Posts tagged: China

恭喜发财!Welcome Year of the Horned-Sort-of-Something?

By , February 17, 2015
Happy Lunar New Year!

Happy Lunar New Year!

On Thursday, the world says goodbye to year of the horse and welcomes year of the…..what? Is it a sheep? A ram? A goat? For this Lunar New Year, it’s okay to be confused. And walking down the streets of Chinatown does not make things any clearer. Fuzzy stuffed sheep abound, as do cute little billy goat statutes and the occasional muscular ram. What in heaven’s name is going on with this Lunar New Year?

The confusion stems from the Chinese word used to describe the upcoming year – 羊 (yáng). Each of the animals – the sheep, the goat, the ram – use this character in its name. In Chinese, sheep is 绵羊 (mián yáng), literally meaning “soft, horned, hoofed animal;” goat is 山羊 (shān yáng), a “mountain, horned, hoofed animal;” and ram is 公羊 (gōng yáng), meaning a “male, horned, hoofed animal.” For sure if you go into a Chinese restaurant and order a dish of yang, it will be lamb meat. But the same doesn’t hold true for the Lunar New Year. Does yang mean sheep, goat or ram?

In Vietnam, a country that also celebrates the Lunar New Year (known there as Tet), they dispensed with this

Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram?  You decide!

Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram? You decide!

problem a long time ago, declaring the zodiac sign a goat. But in China, the debate still rages. While many feng shui experts declare that goat is the more fitting translation (because of the “horns” that appear a top the character yáng), the attributes given to a person born under the Yang sign resemble a sheep: kind, polite, creative, filial, timid in nature, and sensitive.

It is these sheep-like characteristics that have caused couples in China to delay having a baby for a year. For those couples who get one bite at the apple, they do not want their only child to be a “follower.” As a result, the Chinese state-run media has launched a campaign encouraging couples to have sheep babies. CCTV ran a segment entitled “Hardly a Terrible Sign if People like Bruce Willis and Whoopi are Sheep.” Others listed, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner (both sheep!). Unclear if this will do the trick.

What's so bad about being a sheep?  These guys are fun!

What’s so bad about being a sheep? These guys are fun!

But at any rate, year of the sheep, with its more docile personality, should be a bit calmer than last year’s horse. As every year is on its own five element cycle (wood, fire, earth. metal, water), this year is year of the Wood Sheep, However, each zodiac animal is associated with its own element – here, sheep’s intrinsic element is earth. Unfortunately, according to feng shui master Raymond Lo, wood – 2015’s element – conquers earth – the sheep’s internal element. Thus, the two are in a destructive relationship causing disharmony, but given the nature of the sheep, while 2015 will be filled with conflicts, these conflicts will be easily resolved through compromises.

But what Year of the Sheep has in store for you depends on YOUR sign. How will you do this year?  Check out your personal horoscope here (note you may have to do a Bazi test to determine the strength of your birth year element.  You can do that here – note that birth date is entered day-month-year).

To all of our friends who celebrate the Lunar New Year, may you have a healthy, happy and prosperous Year of the Sheep!

Heaven Help the Working Girl: The Impact of the Law on Women in China

By , January 28, 2015
Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Sure women might not demand that their names be on the deed even after giving money to purchase the house, but does that matter in the case of divorce in China?  As Dr. Leta Hong Fincher points out in  Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, you bet that matters.  Changes in the law in 2011 – requiring physical proof of monetary contribution – has diminished women’s ability to claim their rightful part of the marital property in the case of divorce.  By why this change?  And why now?  Fincher expounds upon these questions in Part 2 of her interview with China Law & Policy and informs us why the rest of the world needs to wake up and  care about what is happening to women in China.

Read the transcript below of Part 2 of this two-part series or click the media player to listen to the podcast.

Length: 10:15 minutes

For Part 1 of this interview, please click here.

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EL: To switch gears a bit, you mention in your book some of the laws that impact this. You discuss the Supreme

Who gets the ugly couch in the case of divorce?

Who gets the ugly couch in the case of divorce?

[People’s] Court 2011 Interpretation of China’s Marriage Law. You basically argue that this Interpretation – which in cases of divorce only allocates property to those whose name is on the deed absent some exceptions – denies women even more rights in the property market. Can you give a little bit more background on this Interpretation? Also, do you have any background on what caused the Supreme People’s Court to issue this Interpretation?

LHF: Effectively the Marriage Law was originally a real cornerstone of the Communist Revolution and it gave women rights to property, the right to divorce, all sorts of new rights. Over the years actually women’s rights to common marital property were strengthened. But in 2011, with this new judicial interpretation, effectively if the woman is unable to prove through legal, financial receipts that she put in a certain amount of money toward buying the home, she’s not entitled to that home in the event of a divorce. None of the women that I interviewed kept any receipts of their financial contribution to the homes. Moreover, money is fungible. So there many ways in which women’s money – if they are working women working for pay – there are many ways in which their pay is supporting the household. The man’s money may be going directly to paying off the mortgage so there is a receipt for the man’s contribution to the home.

This law is really detrimental to women’s property rights. Now, what I have heard anecdotally – I wasn’t specifically researching why the court issued this new judicial interpretation – but what I’ve heard anecdotally from some lawyers is that the Court was deluged with letters from parents of men who wanted to protect their sons when they got married. They didn’t want the wives of their sons to have any share in the home because the parents tend to put up so much money to buying these homes for their own sons. Because of China’s rapidly rising divorce rate, I’ve also heard that the Court simply wanted to simplify divorce rulings; just get these cases through the court fast.

But it has been an incredibly controversial interpretation and a lot of women across China are very upset about it but there’s no organized movement to protest it because organizing and protesting is so difficult [in China].

gender_balanceEL: I guess in looking at the Supreme Peoples Court interpretation and how that has a negative impact on women, one of the things though that has happened recently is that China has had its first gender discrimination lawsuit in employment. That seems like a positive development in terms of womens rights. So how do you gel the fact that in a country where the court can reject cases, so they allowed obviously this case to be heard and even though it settled, they did allow it and its been published in the newspaper. How do you gel that kind of a development with the leftover women and the 2011 Marriage Law Interpretation?

LHF: Well, Chinese society is certainly not static and there are some legal success. That gender discrimination lawsuit was very important and it set an important precedent. But the fact is that there are so many other systemic ways in which women’s rights and gains are being reversed in the past two decades. One successful lawsuit here or there doesn’t fundamentally change the situation for the vast majority of women. Most notably there is still no specific law on domestic violence. Feminist lawyers and activist had been lobbying for over a decade to pass a law. And they’ve drafted the language, it’s all ready, but it simply hasn’t been passed.

EL: To go back to that because your book ends where you do discuss some individuals that are trying to change things a little bit, incrementally, but I have to admit it didnt seem like there was going to be a lot of change from them even though theyre brave in what they are doing. It sounds like, based on what you say you dont see a lot of change happening soon. Is that correct? Or if you do see any change, where do you see it coming from?

LHF: I certainly don’t see change coming from an organized nationwide women’s rights movement simply because

Will there be an organized and vocal  women's rights movement in China?

Will there be an organized and vocal women’s rights movement in China?

the political atmosphere is too severely oppressive for that to happen. But what does give me hope is that individual women can make choices in their own lives to avoid getting trapped in a very discriminatory system.

For example, there are women in their late 20s who have told me that they refuse to ever get married because marriage is a bad institution for women in China. They see this as an empowering choice. That doesn’t mean that they’re never going to have a lover or a boyfriend or maybe they’re lesbian. But there are individual ways in which women can act to empower themselves. But once they enter the institution of marriage it is very, very difficult. Marriage as an institution doesn’t protect women’s rights.

Contrary to the myths that are spread by the propaganda of the state media that single women in China are extremely miserable and lonely, I see the reverse. Single women are the ones who tend to do better. They don’t have husbands holding them back, telling them what to do; they have a lot more freedom. Women who are married, if there is any problem at all in the marriage, they’re extraordinarily vulnerable.

EL: And just in closing, youre book is a fascinating book and I do recommend for everybody to read, especially if they really want to understand China today and women in China today. But why do you think the rest of the world should be paying attention to this issue if at all?

"Working women are a great revolutionary force"

“Working women are a great revolutionary force”

LHF: Well the thing is that, let’s put aside the issue of fair treatment for women. Obviously women are being treated unfairly in China and are being discriminated against. But, as an economic issue, it’s very important. China’s obviously becoming increasingly a driver of global economic growth. The fact that women are basically being told by the government that they should stop working so hard and return to the home is going to end up having very damaging long-term economic consequences for China.

There’s already a declining labor force participation among women, particularly in the cities according to the latest census results; there’s a dramatically widening gender income gap. These are the most talented women in the country and if you’re telling the most talented female workers in China – it’s okay just leave the workforce – that’s going to hurt China’s economy. Of course if China’s economic development is hurt, if it is destabilizing, that’s going to affect the rest of the world. So it is something the rest of the world should be interested in.

EL: I want to thank you again for spending time with China Law & Policy. Just so our readers know, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, that can be purchased at amazon.com. Thank you again.

LHF: Thanks so much for having me.

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For Part 1 of this interview, please click here.

It’s All Wrong, But It’s Alright: Women in Today’s China

By , January 27, 2015
Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

The opening of China to market forces in 1978 unleashed tremendous benefit for the Chinese people – raising hundreds of millions out of poverty, establishing China as the world’s second largest economy.  But it has witnessed a lot of bad – enormous environmental degradation, rampant corruption, and severe income disparities.  Unfortunately, one negative effect has gone less noticed: the declining status of women in Chinese society.   In emancipating women from traditional roles, Mao Zedong once proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky.”  But as Dr. Leta Hong Fincher has revealed in her new book, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China,today, women don’t even hold half of the deed to marital property.

In an interview conducted in July 2014 with China Law & Policy, Fincher explained how women – through the pressure to marry at all costs – have been excluded from one of the largest accumulations of wealth in the history of the world: China’s hot real estate market.  And as Fincher shockingly explains, this phenomenon is not merely an accident of China’s growth.  It is very much an intentional government policy.  (Note that posting of this interview was delayed as a result of CL&P’s backlog)

Read the transcript below of Part 1 of this two-part series or click the media player to listen to the podcast.

Length: 14:05 minutes

Please come back tomorrow to read or listen to Part 2 of this interview.

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EL:   Thank you for joining us today. Let’s start with the title of your book – Leftover Women. Can you explain more what this is; when the concept first came about?

LHF: The term leftover women or shengnu (剩女) was defined by the All-China Women’s Federation in 2007 to mean an urban professional woman over the age of 27 whose still single. And the same year, China’s Ministry of Education adopted the term as part of its official lexicon. Ever since 2007, China’s state media has very aggressively disseminated the term through its news reports, columns and commentaries. And you also see a lot of cartoons insulting single, urban educated women in their 20s; basically sending the message that these women are too ambitious they should stop focusing on their careers and they should instead look for a good husband before time runs out and they remain single forever.

EL: So you mention the state-run media promoting this and that also that this was a term created by the All-China Womens Federation which is a government-backed organization. So is this an intentional concept that the Chinese government is pushing on women and if so, why?

LHF: I think there is no question that it is a deliberate campaign. If you look at the news reports that Xinhua put out in 2007 and 2008, there are quite a few of them that re-appear over and over and over again over the years and are still re-appearing even in 2013 with only slight changes in the wording. And maybe they will change the picture.

"Participating in the establishment of an industrialized nation makes us proud"

“Participating in the establishment of an industrialized nation makes us proud”

So there’s no question that the Propaganda Department wants to get these reports out and is pushing them out continuously. When I looked into the origins of the term, I noticed that in January 2007 China’s State Council issued a population decision which was a very important statement about what they called unprecedented population pressures facing China in part because of the sex ratio imbalance which they described as a real threat to social stability. And they said that China has a problem of so-called low quality of the population which would make it very difficult for China to compete in the global marketplace. So they set a key goal of so-called upgrading population quality. This term “population quality” or [renkou] suzhi (人口素质)can refer to a complex mix of superior genetic make-up, education, a more nurturing environment. The women who are being targeted in this leftover women media campaign are precisely the women who are considered to be of highest quality. So I argue that this campaign is in part an effort to get these highest-quality sort of speak women to marry and have a child for the good of the nation.

EL: In your book, you talk about the leftover women and then you tie that concept to the current property market. You argue basically that because of the fear of being leftover, the women end up losing the opportunity to gain from one of the largest accumulations of wealth in Chinese history which is basically the current urban real estate market. Can you explain that tie a little clearer?

LHF: First of all, there are a lot of complicated dynamics that go into home buying in China. So marriage is inextricably connected to home buying in contemporary China. Along with very intense marriage pressure there is also intense pressure to buy a home. The norm is that the man is supposed to be the official homeowner and there’s a lot of propaganda, real estate developer advertisement and online matchmaking advertisements all perpetuating the notion that a man must own a home in order to attract a bride. And they also spread the notion that Chinese women will refuse to marry a man unless he owns a home.

So one of the consequences of this is that Chinese parents tend to only buy homes for their sons and not for their

Home buying in China

Home buying in China

daughters. Women are shut out of property accumulation first of all because their parents tend not to support them in anyway. These homes are too expensive for young people to buy on their own. If your parents are not helping you then you’re really stuck. So the women that I’ve interviewed who are in their 20s and have a boyfriend and they’re thinking about marriage, they often will take their life savings and transfer it to the boyfriend to finance the purchase of a home which is then only registered in the man’s name. These women who are extremely educated and very, very intelligent and sophisticated and they actually want economic independence and they say that they actually want to own their own home.   But then I ask them, well then why when you are buying this marital home, why aren’t you putting your name on the deed?

A lot of them say that it’s simply because they are at the age where they’re considered leftover. Which can start as early as even before 25 years old. Some women can already start feeling that way. So they’re very anxious to get married. They’re own parents are pressuring them to get married. They’re certainly coming under a lot of pressure from the media. They’re coming under pressure from their teachers, the educational system, and their own doctors who tell women in their 20s that they really need to have a child in their so-called best child rearing years which is before the age of 30. Even doctors tell them that if they wait until past 30 to have a child, there child will have a birth defect.

So there is intense pressure on these women to marry because they genuinely believe that time will run out for them. These women, when it comes down to it, are very often unwilling to walk away from an unequal arrangement even if they really want that. And in most cases they do want equality. But the pressures against them are just so intense.

Getting Married in China - bliss until you realized you are not on the deed!

Getting Married in China – bliss until you realized you are not on the deed!

EL: I guess in reading your book, that was the hardest part for me to understand, that you have these very well-educated women. Most the of the women you interview are at least college educated if not PhDs. Very urban and sophisticated. They seem like this modern woman. It just seems so hard to comprehend that you have so many so willing to give up their equal economic rights in a relationship because of this concept. Is it just this media campaign – I guess if you can talk more about how strong this media campaign is. Or is it also something with the education system itself, that women arent questioning this propaganda. I just think if you were in a Western country, there would be more questioning of it.

LHF: Well it’s certainly not just [media]. I talk about the leftover women campaign. But when it comes to home buying, that’s simply one factor that’s shutting women out of property ownership. The fact that homes are so expensive is a huge factor as well. If homes were not so expensive then these women would be able to save up enough money on their own. Most of the women I interviewed wanted their own homes. So if they were able to afford it on their own, they would buy their own homes.

So part of it is China’s privatization in housing and the subsequent real estate boom has created these tremendous
new pressures on everybody in Chinese society: on the parents, on men and women. Even if the woman actually transfers her life savings over to the man to finance this loan [to buy the house], usually the man’s family ends up putting in more money than she does simply because the man’s parents have been saving all their lives. So then it may come down to the fact that the man’s family says: “well we put in more money therefore you have no right to put your name on the deed.” It may be the man’s parents who are really fighting with her and maybe her boyfriend would support adding her name to the deed. But it’s a very complicated transaction involving extended families pitted against each other.

But because of this fear that women over a certain age in their mid to late 20s are not going to be able to find a husband, it often winds up being that the parents of the daughter may actually help her finance the purchase the home but they don’t want the daughter to insist on adding her name because they’re afraid that her boyfriend or fiancé will walk out on her.

So even the parents of the daughter are urging her to stop being so assertive and not fight with the boyfriend and to

What's wrong with being single?  These ladies look like they are having fun!

What’s wrong with being single? These ladies look like they are having fun!

just give in. In fact a lot of these young women again argue a lot; they can get into very heated arguments with their fiancés over the issue of putting their name on the property deed. So it is not as though they just blindly go into it and willingly give away all of their money and don’t think about it. Although that said there are some women who do that.

But it’s just a multi-layered form of discrimination against women. It also has to do with state regulations on the purchasing of property. For example, one woman I interviewed who was a PhD candidate, extremely educated, she desperately wanted her name on the property deed but her boyfriend and her own parents were telling her that it’s not worth putting her name on the deed because then if they want to buy a second home, then they would have to pay a much higher down payment. So that was the reason she gave for leaving her name off the deed. But she felt very bad about that. Then when I asked her well can you afford to buy a second home, are you going to buy one, she said no we can’t afford to buy it. So there are just many layers of obstacles for these women.

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Part 2 of this two-part series will be posted tomorrow. 

Just for Fun – Movie Review: The Search for General Tso

By , January 9, 2015

search for GTGeneral Tso is only one of the many fascinating characters that appear in this charming documentary that seeks to uncover the origins of one of America’s favorite dishes: General Tso’s Chicken. But The Search for General Tso is more than just a story of a dish central to America, it also recounts the history and struggle of those who make the dish.

General Tso starts simply enough, asking how did Chinese food become so popular in America and who was this General Tso. It’s that question – and uncovering how the dish came into being – that takes the movie across America, to China and eventually landing in Taiwan. But through that journey, the director – Ian Cheney – deftly interweaves the story of the Chinese in America. Unlike General Tso’s Chicken, that story is not always tasty.

Cheney interviews various historians and academics who explain how a people that represent a little less than 2% of the U.S. population have restaurants in almost every city, town, and village in America. Unfortunately, the explanation is often tied with our prejudice. By the late 1800s, with anti-Chinese laws and bias in California, Chinese

General Tso's Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken

could not find work and were driven into the laundry and restaurant businesses. Many left California in the hopes that other parts of the United States would be less prejudiced. But as the story of David Leong demonstrates, that was often a misplaced hope. A World War II veteran, Leong moved to Springfield, Missouri to open a Chinese restaurant. In 1963, his new restaurant was bombed days before it was set to open. Leong would eventually find acceptance and popularity after inventing Springfield Cashew Chicken, but his story recounts the prejudice and violence that many Chinese-Americans faced.

But the movie leaves you with hope. The characters are poignantly portrayed -from the collector of Chinese menus (one from 1916!), to the man who travels the United States in an attempt to eat at every Chinese restaurant, to Cecilia and Philip Chang (of P.F. Chang fame), and finally to the chef who invented the dish. And each demonstrates that the love of this dish transcends race and that maybe, just maybe, has brought us all a little closer.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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The Search for General Tso will be showing in select theaters throughout the United States this weekend. A complete listing can be found on the movie’s website: http://www.thesearchforgeneraltso.com/

The movie can also be easily downloaded through iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

Xie Jin’s “Two Stage Sisters” & Xi Jinping’s Recent Thoughts on the Arts

By , October 26, 2014
Movie Poster for Xie Jin's Two Stage Sisters

Movie Poster for Xie Jin’s Two Stage Sisters

The China Institute‘s Cultural Revolution film series kicked off with a bang the other week with a rarely-viewed Xie Jin (pronounced Sye Gin) film, Two Stage Sisters (舞台姐妹).  All of the films being shown  makes this little series a gem.  But it is the series’ fortuitous timing – with President Xi Jinping’s (pronounced See Gin-ping) recent speech on the arts – that makes it a must see for anyone trying to understand the possible direction China’s arts may take in the future.

Two Stage Sisters, filmed in 1964 during a more open time before the onset of the Cultural Revolution, breaks down any notion that  propaganda films from this time period could not also be art.  The film follows the lives of two Shaoxing opera actresses – Yuehong and Chunhua – as they travel through a turbulent time in China’s history.  The film opens in 1935’s rural China.  Chunhua, who has run away from her in-laws who had plans to sell her, finds herself hiding in the store room of a local opera troupe.  The troupe – run by Yuehong’s father – adopts her and discovering that she has a natural talent for Shaoxing opera, makes her the star of the show along with Yuehong.  Showing the abusive practices of pre-revolution China, after the father dies, the two stage sisters are sold to a Shanghai opera troupe to pay off their father’s debts.

In early 1940s Shanghai, Yuehong and Chunhua become stars.  But slowly, as China begins to change, so does the relationship between the two women.  Chunhua remains the virtuous peasant.  Even when a wealthy patron wants to adopt her as her daughter, Chunhua, ever pure to the art, rejects the patron’s advances.  Yuehong questions Chunhua’s decision and is slowly seduced by the opera troupe’s manager as well as the Guomingdang, bourgeois lifestyle that he offers.  While Chunhua, inspired by Lu Xun’s work, begins to write revolutionary operas, Yuehong retires and fills her life with pearls, furs and diamonds.

Two Stage Sisters is marked by amazingly intense melodrama with the growing tension between the two sisters and the impending revolution

Chunhua (left) and Yuehong begin to lead different lives

Chunhua (left) and Yuehong begin to lead different lives

building in every scene.  It is in that melodrama that director Xie Jin excels and makes this film into a masterpiece.   The drama crescendos in an artfully shot courtroom scene that demonstrates that if history did not get in the way, Xie Jin could have been China’s Kurosawa.

But like most things in China, history and politics did get in the way, essentially putting Xie Jin’s career on hold for the next twenty years.  Two Stage Sisters, filmed with the approval of Xia Yan (pronounced Syia Yen), China’s Vice Minister of Culture, was produced at time when Mao Zedong’s power was at its lowest due to the tragic debacle of the Great Leap Forward.  But that period would not last and it is the Cultural Revolution itself that becomes Mao’s plan to regain complete power.

With the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Xie’s film was condemned precisely because it had not been hard enough on Yuehong, the sister that succumbs to materialism.  Xie Jin’s art of portraying even the “villain” in a nuanced and sympathetic manner did not fly during the Cultural Revolution.  For the Red Guards who would begin to rule society for the next few years, Chunhua’s forgiveness of Yuehong came too easy.  For them, Yuehong – an enemy of the socialist state – should have been punished more for her capitalist ways.

Director Xie Jin at work.

Director Xie Jin at work.

Additionally, produced with the assistance of Xia Yan, a vocal critic of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and a target of Mao’s wife and former actress Jiang Qing, Two Stage Sisters’ condemnation was inevitable.  Soon after the start of the Cultural Revolution, Xia was purged and jailed for the eight years.  Xie Jin would spend much of the Cultural Revolution and what should have been the prime of his career in a labor camp.

Two Stage Sisters, and the history that surrounds it, shows that art in the People’s Republic of China, while ostensibly required to “serve the people” in fact serves the political whims of its leaders.  Given this history, Xi Jinping’s recent October 15, 2014 meeting with China’s artists might be a bellwether for his attempts to tie art not just more to the Chinese Communist Party but more to his rule.  The Cultural Revolution found its origin in Mao’s 1943 speech at the Yenan Talks on Literature and Art.  For Mao, the revolution had two fronts – the arts and the military; there was no such thing as art for art’s sake.  Art and literature were essential for a successful revolution and the Yenan Talks made clear that art and literature needed to extol the masses and propel them forward for greater revolution.  At a point though, Mao noted that with the masses’ rising cultural levels, art standards would have to rise as well.  But the art would still need to serve the people.

Xi’s October 15 speech, while not as obvious, has aspects that are eerily similar to Mao’s 1943 Talks.  According to Xinhua News agency, which summarized Xi’s remarks rather than print them, Xi called on artists and authors to be one with the people and to use their art to promote the Party: “Literature and art must reflect well the people’s wishes; it must persist in the fundamental orientation of serving the people and serving Socialism” (translation courtesy of Rogier Creemers).  Xi also digressed on the need to produce quality works for the masses’ increased cultural awareness.

Will Xi try to dominate the arts the way Mao did during the Cultural Revolution?  Or was this just a roundabout way to state the obvious: even

Xi Jinping speaking on arts in literature in today's China

Xi Jinping speaking on arts in literature in today’s China

Chinese people don’t really want to watch Chinese movies and there is a genuine need to improve quality?  Or is it something else?  For sure we won’t be seeing a Cultural Revolution anytime soon.  But if I was an artist, author or director in China right now, with a speech that makes reference to “a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend (百花齐放、百家争鸣的方针),” I would certainly sit this round of art-making out.  That unfortunately means the arts in China – at least those sanctioned by the state – will continue to stay at its current level.

Two Stage Sisters
Director: Xie Jin
1964
Rating: ★★★★½

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The China Institute’s Cultural Revolution Film Series runs now through November 19, 2014 with a movie shown every Wednesday night.  Tickets are $15 and each movie is followed by a Q&A session with either the director or someone expert in the movie.  The China Institute is located at 125 E 65th Street in New York City. 

60 Minutes Goes Light on Alibaba

By , September 29, 2014
Jack Ma of Alibaba at the New York Stock Exchange

Jack Ma watching the Alibaba IPO go live at the New York Stock Exchange

With Alibaba’s IPO setting a record-breaking offering price last week, the Chinese e-commerce company’s founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma has become something of a media darling.  That was readily apparent on 60 Minutes this past Sunday, where Lara Logan’s interview failed to press Ma on some of the more apparent issues.  Namely, Alibaba’s relationship with the Chinese government.

To be sure, Ma’s story is impressive, especially in a country where success is often determined by connections.  Ma was a no one.  As a kid, when China began to re-open to the West in 1972, he escorted foreign tourists to practice his English.  But that initiative did not translate into a successful academic record.  Instead, Ma failed the college entrance exam twice, passing it on the third time to attend Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute.  Eventually he graduated, becoming a much loved English teacher and starting his own translation company.

That would be the end of Ma’s story except that in 1995, Ma took a trip to the United States, learning for the first time about the world wide

Jack Ma's early Alibaba team

Jack Ma’s early Alibaba team

web.  The trip would change Ma and China.  Upon his return, Ma started China’s first web company, China Pages.  While that company would eventually flounder, in 1999, Ma created China’s first e-commerce website for business to business sales.  That company – Alibaba –  would spawn China’s consumer e-commerce (think ebay) websites Tmall and Taobao.  With an innate understanding of Chinese consumers and what they wanted, by 2005, Taobao would surpass ebay as the dominant consumer e-commerce company in China.  Last year alone, consumers spent over $272 billion on Taobao and Tmall.  Alibaba, and its related consumer websites, have become a force that cannot be ignored by Western companies.

As the 60 Minutes interview revealed, Ma got into the internet when no one in China was yet able to envision its power.  And that is what makes Ma so impressive – his ability to see, before anyone else did, how the internet would reshape commerce .  But for Ma in 2014 to maintain, as he did in the 60 Minutes interview, that even today his company has little dealings with the Chinese government is just preposterous.  According to Ma, “you can love” the Chinese government, but you “do not marry” it.  But this makes no sense in a country where the government can determine the winners and losers.  Unfortunately, Logan didn’t press Ma on this point even though in a voice over, she vaguely acknowledged Alibaba’s government connections.

Alibaba's VIE Structure for its NYSE IPO

Alibaba’s VIE Structure for its NYSE IPO

Alibaba could not succeed in China without the approval of the Chinese government as Alibaba’s own prospectus makes clear (see p. 43 – Risks Related to Doing Business in the PRC).  And it would be strange if Ma wasn’t somehow courting the favor of political elites.  The very corporate structure that Ma used to establish its IPO – a Variable Interest Entity (VIE) – is not particularly legal in China.  As a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report (“the Report”) points out, VIEs are created by internet companies for the sole purpose of circumventing current Chinese law that caps foreign investment in internet companies.  As the Report makes clear, VIEs are under increasing attack.  In 2013, the Supreme People’s Court – China’s highest court – found a VIE illegal stating that it was being used to clearly circumvent the law.  Other government agencies, including the Ministry of Commerce and the China Securities Regulatory Commission, have questioned the role of VIEs.

But this is China so questionable legal authority for a corporate structure does not necessarily signal its death knell.  The Alibaba VIE will likely not end anytime soon, even with this recent assault on the corporate structure.  But that has more to do with the Chinese political elite’s aligned interest in Alibaba’s success.  And that aligned interest has to do with Jack Ma’s positive relations with at least some in the Chinese government.  But Logan did not ask about this.  Nor did she ask why Alibaba has not come under the purview of China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML).  In becoming China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba has acquired many of its competitors and has broadened its business to include cloud computing, an online payment system, and even financial services such as money market accounts.  But even with all of this, Chinese regulators have been silent regarding Alibaba’s actions vis-a-vis the AML.

Winston Wen, Wen Jiabao's son

Wen Jiabao’s son, co-founder of New Horizon Capital, and Alibaba investor, Winston Wen

In fact, Alibaba’s government connections go deep, a fact that Ma left out of his interview and that Logan chose not to pursue.  As the New York Times reported this past July, in 2012, $7.6 billion in shares was transferred from Yahoo! to some of China’s most well-connected private equity firms: Boyu Capital, co-founded by former President Jiang Zemin‘s grandson; CDB Capital and its Vice-President He Jinlei, son of former Politburo Standing Committee member He Guoqiang; and CITIC Capital, with Jeffrey Zeng, former Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan‘s son, at the helm.  In another transaction, New Horizon Capital, a fund co-founded by former Premier Wen Jiabao‘s son, also bought a significant number of shares in a private placement.

It would be foolish to invest in a company with questionable legal authority that didn’t have strong ties to China’s political elites.  On some level, for Alibaba to maintain its dominant market position, expand into other services, and ultimately succeed, it has to be “married” to the Chinese government.  Why Lara Logan didn’t press Jack Ma on this is anyone’s guess but it was another unfortunate softball interview on 60 Minutes.

What is Going on With China’s Constitution?

By , September 17, 2014

China’s Constitution

Qian Gang over at the China Media Project took a hit for the team earlier this month when he read through the recently-published (and likely dull) volume of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s speeches.  As Qian notes, glaringly absent from “A Primer of Important Speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping” (“the Primer“) is Xi’s ground-breaking 2012 speech that proclaimed the importance of the Chinese Constitution in ruling China.

Bye, Bye, Bye: A Disappearing Constitution

In December 2012 – with less than a year in power – Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) commemorated the 30th anniversary of China’s 1982 Constitution with a speech extolling the virtues of that Constitution. In that speech, Xi explained that it is the Constitution which must be used to constrain the government and the Chinese Communist Part (“CCP” or “the Party”):  “[n]o organization or individual has the privilege to overstep the Constitution and the law.”  Appearing to upend prior leader’s commitment to the Party as paramount to the Constitution, Xi highlighted that “[r]ule of the nation by law means, first and foremost, ruling the nation in accord with the constitution; the crux in governing by laws is to govern in accord with the constitution” (emphasis added).

But the currently-published Primer excludes this speech.  Was this intentional Qian wonders?  As Qian points out in his post, in China, anything this important is intentional.  In a society long trained to be hyper-sensitive to a leader’s speech, back in December 2012, Xi’s speech seemed like a watershed.  An inspiration.  The editors at the Guangdong-based newspaper, Southern Weekend, sure thought so.  Only a few weeks after Xi’s 2012 speech, the editors sought to follow his lead, titling the paper’s 2013 New Year’s editorial “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism.”

Either the Southern Weekend editors read the tea leaves wrong or, more likely, not everyone in the CCP leadership supported Xi’s call for constitutionalism.  “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism” never saw the light of day.  Instead, Guangdong propaganda officials quickly stepped in, changing the title and watering down the article to one that was effectively a paean to the Party-controlled system of governance.

Hello, Is it Me You’re Looking For? The Constitution Re-emerges

President Xi Jinping of China

Xi Jinping says Hello Again to the Chinese Constiution

With the suppression of the original Southern Weekend New Year’s editorial and the exclusion of Xi’s 2012 speech from the recently-published Primer, constitutionalism would appear to be dead in China, right?  Wrong.  Just last week, in a speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the National People’s Congress (“NPC”),  Xi again raised the banner of constitutionalism, stating that the Constitution was China’s most basic document and that ruling the nation must be done in accordance with that Constitution.

Did Xi just not get the hint? Hardly. As Qian Gang, in a new blog post at China Media Project points out, what we are seeing is a rhetorical power play at the highest levels of the CCP.  Xi’s recent pronouncement demonstrates that he wants to continue with this idea that the Constitution is crucial to the CCP’s governance.  But then there are others – others that might have had influence on the final cut of speeches from Xi’s Primer – who are just not that into constitutionalism.   Likely demonstrating the power of this other group, the Global Times, a conservative government-run newspaper, ran an editorial in its English edition noting that “…the popularity of constitutional governance in the public sphere has only brought negative results in recent years. We propose replacing the concept with the rule of law” (the Chinese version of the editorial is slightly different, putting Xi’s concept of constitutionalism in a historical context).

If you are dying to know what happens to the Constitution in current Party rhetoric – does it stay or does it go – you only have to sit tight for a

Another CCP Plenary is to Occur in October with Rule of Law as the Topic of Conversation

month.  In October, the CCP will hold the fourth plenary session of the CCP’s 18th Central Committee and the central agenda item is rule of law.  As the CCP recognized in its announcement, the rule of law is “vital for the Party’s governance, people’s happiness and the nation’s stability.”    Expect the Xi camp to call on that rule of law through the Constitution; expect there to be opposition.  How public this battle will be is anyone’s guess.  Evidently the rhetorical use of the Constitution is causing divisions within the leadership.

But Does the Constitution Make A Difference in China’s Political-Legal System?

But Xi is far from a constitutional convert, at least not in the Western sense.  Even with this rhetorical debate at the upper echelons of the CCP, Xi’s constitutional dream is far from a free society that promotes individual’s civil rights.  Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral research officer at Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, explained this to China Law & Policy.  The State is merely a reflection of the society which it governs and according to Creemers, “the [Chinese] State is there to restore the Chinese nation back to its collective greatness.  One of the key ways in which the CCP justifies its rule is that it knows best how to generate [that] development.  In that sense, law should not be used to constrain the State in its search for national rejuvenation, but to consolidate the progress that has been made on the road towards it. In the economic realm, that means law very often is the outcome of years of policy experimentation, while in the criminal realm, it means vast powers for the State to deal with those who would oppose it, where necessary.”

What is Rule of Law in China?

Thus, even for Xi, use of the Constitution is very top down and is not necessarily that divergent from the official concept of “rule of law.”  The Global Times, in its Chinese version of the editorial makes that clear.  To the Global Times, constitutionalism should be constructed as a neutral term, more in line with what the CCP has determined is the rule of law (“宪政本来是个中性词,与依法治国混用未尝不可”).  China-watcher Shannon Tiezzi, in the Diplomat, perfectly put her finger on what this rule of law is:  “the rule of the CCP through the law. The CCP still controls the legal system, but uses it as one of many available tools to enforce edicts from the center.”

Xi, even with his rhetoric of the Constitution, follows that Party line.  Hence his focus on the idea that the Constitution guarantees that no Party member can act outside of the confines of that document (think Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang, both powerful party members that have been taken down by Xi).  But that enforcement still emanates from the center; there is no place for grassroots to help with Xi’s crackdown on government corruption.  Activists Xu Zhiyong (pronounced Sue Zher-young), Liu Ping (pronounced Leo Ping), Wei Zhongping (pronounced Way Jung-ping), and Li Shen (pronounced Lee Shen) know this first hand.  In attempt to fight corruption, all publicly demanded that government officials disclose their assets.  All four have been sentenced to prison terms from three to six years under Xi’s rule.

For Xi, the elements of the Constitution that call for individual rights are to be ignored, which fits with Creemer’s  contention of the purpose

Chinese Rights Activist Liu Ping

Activist Liu Ping in a photo before she was sentenced to six and a half years in prison

of the State in China.  In fact, Xi’s reign has witnessed one of the largest crackdowns on human rights activists since likely 1989.  As the non-profit Chinese Human Rights Defender‘s has noted, since March 2013 – just three months after Xi’s Constitution speech – in addition to the four mentioned above, over 70 rights activists, lawyers and citizens have been detained, arrested, imprisoned or just “disappeared.”  Their crimes? Usually the minor charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” or “provocation and causing a disturbance,”  charges distorted by public security forces beyond their original meaning.  The real issue?  These activists often call upon the government to protect their constitutional rights.

Rule of law in China “is about delivering economic outcomes and a certain ideal of virtuous behavior by agents of the State” Creemer  stated.  Nothing in Xi’s rhetorical use of the Constitution diverges from that concept.

U.S. Constitutional Convention

Does use of the Word Constitution Mean this Type of a Government?

But the Party is nervous about Xi’s continued use of the word, hence the Global Times editorial which criticizes the “liberals -自由派” (likely the rights activists who have been thrown in jail) who seek to “distort” this Party-mandated perception of the rule of law and putting others on guard to avoid such “traps.”  But can the idea of constitutionalism be raised without giving life to those provisions of the document Xi and the Party would rather ignore – freedom of speech, of association, of religion?  Is Xi’s conception of the Constitution – which would limit official corruption and provide for greater economic development – enough to satisfy the masses?  Or will the Chinese people continue to demand that the Chinese dream be a Western-style constitutional one?

 

Prof. Don Clarke on Rule of Law in China

By , August 11, 2014
China Law & Policy is upgrading!

China Law & Policy is upgrading!

For those who are regular readers of China Law & Policy, you likely have noticed that we haven’t posted a piece in two weeks.  That is due to the fact that China Law & Policy is doing some upgrades behind the scenes that is requiring a lot more of our time and will also require us to stop blogging for another week or so.  But soon things will be faster, better and brighter here at China Law & Policy providing for a better experience for our readers.

In the meantime, while the summer rolls on, more rights attorneys are being prosecuted in China, Zhou Yongkang is now officially in trouble, and there has been a serious step-up in foreign prosecutions in China on criminal and anit-trust issues.  A few weeks ago, George Washington law professor Don Clarke did any fun podcast on these as well as on rule of law in China generally with the boys over at Sinica.  So in the meantime, you can listen to it by clicking here to get to the Don Clarke Sinica webcast.

Hopefully we will be back to blogging on a regular basis by the end of next week!

 

Just for Fun: Movie Review – Ghina

By , July 29, 2014
GHINA!

GHINA!

Every year, over 10,000 Chinese immigrants arrive in the oil- and gold-rich West African nation of Ghana, all with the aspiration to hit it rich. But what does such a huge wave of immigration followed up by the Chinese government’s low-cost loans and aid mean for Ghana? In Ghina (pronounced Gee-na), director Christine Choy attempts to answer that question by looking at the inter-personal relationships between a few Ghanaians and their Chinese bosses. But by focusing only on these select impressions and not examining the bigger macro issues at play, Choy fails to achieve her goal and instead, the movie is a disjointed, hodge-podge of interviews and scenes that merely perpetuates stereotypes of the Ghanaians rather than enlighten the viewer to any cohesive point.

Ghina opens with the Chinese construction of a hospital in the capital. As we learn from the English-speaking Chinese boss, this hospital is a donation to the Ghanaian people.   While the undercurrent is clear – that China is likely getting something in exchange for this “donation” – the movie fails to ever explain what that exchange is. There is vague reference to “Chinese illegal mining” but the movie never explains just how illegal and damaging to the environment that mining is to a country that still largely relies on agriculture and thus is sensitive to environmental pollution.

And that is the major problem with Ghina. It barely scratches the surface and as a result, fails to explain, either on the micro or the macro level the complexities of China’s investment in Ghana. It is not all bad. As Ghina points out, roads are being paved, hospitals are being built and ambitious Ghanaians are learning new skills and technology. But at what cost? And ultimately, at what benefit? Is China just another colonial-like power in Ghana, intent to strip it of its resources and go, leaving Ghana worse off than before? Or is it committed to the development of Ghana, where the country and its people can share in the prosperity?

Ghina also fails to adequately address the fact that many of these new Chinese construction projects aren’t job-creators for Ghana.  Instead,

Chinese boss leading a work group in Ghana

Chinese boss leading a work group in Ghana

the Chinese company often imports the Chinese labor with the construction materials, giving only a few jobs to the locals.

Only in one scene – where what appears to be an NYU professor traveling with the film crew interacts with one of the Ghanaian professors (who judging from his wardrobe is doing quite well) – do we see the kernel of the greatness that Ghina could have become. In that exchange, the Ghanaian professor defends the Chinese actions, acknowledging that the Chinese are only taking advantage of loopholes that the Ghana government allows. And on some level that is true. However, in the case of Chinese mining in Ghana, these aren’t loopholes. These are largely illegal actions that since the summer of 2013, the Ghanaian government has begun to crackdown on, deporting thousands of Chinese immigrants.  The movie fails to point that these referenced loopholes are actual illegalities.

Unfortunately, with an issue like Chinese investment in Africa, it is difficult to tell a coherent story just by looking at a few vignettes of individual people’s lives. While Ghina attempts to do that, it largely demonstrates that this type of storytelling ends up telling little to no story at all. Instead, check out the Guardian’s 15 minute video on illegal mining in Ghana for a more nuanced understanding of the Chinese in Ghana.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Book Review: Leftover Women – The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

By , July 18, 2014

For over 60 years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has promoted itself as a champion of women’s rights. It was Mao Zedong who famously proclaimed “women hold up half the sky.” In making such proclamations, the CCP has crafted the story that in Asia, an otherwise bastion of patriarchal societies, China is an oasis of women equality.

But Leta Hong Fincher, in her new book Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, unmasks that myth and exposes a disturbing, shocking and ultimately depressing development: China likely has one of the fastest-growing gender wealth gaps in the world. And the culprit of that increasing inequality? The Chinese government itself.

As Fincher convincingly demonstrates, it all starts with the concept of a “leftover woman,” a recently-developed ideology splashed not just all over the government-run newspapers but promoted

CCP Propaganda: Women Hold Up Half the Sky

CCP Propaganda: Women Hold Up Half the Sky

by government agencies like the All-China Women’s Federation, an organization ostensibly designed to encourage female empowerment. Basically, if a woman is not married by 27, she is labeled a “leftover woman.” The older one gets, the worse the mind games become, mind games that are played out in the press and on TV on an almost daily basis. As a result, women, especially educated women who are mocked even more vigorously, feel societal pressure to marry at a young age; if you are leftover, no one will want you. But, as Fincher shows, this fear is utterly illogical. Due to the preference for boys in what has been one-child country for the past 30 years, China has a shortage of marriageable women. Not to mention, if you can only have one child, what is the rush in getting married? But in perhaps one of the most shocking parts of the book, doctors – licensed medical professionals – lie to their female patients, instilling fear in them that babies will be born with birth defects if conceived after the age of 30.

In Leftover Women, Fincher shows that this fear of being leftover has resulted in women being left out; left out of one of the largest gains in individual wealth in Chinese history: property accumulation. To understand better the connection between the two, Fincher set up a Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) account to survey hundreds of young Chinese women. Through revealing snippets of interviews with these 20-somethings, it becomes clear that this fear of being leftover by the age of 27 has taken hold in the women themselves. This fear causes women not just to rush into a marriage but act against their own economic self-interest. Many of these well-educated, well-employed women will provide cash toward the down payment on a marital home without putting their name on the deed. Instead, as Fincher documents, in the vast majority of apartments occupied by married couples, only the man’s name is on the deed due to the resurgence of traditional gender roles. Shockingly many of the women interviewed accept these roles, acknowledging that they are effectively being swindled, but hint that it is all worth it so that they are not “leftover.”

Leftover Woman?

Leftover Woman?

Changes to the Marriage Law in 2011 only further perpetuated these non-progressive gender norms. In 2011, the Supreme People’s Court issued an interpretation of the Marriage Law finding that in the case of the divorce, the property goes only to those whose names are on the deed unless the other party can clearly show their monetary contribution. But because down payments are in cash, receipts are often not kept. Further, China does not allow joint bank accounts and it is usually the husband who writes the monthly mortgage check, even if the wife is providing cash contribution or providing for other household needs such as food and childcare. But under the new interpretation, these contributions are not considered. So, yes the interpretation is neutral on its face, but its disparate impact it clear. This is an interpretation that is going to screw women.

Rushing into marriage and losing their economic independence leaves these women vulnerable to another increasing and alarming practice in China: domestic violence. Through the interviews that Fisher conducted, a general trend emerges: these women will often stay in an abusive marriage because otherwise they will lose everything. Not to mention that the Chinese government, even after years of lobbying, has yet to adopt a Domestic Violence law. As a result, the police’s treatment of domestic violence is anything less than sensitive and is usually just seen a family matter for the wife and her abuser to handle on their own.

The Most Powerful "Leftover Woman": Epress Dowager Cixi

The Most Powerful “Leftover Woman”: Empress Dowager Cixi

Leftover Women is a chilling portrayal – often told through the voices of the women themselves – of the rapid deterioration of women’s equality in China. If you think you know China, you don’t until you have read this book. It exposes an ugly development where, through pressure to marry young, the resurgence of traditional gender norms and laws that promote male property ownership, the Chinese government is keeping women out of the property market and thus out of an important segment of societal wealth.

Unfortunately, China is not alone in keeping a group of people out of property ownership and thus wealth accumulation. In an essay that was published in June in the Atlantic, Ta-Nahesi Coates illustrates the racist policies of home ownership in the United States that has largely kept communities of color out of one of America’s most important sources of family wealth. The initial culprit? The U.S. government itself. Reading these two pieces together will make you doubly angry, but also more reflective on how wealth is accumulated in any society and the desires to keep certain groups of people out.

Rating: ★★★★½

Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, by Leta Hong Fincher (Zed Books 2014), 192 pages.

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