-sized products such as refrigerators and rice cookers, as well as building smaller apartments.

“All of these enable people to live a comfortable life without getting married,” said Alina Ma, senior lifestyle analyst at consultancy Mintel. “It means they are staying single for longer periods of time.”

Beijing, in the meantime, is trying to reinforce traditional family values. Last year, President Xi honored three hundred model families in Beijing, calling for building “socialist family values.” And in a bid to protect family stability, some local courts in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Sichuan are asking divorcing couples to undergo a three to six-month cooling period, reported the Beijing Youth Daily.

But no matter how hard the government tries, the falling marriage rate is unlikely to be reversed, as the mindset shift of women continues.

“Marriage is more about companionship now,” said Yu the assistant professor. “Women can get that by choosing cohabiting as well.”

According to Yu, a better solution to China’s aging and growth problem is providing more child caring benefits to those who still marry, such as birth subsidies or building more affordable child caring facilities. But even so, China will eventually follow Japan and South Korea in not wanting more children.

“Once birth rate is down, it can hardly go up,” she said. “In East Asia, couples want fewer and fewer children because they’d rather spend everything on one to two offspring, so they can enjoy more resources and have a better future. And in China, it is pretty much the same.”

Sexual harassment in China

Source: Sup China (10/16/17)
Sexual harassment in China: Different than in the U.S.?
By Jiayun Feng

On October 16, the state-owned China Daily tweetedWhat prevents sexual harassment from being a common phenomenon in China, as it’s in most Western societies?” and linked to an opinion piece that says China’s traditional values mean that men are more respectful to women. The reaction on Twitter was mocking and highly critical: Yuen Chen, a former journalist and Chinese University of Hong Kong teacher, responded, “Let me edit that for you: What prevents sexual harassment from being as commonly reported in China as in most Western societies?”

So how do levels of sexual harassment in China compare with those in the U.S., and what are the differences?

  • According to research conducted by the China Youth Daily, more than 53 percent of women said they or someone they knew had been sexually harassed on the subway.
  • A report released by the China Family Planning Association shows that one in three college students in China have experienced sexual violence or sexual harassment.
  • A 2013 survey by a labor rights group in Guangzhou found out that up to 70 percent of female workers in the city’s factories had been sexually assaulted. Continue reading

Asia’s comedy scene

Source: NYT (10/15/17)
Heard the One About Asia’s Comedy Scene? First, You’ll Need a Permit

Storm Xu, a Chinese comedian from Shanghai, gave up a career as an engineer to become a stand-up comedian. In order to tell jokes, he must first submit his scripts to government censors.CreditYuyang Liu for The New York Times

HONG KONG — Every comedian takes the stage wanting to make people laugh. But it is less satisfying when the audience has been ordered to do so before the first joke has been told.

Storm Xu, a Chinese comedian, found that out during a surreal experience of performing for the country’s military.

In Asia, where a youthful stand-up comedy scene is still developing, comedians in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are finding creative ways to tell jokes about sex and politics, while coming up against cultures of censorship and taboos.

Among them is Mr. Xu, 30, who lives in Shanghai and ekes out a full-time living from stand-up comedy. Mr. Xu said Shanghai’s small comedy scene involves about 20 regulars who could perform at least 10 minutes of material, and most are Western expatriate men, not Chinese like him.

A former automotive engineer for General Motors, Mr. Xu was able to quit his day job because of corporate comedy gigs, many of which come through Chinese government agencies.

The Chinese government requires him to submit scripts in advance of his commercial performances — that gets him a permit to tell jokes. He also has to provide video of someone reading the comedy lines aloud. Government censors have told him to remove jokes not for political content, but for being too rude.

“They’ll decline you if it’s too obscene or dirty; you can’t swear on stage,” he said.

When Mr. Xu travels to Hong Kong to perform, he can put the swear words back into the script. With its more hands-off local government, Hong Kong has developed into a hub for touring comedians from Asia and further afield, though its scene is fairly new: Its first full-time comedy club wasn’t founded until 2007.

Vivek Mahbubani, 34, is considered one of Hong Kong’s best and longest-serving local comedians, even though he only started performing 10 years ago. Mr. Mahbubani performs in both English and Cantonese, sometimes switching between languages within the same joke, and his material tackles local concerns: Hong Kong’s subway system and his mistreatment by police officers as a Hong Kong-born, ethnically Indian resident.

Mr. Mahbubani said Hong Kong’s comedy scene was diverse and somewhat segregated, with some comedians catering to expatriates with material that deployed exaggerated use of Asian accents, which Mr. Mahbubani felt was lazy.

An audience in Hong Kong watches Vivek Mahbubani, a comedian, perform. Rules for telling jokes are less stringent on the island than in mainland China. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

In bars further away from the glittering night life of the central city, young comics tell jokes in Cantonese, the dominant language in Hong Kong but one on the retreat elsewhere. The city’s annual comedy competition is split into English and Cantonese sections; Mr. Mahbubani is the only person to have won both.

In a city rocked by China’s efforts to exert its political influence over the autonomous territory, Hong Kong’s stand-up comedy scene has become something of a beacon for comedians seeking to push boundaries.

Sorabh Pant, a popular Indian comedian, recently tackled the topic of democracy while on tour in Hong Kong.

“That’s so cute!” he joked about Hong Kong’s election, in which a pro-Beijing candidate won from a slate selected by members of the establishment. “You think your vote mattered! Such an amateur mistake!”

He joked that Hong Kong’s election of a chief executive sympathetic to Beijing showed how the territory was just the latest acquisition by China.

“This is not a nation. You are being sublet,” he said. “This is a franchise.”

Mr. Mahbubani said the local media’s vigorous use of satire and its criticism of the government helps shield the local comedy scene from government scrutiny.

That is not the case in Singapore, where Jinx Yeo, 37, performs. The soft-spoken Mr. Yeo is referred to by fellow comedians as one of the “wise men” of the Asian comedy scene, even though he only started performing in his early 30s.

He grew up watching xiangsheng, or cross talk, a traditional style of Chinese comedy where lines are typically traded between two performers. Asian audiences have slowly learned the conventions of Western-style, single-person stand-up, he said, and now appreciate the value of raucous laughter as reward for a joke well told.

Mr. Yeo has made a full-time career in comedy, even though there are no comedy clubs in Singapore. Most of his performances take place in bars on weeknights, and he supplements his income with lucrative corporate shows.

Mr. Mahbubani performs in both English and Cantonese in Hong Kong. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

To get a license to perform in a theater in Singapore, Mr. Yeo had to submit scripts in advance, as comedians in China do. His work is frequently political; at a recent show in Hong Kong he sang satirical songs to tunes from “Les Misérables.”

In another joke, he imagined what would happen if Singapore legalized adultery in the same way the city-state had legalized protests: only if reported to the government in advance, and only if taking place in designated public parks.

Mr. Yeo said censorship is the biggest obstacle facing Singapore’s comedy scene. And comedians performing in bars had little opportunity to leap to television, as promising comedians in Western countries do, because their best material was unlikely to be approved.

Despite the challenges, the comedians said they were committed to building up the comedy scenes at home rather than forging more comfortable careers overseas.

Mr. Xu has recently started his own comedy club in Shanghai. He has steered away from political humor in his work because he did not see a point in making himself a martyr, or risk destroying his career, just as he was helping to pioneer a new comedy scene.

“I’m not trying to compare myself to Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, but the position they were in the 1960s is perhaps the position people like me are in now,” he said. “There are a lot of obstacles and a lot of opportunities.”

He agreed Chinese audiences were coming around to the idea of stand-up.

“When I used to post my videos online, people didn’t understand what stand-up comedy was and the comments were quite harsh,” he said. But now he predicts “exponential” growth for stand-up in China.

In Malaysia, Hannan Azlan, 22, has been winning fans in the local comedy scene after going full-time in 2016. She was the youngest ever person, and the first woman, to win the Hong Kong International Comedy Festival, and since then gigs have rolled in, including spots at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival.

Ms. Azlan’s sweet-voiced comic songs skewer sexism, racism and gender stereotypes. But she said she wasn’t interested in pandering to liberal audiences elsewhere; one of the tests of her success was whether she could perform her edgiest social commentary in more conservative Malaysia.

“Comedy is soft power,” she said, “I’m starting to talk about Malaysian politics more at home, and it’s been received very well.”

Museum accused of racism over photos

Source: The Guardian (10/14/17)
Chinese museum accused of racism over photos pairing Africans with animals
More than 141,000 people visit the exhibit in Wuhan before it is eventually removed after sparking complaints from Africans
By Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong


A photo of an African boy and a gorilla by Yu Huiping in an exhibit in China that was removed after sparking accusations of racism. Photograph: Shanghaiist

A museum in China has removed an exhibit this week that juxtaposed photographs of animals with portraits of black Africans, sparking complaints of racism.

The exhibit titled This Is Africa at the Hubei Provincial Museum in the city of Wuhan displayed a series of diptychs, each one containing a photo of an African person paired with the face of an animal. In a particularly striking example, a child with his mouth wide open was paired with a gorilla and other works included baboons and cheetahs. Continue reading

Poverty not a choice

Source: Sixth Tone (10/9/17)
In China’s Countryside, Poverty Is a Lifestyle, Not a Choice
Working with the nation’s most destitute people has proven to me that the poor need more than just money to live with dignity.
By Deng Chaochao (an expert in poverty alleviation at Serve for China, an NGO)

A villager walks past a local primary school campus in western Hunan province, July 12, 2015. Fu Zhiyong/VCG

The village of Mendai is located in an impoverished part of western Hunan, a province in central China. Difficult to reach and suffering from a shortage of farmland and labor, it is also where I’ve spent the past year working on poverty alleviation programs.

Early this year, a group of university students visited the village as part of their research work. One of them remarked that the villagers were not poor at all. After all, this student said, they had televisions, telephones, rice cookers, and cooking oil — what else could they need? Continue reading

A monument to Xi’s power

Source: NYT (10/8/17)
Chinese Village Where Xi Jinping Fled Is Now a Monument to His Power
查看简体中文版  | 查看繁體中文版<

Liangjiahe, where President Xi Jinping of China spent a formative period of his youth during the Cultural Revolution, has been converted into a tourist attraction that attempts to show how the village helped forge his strongman style. CreditBryan Denton for The New York Times

LIANGJIAHE, China — Almost 50 years after Xi Jinping first trudged into this village as a cold, bewildered teenager, hundreds of political pilgrims retrace his footsteps every day.

They follow a well-trod course designed to show how the seven years that the young Mr. Xi spent in this hardscrabble village in China’s barren northwest forged the strongman style that he now uses to rule the world’s most populous nation. Visitors peer down a well that Mr. Xi helped to dig, admire a storage pit that he built to turn manure into methane gas for stoves and lamps, and sit for inspirational lectures outside the cave homes where he sheltered from the chaos of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Continue reading

LGTB forum shut down

Source: Sup China (9/30/17)
Online haven for China’s LGBT community meets its end
By Jiayun Feng

“We are going backward in so many aspects.”

“My partner and I started to know each other through the board. We’ve been together for seven years since then and the board has been a witness of our love. It will live in our memories forever.”

The LGBT community in China is in an uproar (in Chinese) over the recent shutdown of “Being your company along the way” 一路同行, a sub-discussion board on one of the most popular online forums, Tianya 天涯. Established in 1999, the board served as a platform reserved for Chinese homosexuals to share their personal stories, publish a variety of gay literature, seek romance, and discuss any LGBT-related topics with others in the minority group.

The closure announcement was made on September 28 by the community administrator, who spoke for the top management of Tianya. The notice reads, “Due to some external factors that are outside our control, this board will stop its operation on September 30, 2017. Users, please archive your personal data independently. We appreciate years of devotion and engagement by board moderators and friends.” Continue reading

sex advice

Source: Quartz (9/24/17)
For sex advice, people in China turn to a 65-year-old female BDSM expert at $15 a pop
By Echo Huang

Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe speaks at a talk titled 'Sexual reform: China's Changing sex business' organized by the Foreign Correspondent Club in Beijing, China, 16 April 2015. Li is a renown sociologist and sexologist and an activist for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual (LGBT) rights in China. EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

She can help. (EPA/How Hwee Young)

In China, sex can be an awkward topic to talk about publicly. But the country’s most prominent female sexologist is trying to change the public’s mindset through her books, and now through social media.

Li Yinhe is known in particular for her research into BDSM, including her book Subculture of Sadomasochism, published in 1998, China’s first book on the subject. Her own personal passion for the practice, which covers a variety of role-playing behaviors around bondage, discipline, and submission, turned into a passion to demystify it for other people. The first print run of 60,000 quickly sold out. She also offers her services as a sex adviser to her 1.7 million followers on social networking site Weibo—but since a ban on her account after she spoke out against government censorship in China in July, she has been temporarily silenced. Continue reading

Young people in the era of living alone

Source: China Policy Institute: Analysis (9/26/17)
Casual Sex and Late Marriage: Chinese Young People in the Era of Living Alone
Written by Jue Ren

In China today there is a population of 200 million singles including over 40 million empty-nest youths. As the lifestyle in general of this group changes under a wave of individualisation, so too do the sex lives of these young people. Amidst this growing spirit of independence, more and more women are willing to express their own demands relating to the quality of sexual relationships and sexual life.

On one hand, sex positive females are still faced with the social stigma surrounding the virtue of virginity. But it is ever more difficult to find virgins of dating age in China. Thus we have a paradox of a strengthening one-night stand culture whilst at the same time more traditional attitudes prevail such as the idea of a woman who is not a virgin ostensibly losing value in the marriage market. Continue reading

Women in the communist revolution

Source: NYT (9/25/17)
How Did Women Fare in China’s Communist Revolution?
By Helen Gao

A workers delegation marching in Yumen, China, in 1958. CreditHenri Cartier Bresson/Magnum Photos

BEIJING — My grandmother likes to tell stories from her career as a journalist in the early decades of the People’s Republic of China. She recalls scrawling down Chairman Mao’s latest pronouncements as they came through loudspeakers and talking with joyous peasants from the newly collectivized countryside. In what was her career highlight, she turned an anonymous candy salesman into a national labor hero with glowing praises for his service to the people.

She had grown up in the central province of Hunan, where her father was a landlord. She talks about her mother as a glum housewife who resented her husband for taking a concubine after she had failed to give birth to a boy. Continue reading