30 Years Ago Today, the Chinese Government Declared Martial Law

To deal with the student and worker protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, on May 19, 1989, the Chinese government instituted a news black out and declared martial law to go into effect the next day. Read a news account of that day – May 20, 1989 – from the Chicago Tribune. A few weeks later, tanks would enter Beijing killing hundreds to thousands of students, workers and civilians. #Tiananmen30

MARTIAL LAW IMPOSED IN BEIJING


The government Saturday imposed martial law on Tiananmen Square and the center of the city, ordered a news blackout and moved in soldiers as part of a crackdown on tens of thousands of students demonstrating for democracy.
There were reports that hundreds of people fought hand to hand with troops trying to enter the capital. Witnesses told Reuters news agency that workers and peasants battled unarmed troops on the main road leading into Beijing . . .[read full article]
Chinese students and civilians peacefully stop the troops from entering Beijing. May 20, 1989.

The Politically Motivated Arrest of Kovrig & Spavor

The Chinese government makes it really hard to believe that its detention – and now arrest – of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is anything but politically motivated. It adamantly protests the charge that Kovrig and Spavor’s detention is somehow related to the troubles Huawei Technologies is facing in North America; it denies that this is tit-for-tat diplomacy.

But it’s actions reflect otherwise.  The initial detention of Kovrig and Spavor on December 10, 2018, came only days after Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer and the founder’s daughter, was arrested by Canadian authorities in preparation for extradition to the United States. And now, the formal arrest of the two Canadians – after 5 months in detention without access to a lawyer – came only hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting U.S. telecom companies from purchasing foreign equipment from companies deemed a national security threat and the United States Commerce Department officially listing Huawei as such a threat.  Not only does this lock Huawei out of the U.S. market, by being listed as a security threat, Huawei will also no longer be able to purchase key component parts from U.S. tech companies such as Intel, Qualcom, Broadcom and Google; parts that are integral to the future success of its business.

Canadians Michael Kovrig (L) and Michael Spavor (R)

On Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after the U.S. government issued its announcements, the Chinese government announced that Kovrig and Spavor had been formally arrested on charges of stealing state secrets, Article 111 under China’s Criminal Law (translation courtesy of China Law Translate). Kovrig is suspected of “gathering state secrets for transmission outside of China” and Spavor is suspect of “stealing and providing state secrets for transmission outside China.”  Although the prosecutors are required to issue an arrest warrant upon arrest, it is unclear if this was done or to whom it was given (see Article 93 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), Art. 93 –  translation courtesy of China Law Translate).  Professor Maggie Lewis does a great analysis of what the world can expect at this stage of the case.

Canadian Embassy in Beijing

But here is the rub that makes it increasingly hard to believe that the Chinese government’s actions against Kovrig and Spavor are not retaliation for what is happening to Huawei. The Chinese government decided to arrest Kovrig and Spavor one month earlier than they had to.  Because Kovrig and Spavor were being detained under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law, the public security authorities had up to six months – or until around June 10, 2019 – before they had to request the official arrest of the two (CPL Art. 79). Once the prosecutors formally arrest the suspect, the time frame to investigate becomes much tighter.  As a result, it is a rare occurrence for China’s public security bureaus not to take full advantage of these six months. But it appears that announcing the arrest of these two only hours after the U.S. declared Huawei a threat to national security was more important.

This isn’t to say that the U.S. is innocent of gaming the Huawei situation as a way to gain leverage against China in the current trade battle. But what is different here is that Chinese government is dealing with two lives; two people who could end up in a prison for a very long time basically as pawns in this game.  Trade disputes can be settled.  But the criminal justice system is a body on to itself. And once it is engaged, especially in China, it’s hard to turn back. 

The Despair Behind May 4: Are We Seeing It Again Today?

Dissent has never been protected in China. More often than not, it has been squashed. But yet it somehow persists throughout Chinese history. And this is a testament to the Chinese people themselves, willing to risk the repercussions to hold their government accountable. This Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of one of China’s most famous protests; one that altered the course of modern Chinese history; and one that should serve as a bellwether to China’s current leadership as it responds to academic dissent.

Artist rendition of the May 4 Movement protests, painted decades after the event

On May 4, 1919, over 4,000 university students and professors took to the streets of Beijing to protest their government’s acquiescence to the Treaty of Versailles.  Even though the Chinese fought on the side of the Allies to defeat Germany during World War I, the Treaty of Versailles sought to return the German-occupied territory of China (Shandong Province) not to China but instead to Japan. When China’s intellectuals learned that their delegates had agreed to this, they took to the streets to hold their government – newly formed after the overthrow dynastic rule – to the promise that China would stand up for itself against the Western powers. While the May 4th protests did not change the final outcome of the Treaty of Versailles (Shandong ended up in Japanese hands), the protests were still hailed as a victory. Not only did the Chinese delegates change course and protest the continued occupation of its lands by foreign countries, but the protests cemented the students calls for a new, modern society.

Photo from the May 4, 1919 protests

Today, the May 4th Movement is portrayed as a glorious triumph. But at its inception, the Movement felt like anything but. Instead, the students and intellectuals were feeling very much disaffected, seeing themselves as voiceless victims of their government and of their own traditional culture, a culture they believed was the cause of China’s downfall vis-à-vis the West. The stories of Lu Xun, one of the May 4th Movement’s most famous writers and who epitomized the Movement, are not ones of hope, but rather stories of despair, with China continuing its rapid decline so long as it holds on to traditional cultural values. 

And while the May 4th Movement did eventually result in China standing up for itself, it is important to be aware of the mindset of the times that lead to a such a large protest. Seventy years later, as Andrea Worden poignantly points out in, Despair and Hope: A Changsha Chronicle, her eyewitness account of the events of Spring 1989, students would feel the same sense of despair. And again, the students and intellectuals would rise up and call on their government to abide by its promises of reform and of a better life.  But, unlike May 4th, the 1989 protests would be put down in the most violent of ways, resulting in a massacre in the streets around Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and squashing any hopes of reform.

Prof. Xu Zhangrun

Today, the same feelings of despair and hopelessness have emerged.  And from those feelings, academics are calling on the Chinese government to abide by its promises to the people. The most notable example is Xu Zhangrun, a constitutional law professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University. Last year, Xu published an essay, Imminent Fears, Imminent Hopes (translated by Geremie Barme) calling out President Xi Jinping’s broken promises. Among other issues, Xu criticizes Xi for abolishing term limits, enabling him to establish himself as a dictator like Mao. He also calls on Xi to end the corruption that has given Party Members a privileged position in society. Not surprisingly, the essay was immediately censored. However, Xu did not receive any other reprisals until recently when Tsinghua University banned him from the classroom, removed him from his academic duties and placed him under investigation. A few weeks later, the border agents refused to permit Xu to leave the country to attend a conference in Japan, a conference Tsinghua had previously approved.

But Xu is not the first intellectual in the current environment to face repercussions because of his speech and he will not the be the last. Almost five years ago, Ilham Tohti, an economics professor was given a life sentence because his website, a website that attempted to bridge the gap between Uighurs and Han Chinese in an effort to quell the dissatisfaction growing in Xinjiang, was seen as an attempt at separatism. For sure Tohti’s punishment remains the most extreme, but, as a recent ChinaFile discussion demonstrates, other academics who have spoken out in an attempt to hold the government to its promises have also run into various degrees of trouble with their universities.

Pres. Xi Jinping

Expect the Chinese government to continue to try to suppress the academics. And in the short-term, the government, with its total control and ability to immediately censor, will win. But at what cost? These academics do represent a segment of society that is dissatisfied. Is it better to keep that dissatisfaction suppressed?  True that today, any planned march on Tiananmen Square will be stopped before it even begins, but there are other protests that Chinese academics can perform. One of which is protesting with their feet and leaving the country.  Is it really in the best interest of the Chinese government – and future Chinese students – to have some of the best and brightest professors defect?  In the May 4th Movement, that opportunity was also there – many of the students and professors had opportunities to go abroad. But they didn’t or they came back. They stayed in China because back then, the stakes weren’t so high if the May 4th Movement was suppressed.  And for the benefit of China, thank goodness they did. Hopefully, on this 100th Anniversary of the May 4th Movement, the current Chinese government can truly see the importance of allowing dissent. If it can’t, then at least Xu Zhangrun will see the irony of it all.

Just for Fun: The Best of Beijing – What to Eat

By , April 23, 2019

October was my dad’s first trip to China. But by the second day in Beijing, he remarked “these people are always eating!” It’s true – Chinese people are always eating. And eating amazing food to boot. So the number one take away from this post is, if you see a line of Chinese people forming around a food stand or in a crowded restaurant – you need to go to that place!  Generally, 21 million people can’t be wrong. And don’t be afraid to eat the food, even if they are selling it on the street. The Beijing government has become fastidious about the cleanliness of street vendors.

With Beijing being the birthplace of some of China’s most iconic dishes and snacks, it is culinary dream. So if something looks good, try it. But just to give a little bit of direction to the first time visitor, here are some things that China Law & Policy never misses out on when visiting Beijing.

Baozi – 包子

A plate of mini baozi. Make sure you get the big ones too!

Baozi is a little piece of heaven here on earth. And I have never understood why it hasn’t become more of a thing in places like New York City. Luckily baozi can be found on almost every street corner in Beijing – either at the window of a small restaurant or from a baozi hawker. Baozi is essentially a steamed, large, bready dumpling that can be eaten at any time of day. Inside this breaded goodness is a filling that can be anything – pork, beef, lamb, egg, an assortment vegetables. The bun that surrounds the filling often gets soaked in the filling’s sauce, making for a savory experience.

Zhajiangmian 炸酱面

A good place to try zhajiangmian

Zhajiangmian – a noodle dish with a tangy pork and bean sauce – is the first thing I try to find after landing in Beijing and its often the last thing I eat before leaving. Nothing is more Beijing than zhajiangmian and, sort of like bagels outside of New York City, it never tastes as good anywhere else in the world.  You can get zhajiangmian in lots of places in Beijing but the place that I think is the best is Xincheng Xiaomianguan (新城削面管). There is one in the Dashilar hutong area and one just south of the Drum Tower. Likely they are elsewhere in the city. But if you can’t find it, just ask your hotel where you can get some zhajiangmian nearby.

Jianbing – 煎饼

Fresh jianbing

I am not a fan of jianbing, but most people are and it is quintessentially Beijing. So it is a must try and tried fresh. The base is a very light and fluffy crepe and when it gets firm enough, a tangy, hot sauce is washed over it, an egg cracked on top and eventually scallions added. Sometimes a fried bread stick is also added. Once cooked, it is folded and ready to be wolfed down for a delectable treat.

Peking/Beijing Duck – 北京烤鸭

Preparing some Peking Duck

Eating Peking Duck in Beijing is not a cliché – it is a must! And it’s hard to find a bad place to eat it. Basically look for a crowded Peking duck restaurant and go in. If you can’t find one nearby, then head to Quanjude (全聚德). Quanjude, first founded in 1864, makes a mean, delicious duck.  Some might turn up their noses at the fact they are now a chain, but whatever. You aren’t in Beijing to be cool; you are there to eat good food and Quanjude offers great duck. If you have a bit more money to burn, there is Da Dong (大董) which serves splendid duck in a higher-end setting that is an experience to say the least. I prefer the one in by Worker’s Stadium(工体)with its neon lights and plastic, life-size horses in galloping poses throughout the restaurant.

Lamb Hotpot (火锅)

Lamb hotpot and other yummy things!

In the United States, when people think of hot pot, they often think of the super spicy version from Sichuan. But hotpot is also very much a Beijing thing, with the focus being lamb. Additionally, Beijing hotpot can have a spicy broth or a non-spicy broth. A simmering pot of the broth cooks in the middle of the table, with raw meat, vegetables and starch ordered to be cook in the broth once it starts boiling. It is best to go with a group so as to taste as much as possible. So if you are traveling with friends and family or a tour, grab a few people and go. If you are a meat eater, be sure to order the lamb slices. Potatoes, tofu, fish balls, chrysanthemum leaves and rice noodles are some of my favorites to throw in the pot as well. Once cooked, you can dip them into the sesame sauce that will be provided.

Beijing Yogurt (老北京酸奶)

Traditional Beijing yogurt

When one thinks of China, one does not immediately think “dairy.” But in Beijing, yogurt has been sold for centuries and is a rather exquisite treat to try while wandering the hutongs. Unlike U.S. yogurt, it is drinkable and you eat it using a straw. It is also unique in that it is sweet, but not overly sweet, with a tinge of the sour. It’s hard to describe why it is delicious which means, eat it.

This post could go on forever about all the scrumptious things to eat in Beijing. The point is, in Beijing, eating is half the fun; actually, it’s probably 75% of the fun.  So just try everything. And if you didn’t eat one of the things listed above, don’t stress about it. As long as you ate something good, that’s all that matters!

But did you discover some edible delightness that didn’t make it to this list? Or found a restaurant that is a must to visit? If so, we would love to hear about it so please share in the comments section below.

And most importantly, have fun in Beijing!

After a breakfast of baozi, Pops, having fun at the Drum Tower on his last day in Beijing!

Just for Fun: The Best of Beijing – Things to See & Do

By , April 22, 2019

Just for Fun (“JFF”) is a sporadic series on China Law & Policy where we take a break from the more serious aspects of China’s development. JFF often features movie reviews, art reviews, or anything else that could be considered “fun.”

The Forbidden City is a must see, but here are som other recommendations

Few cities have seen as much change as Beijing. When I lived there in the late 1990s, farmers still entered the city with mule-drawn carts to sell their harvest on some random corner in downtown Beijing. They could do that then because many of the farms were just outside of the fourth ring road. Today, fruits and vegetables are largely bought in supermarkets. Flashy office buildings fill the skyline and luxury cars line the roads. In less than two decades, Beijing has transformed from a sleepy capital city into a major, modern metropolis.

But echos of the past still fill the streets and tourists – if they know where to look – can still see customs that are centuries old. Old men still walk their birds every morning; candied hawthorn sticks are still hawked by street sellers; and women practice their taichi early in the morning in Beijing’s various parks. For a first time visitor, here are some things that China Law & Policy thinks should not be missed.

Jingshan Park at Dawn

My Dad, first timer to Beijing, overlooking the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

Here is a secret about Beijing. Although it is a city of over 21 million people, you can have a little bit of it to yourself very early in the morning. So learn to love your jetlag and just get up when your body tells you to, which, for most people traveling from the United States, will be around dawn. One place you want to visit that early in the morning is Jingshan Park. Jingshan Park sits right behind the Forbidden City. The hill that is the park’s defining feature was created from the dirt that was dug up to make the Imperial Palace’s moat, and it offers some of the most spectacular views of Beijing. As soon as you enter the park, follow the signs that take you to the top of the hill. In a few hours, the hill will be a mad house but at 7 in the morning you could easily be the only one at the top. Enjoy the silence, the view and the light breeze across your face. Just to the south you will see the shimmering yellow rooves of the Forbidden City – on a sunny morning, the rooves will glow. But even on a cloudy or rainy day the view is not to be missed. And don’t forget to look at the other views – on the north side you will see the Drum and Bell towers; to the west will be the white pagoda of Houhai. Enjoy it for as long as you like, knowing that for hundreds of years, others have shared in this view. Then walk down and watch the senior set doing their taichi exercises.

Walk the Hutongs

My Dad, enjoying the Beijing hutongs

Hutongs – the alleyways where Beijing residents have lived since the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) – are unique to northern China. No other place in the world has such architecture and it is a pity to not spend some time exploring these lanes. At one point the entire city was made up of hutongs but unfortunately, with the Chinese government’s desire to make Beijing into a “modern” city for the 2008 Olympics, many of the hutongs were demolished for large, non-descript apartment housing. However, there are still some hutongs left to explore where you can see how everyday life has been lived for centuries. One hutong area is the between the Drum Tower and the Lama Temple. This area has become westernized and you will find bars, coffee shops and high-end restaurants that cater to the expat crowd. But I do enjoy sitting in Café Confucius, having a nice latte with their cat, and watching everyday life pass by. If your travels do not take you to that area, you can also explore the hutongs just south of Tiananmen known as Dashilar. While a much more commercial district, it’s still a lot of fun to explore.

Inside Mei Lanfang’s siheyuan home

Do remember though that people still live in these hutongs. And while it is completely fine to wander the alleyways, it is not fine to enter into the courtyards where people live, even if the door is open. If you would like to see a traditional hutong home – known as a siheyuan (“four connected wall garden”) – check out the Mei Lanfang Museum over in the Huguosi hutong area, one of my favorite hutong areas. Not only will you be able to walk through a siheyuan home, but you will learn about a rather interesting and charismatic figure in Peking Opera and Chinese history.

Huguosi Hutong Area at night, Oct. 2018

Great Wall

Yes, you should go to the Great Wall. It’s mesmerizing to stand atop the Wall and look as it stretches endlessly into the distance. The only real question is, which part of the wall to see. Should you see the is the reconstructed wall or the “wild wall?”  I generally recommend the reconstructed wall for a first-timer. And if reconstructed is what you choose, the section to go to is Mutianyu (which if you walk in the direction of watchtower 23, you will hit the wild wall). If there are two or more of you, then hiring a driver to spend the day out there is worth it. The driver generally knows to leave early – the wall opens at 8 AM and, on a weekday, if you are there at 8, you will have some of the wall to yourself. As I mentioned yesterday, I have used Miles Meng’s service the last two times I have visited the Wall and find it well worth it.

Dad & me at the Mutianyu Great Wall, Oct. 2018

If you want to do the “wild wall,” do not do it alone.  I can’t stress that enough. Do it with a group so that you have a guide in case there are any accidents. Sprained ankles are probably the most common, but there are significant drops in certain places where the path narrows. I recommend signing up for a trip with Beijing Hikers. Usually it is a group of 10 to 15 people, with a bus pickup in downtown Beijing. If you are doing the wild wall, do wear hiking shoes.

Summer Palace

After the Great Wall, the Summer Palace is perhaps one of the most extraordinary tourist sites in Beijing. As its name connotes, it was the summer home of the Qing emperors after the Old Summer Palace was destroyed by French and British troops in 1860 (with some of the most prized antiquities of China carted off).  While the Summer Palace certainly has buildings that are must sees, it is more than just a palace. It is a massive, beautiful park where you could easily spend a whole day if you have the time. People may say that you only need two hours to “do” the Summer Palace, but this would be a mistake. After seeing the major sites in the park, go off on some of the side paths and enjoy the peace and quiet with spectacular views of the lake and Beijing to the southeast. Bring your lunch as the Summer Palace is a great place to picnic, relax and just have fun.

Beijing’s Summer Palace on a clear October day

Lama Temple

Beijing has quite a number of impressive Buddhist temples but the Lama Temple outshines them all.  Originally built as a residence for one of the Qing Dynasty princes, the building was converted to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in 1744 and has remained one ever since. It is still a practicing monastery and if you get there early enough, you might be able to see the end of the morning group prayers. It is something to listen to rather than to watch. In fact, much of the experience at the Lama Temple is about your other senses. Through out the temple complex, the sweet smell of incense will fill your nose and even though it is often crowded, it is quiet enough that you can hear the tinkle of the small bells hanging in the breeze. It is this feeling of peacefulness – in the heart of Beijing – that will be a more lasting memory than any picture.

Burning incense inside Beijing’s Lama Temple

The World Trade Center’s 6th Floor Terrace

Now that you have seen the old, it’s time to bask in the new.  The place to do that is China’s World Trade Center (Guomao – 国贸), a massive complex of office buildings, hotels and a multi-floored mall in the southeast corner of Beijing’s Third Ring Road. The two, glass brown buildings at the south of the complex, the ones that look very 1970s, were the original World Trade Center buildings that opened around 1990. I actually worked in one of them in 1999 and at that time, those two towers were surrounded by shanty towns. Today, those towns have been replaced by some of China’s most impressive, glittering architecture, including the imposing CCTV tower. And there is no better place to view Beijing’s modern architecture than from the 6th floor terrace of the World Trade Center mall.  If you find yourself getting lost in the maze of a mall, just follow the signs to the Blue Frog restaurant. The terrace shares space with that restaurant. But no worries if you are not up for a bite. Fortunately, most of the terrace is free and open to the public. 

Viewing China’s present from the 6th Floor Terrace at World Trade

These are just a few suggestions of what to see in Beijing. The most important thing is just being there, in the heart of this vibrant city that is changing the world. Was there something else you did in Beijing that didn’t make the list and should have?  Please feel free to comment below about your favorite Beijing experiences. And join us tomorrow as we conclude this series with the all important “what to eat” in Beijing. 

Just for Fun: The Best of Beijing – Know Before You Go

By , April 21, 2019

Just for Fun (“JFF”) is a sporadic series on China Law & Policy where we take a break from the more serious aspects of China’s development. JFF often features movie reviews, art reviews, or anything else that could be considered “fun.”

Getting Ready for the Flight to Beijing

Beijing has long fascinated the Western mind. Since Marco Polo published his travelogue of China in 1300, Westerns have been inspired to visit Beijing and have rarely left disappointed.  And rightfully so for the emperors of China knew what they were doing when they built the city. On a clear day, Beijing’s imposing, ancient architecture, with its blazing red walls and shimmering gold rooves, pops against the bright blue sky. Even with some of the city’s destruction during the Mao era and, more recently, for the 2008 Olympics, Beijing is still a city like no other in the world.

But for a first time visitor, this city of 21 million people can overwhelm. There is so much to see, so much to do, so much to eat. How does one prioritize?  China Law & Policy is here to help. In this three-part Just for Fun series, we give some pointers – based on our own experience in Beijing – on what a first time visitor should look to do. What should you see?  What should you eat?  Today, we start with some preliminary matters to take care of before you even get on your flight to Beijing.  For those of you who are regular visitors to Beijing, feel free to share in the comment section what you think is essential for a first-timer needs to prepare for his or her trip.

Virtual Private Networks

Before you get to the Great Wall, you will encounter the China Firewall

As soon as you arrive at the Beijing Capital Airport, you will be behind “China’s Great Firewall.” Those websites you visit daily – the New York Times, anything Google related (think gmail, maps), Facebook, Twitter – are blocked by government decree. But there are ways around it; one way is the use of a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”). Technically, accessing the internet through anything other than access points provided by the Chinese government is a violation of 1997 temporary regulations that are still in effect. And Chinese citizens have been fined ($150) during a recent government campaign against VPN usage. But most tourists that visit China use a VPN and here is a list of VPNs that usually work in China.  Here though is the clincher – if you are going to use one, you have to download it on all your electronic devices before you leave for China. Because VPN’s are essentially illegal in China, their websites are blocked in China and app stores are not permitted to offer VPNs once you are in China. So be sure to download them on your cell phone, laptop, etc., a few days before you leave and play with them so you know how to work them. A VPN will run you between $12 to $15/month. Almost all of the VPNs require automatic renewal on your credit card, so mark your calendar to terminate your subscription once you return.

Your Passport – Don’t Leave Home Without It

You will need your passport to get on to Tiananmen Square

Second thing to note is that you need to travel with your passport on you at all times (and in case you missed it in preparing, you need a visa to get in). The U.S. Department of State recently reminded tourists traveling to China to always carry their passports. Additionally, you will need it to get through security checkpoints at certain tourist sites, such as Tiananmen Square. More importantly, for those traveling to China in their golden years, some tourist sites give a discount – sometimes as much as 50%! – to anyone 60 years and older (Forbidden City, Summer Palace are two such places). But the only way to verify that fact is by showing your passport. So don’t miss out on that deal.

Cash is King, At Least for Tourists

For tourists, China is still very much a cash-based society. China sort of skipped over credit cards and went straight to mobile payments.  At a small, hole-in-the-wall shop on some random street in Beijing, you will see Chinese people just flashing their phone at a machine to pay for their water. Fortunately for tourists, these shops still must accept cash. But they won’t accept credit card. For sure you can use your credit card at your hotel, for dinners at more established restaurants, and in fancier shops. When it comes to everything else, you will need cash. So you will be going to the ATM. . . a lot.  You should be able to use your ATM card at the major Chinese banks – Bank of China, China Construction Bank, ICBC, and China Merchant Bank, all of which are common around the city.  And remember, you cannot purchase Chinese money outside of China.  So as soon as you get out of customs at the airport, make a stop at one of the many ATMs that are in the airport and withdraw some cash. How much you need for the trip all depends on what you plan to do and what you plan to buy.

How to Get Around

Now, for taxis. It will be almost impossible to hail one off the street and Uber and Lyft are not really used by Chinese taxi drivers. They use DiDi, which does now have an English version but I have yet to use it. So if you don’t use Didi, empty taxis will drive right by you – even with your hand held up trying to hail them. For some reason, taxi drivers prefer a DiDi fare over a hail. So if you don’t want to download Didi on your cell phone, then your best friend is going to be Beijing’s extensive subway system which is a great way to experience Beijing as a Beijinger. But try to avoid rush hour when the trains are packed. Also, some stops are not terribly close to the tourist attraction and often there is a long walk to transfer trains.  So if you are traveling with someone who has challenges walking a lot, investing in a car service is a good idea. For the past few years, I have used Miles Meng (click here for info – just email Miles and he will set it up and give you the price) for airport pick-ups, driving to the Great Wall, and heading out to the Summer Palace. The driver drops you off and then tells you where to meet for the pick-up. It is more expensive than the subway, but when I was traveling with my Dad, a senior, it was a great way to see a lot of things in a short amount of time without tiring him out.

Toilet Paper – Don’t Leave Home Without It

Some things never change – a view of the Forbidden City at Sunset, Oct. 2018

When I first went to China in 1993, my roommate, who had lived in China before, immediately told me that I needed to carry a roll of toilet paper with me. Twenty-six years later, that advice is still applicable. Beijing is great in terms of public toilets. It’s just that the public toilets don’t supply toilet paper. Which makes sense in a city of 21 million people; imagine how much of the city budget would be earmarked for toilet paper. While you could carry pocket tissues and they would do the same job, in the end, I just end up throwing a roll in my backpack. And you can buy very nice toilet paper in local shops and supermarkets when you arrive – no need to bring that from the U.S. And in terms of public bathrooms, most now do offer at least one stall that is a “western” toilet and not a squat toilet. Although in more dubious bathrooms off the beaten path, I choose the squat toilet over a sit down.  Now that you have the preliminary matters down, it is time to start planning the itinerary!  Join us tomorrow when China Law & Policy shares some of its favorite things to see and do in Beijing.

Walls of Weakness

By , April 14, 2019
President Donal Trump visits wall prototypes in San Diego

Almost daily, Donald Trump talks about building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.  According to him, it’s needed to keep immigrants out.  It was his commitment for a border wall that lead to a 35-day government shutdown back in January and, when Trump failed to secure any funding for his wall, caused him to declare a national emergency.  But Trump isn’t the first world leader to look to a wall as a way to keep people out. That dubious honor belongs to the Chinese. It was the Chinese who built a 5,500-mile-long wall along its northern border to keep out the different tribes just outside its borders and to maintain the purity of their Han culture.

In fact, he Chinese have been building walls for over 2,000.[1]  Starting with the Qin dynasty (China’s “first” dynasty), a wall was seen as a way to keep foreigners to the north out. But for most of China’s history, this wall was largely mounds of rammed earth. It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 AD) that a more permanent structure of mortar and bricks was finally contemplated.

Walking along the Great Wall, at Mutianyu

But the Ming did not build a wall out of strength; it built it from a place of weakness. After more than a century of expansion in trade and influence, with one of the most powerful navies in the world that promoted trade as far off as the coast of east Africa, by the mid to late 1400s the Ming Dynasty began to retreat inward.  It no longer sought trade abroad and its global power and influence receded. And its aversion to trade was not just restricted to the maritime sphere; it also included the tribes to the north. It was the Ming’s trade embargo on arms, copper, iron and horses with its northern neighbors that caused the northern tribes to unite and begin constant attacks on the Ming.

With these attacks, the Ming began to spend more and more resources on building the Wall.  For the next 150 years, the Ming’s sole focus – and at great expense to its empire – was the defense of its northern frontier, including constant repair and reinforcement of the Great Wall.  What tourists see today – the reconstructed Wall at Badaling and Mutianyu or the wild Wall at Simatai and Gubeikou – are relics of this emblem of a dynasty in decline. In 1644 the Manchus, a non-Han Chinese tribe to the north, breached the wall, defeated the Ming and established the Qing Dynasty, a non-Chinese dynasty that would rule until the dynastic model was overthrown in 1911.

Ming Dynasty soldiers

But the Great Wall is more than a symbol of ineffectiveness; it also demonstrates the danger in a country’s own isolationist policy. For the first 150 years of the Ming Dynasty, China, through effective trade relations with the northern tribes, was able to keep peace with its neighbors. It wasn’t until it began to turn inward and cut off trade that trouble emerged. But instead of reversing its policy, the Ming dug in, directing more and more of the empire’s resources and attention to building the Great Wall. Trump appears to be on the same collision course with history, taking the American public with him. In addition to shutting down the government for over a month, a move that appears to have cost the American public $11 billion in lost economic opportunities, by declaring a national emergency, Trump now seeks to siphon off from other federal agencies $8 billion to build his wall. In addition, instead of addressing some of the causes of the current immigration trends at the U.S.’ southern border – such as the failing central American states of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – Trump is digging in his heels, punitively threatening to cut off all forms of aid to those countries. Like with the Ming Dynasty, Trump’s demand for a wall is not just a call for something ineffective –most undocumented individuals in the U.S. are a result of visa overstays not physically walking over the border – it is also continues the United States’ path on an isolationist, anti-trade and anti-engagement strategy. For the Ming it was the beginning of their decline. Time will only tell if the same holds true for the United States.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, Oct. 2019

[1] For this post, CL&P relies on two sources for the history of the Great Wall of China: Jacques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 2nd Ed. 1996) and Peter Hessler, Walking the Wall (The New Yorker, May 21, 2007).

Just for Fun – Movie Review: Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White

By , April 4, 2019

Just for Fun (“JFF”) is a sporadic series on China Law & Policy where we take a break from the more serious aspects of China’s development. JFF often features movie reviews, art reviews, or anything else that could be considered “fun.”

Bin and Qiao, the two lovers at the center of director Jia Zhangke’s new masterpiece, Ash is Purest White (江湖儿女), are having the time of their lives as the film opens. It’s 2001 and Bin (Liao Fan) is a successful gang leader in the declining industrial city of Datong. Qiao (Zhao Tao) is his dutiful girlfriend, always by his side, collecting money at the mahjong tables on his behalf and picking up Bin’s gun when he accidently drops it on the dance floor. She is also the sole care taker of her father, a man who once was an important leader in Datong’s coal mines when those mines were flourishing. Now he commandeers the neighborhood loudspeaker for his drunken tirades.

But Bin and Qiao are united in their belief in the gang world’s longstanding code of loyalty; loyalty to each other, loyalty to their family, and loyalty to the gang. But that loyalty is tested when Bin is attacked by a rival gang – an exciting, kung fu-inspired fight scene – and Qiao saves his life by firing his gun. Both are arrested but its is Qiao, never revealing that the gun was Bin’s, that takes the fall with a five year sentence for possession of a gun. When Qiao is finally released, there is no Bin waiting for her. Instead, she has go find him, journeying through parts of China hundreds of miles from her home.

Qiao (Zhao Tao) in the Three Gorges Valley, searching for Bin

Her search for Bin takes her to one of the small river towns in the Three Gorges valley. It is 2006 so while the town still exits, its demise is imminent. Beautiful shots of the Yangtze, flowing through the town, are punctured with the shrill sound of public announcements, instructing local residents to pack up their bags because their town of over 2,000 years will soon be flooded into oblivion with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. It is clear that Qiao is beginning to realize that she is in a new China. And it becomes clear to the audience that while Ash is Purest White is ostensibly a story about love lost (not surprisingly Qiao finds out that Bin left her and gang life) it is more a story of China during those first two, tumultuous decades of the 2000s. 

And Jia quietly captures the momentousness of those two decades, both while Qiao is in the Three Gorges Valley and on her train trip back to Datong, where she ends up encountering the first of the new Chinese, a rugged adventurer, with Western-style backpacker gear, on his way to Xinjiang to search for UFOs. When Bin comes to see her ten years later, she meets him at the high speed rail station clasping her smart phone. Ever loyal to the gang and to the life, it is Qiao who now runs the Datong mahjong parlor and has become an underworld boss. It is also Qiao – still loyal to Bin – who nurses him back to health.

Director Jia Zhangke

Ash is Purest White shows why Jia Zhangke is one of China’s greatest directors. The genius behind Jia, which is perfected in this movie, is his ability – without any words – to communicate the confusion and uncomfortableness of living in a country that is undergoing one of the fastest economic transitions the world has ever seen. Qiao’s loyalty is admirable and because the movie centers around her (with Zhao Tao giving one of her best performances), we are able to see her transform and become a stronger woman. But in the end, she is still stuck in Datong; her commitment to the past – the code of loyalty – keeps her there. Bin on the other hand is not; he’s on the move, able to forget the codes of the past. And in a country like China, is it better to hold on to the past or to be constantly on the move? Ash is Purest White never answers that question, but, by asking it, the movie shows the difficult spot that China and its people are in as the country continues to develop at breakneck speed. 

 Rating: ★★★★½

Book Review: Peter Hessler’s Strange Stones

By , March 17, 2019

I miss Peter Hessler.  While there are still a lot of great writers covering China, there was something about Hessler’s writing – his ability to capture a moment and the ordinary people in it – that resonated.  His three books about China – River Town, Oracle Bones and Country Driving – are still some of my favorites. But Hessler left China around 2007, after covering it for almost a decade for the New Yorker, and I still feel the loss.    

When I heard that Hessler was set to publish a new book this spring, this time about Egypt, the country he has been living in since 2011, I looked up to see when it would be published (May 7, 2019 ). But, in looking up the publication date, I stumbled upon another book that Hessler published back in 2013, one that I hadn’t been aware of previously; one that is about China: Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West.

Author Peter Hessler

Ostensibly, Strange Stones is a collection of 18 essays, 13 of which cover Hessler’s time in China and a few about his move back to the United States. But Hessler’s China essays – covering the period of 2000 to 2008 – are a snapshot of a China that doesn’t exist anymore. In the decade since Hessler left, China has achieved some amazing feats: it weathered 2008 economic recession better than most; it has become the second largest economy in the world; in many key industries (think 5G, artificial intelligence) it is a leader; and both its government and its people have a confidence that was absent back in 2008. 

And that is why reading Strange Stones now – almost a decade after some of the most recent essays were written – is particularly poignant. Hessler portrays a China and its people that are just starting to come into their own. And in a way that the reader can relate to for Hessler has a gift for truly capturing the souls of people. Each of his subjects opens up to him, telling him their secret aspirations, as well some of their regrets.  From a worker in a Chinese bra factory, to the manager of Hessler’s car rental spot in Beijing; to the Uranium widows in Colorado who wish uranium mining – and the economy with it – could come back to their town; to a pharmacist in a small border town between Colorado and Utah, Hessler forces you to briefly see the world through their eyes.  And by doing so, you come to realize that Hessler’s subjects – be them in China or in Colorado – are no different than us.  A sentiment that too many people are apt to forget these days.Strange Stones doesn’t have the overarching narrative of Hessler’s previous books, but, to understand where China is today vis-à-vis a decade ago, it is still a must read.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West, by Peter Hessler (Harper Perennial, 2013), 368 pages

Meng, Kovrig & Spavor – Same Same But Different

By , March 4, 2019

On Friday, Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, filed a lawsuit alleging that the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the attorney-general of Canada violated her constitutional rights prior to her arrest for extradition to the United States. In her claim, Meng alleges that on December 1, 2018, while transferring flights in Vancouver, CBSA detained her under the guise of a routine immigration inspection.  It was only after three hours of questioning and the seizure and search of all her electronic devices did CBSA finally inform her that she was under arrest, had the right to remain silent and had the right to an attorney.

Meanwhile, in China, two Canadians face a similar predicament.  Like Meng, they have been held in detention; they have been denied access to a lawyer; and they are being bombarded with questions, all in the attempt to have them incriminate themselves. But unlike Meng, their detention is now approaching three months, not a mere three hours; and there is no hope that they will ever be able to bring the claims she has raised – the abuse that is inherent when detained and questioned about a possible crime without a lawyer – against the Chinese government. 

Detained Canadian Michael Kovrig

On December 10, 2018, in what many believe was retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng, Chinese public security bureaus (“PSB”) picked up Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians working on conflict resolution between North Korea and pretty much the rest of the world.  Kovrig, a former diplomat at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, was working for the non-profit International Crisis Group. Spavor was a consultant living in China and working on North Korean issues, include travel tours of North Korea.  Both were picked up by public security, Korvig by Beijing PSB and Spavor by Dandong PSB, for questioning related to possibly “endangering national security,” a crime that could encompass a variety of activities. (See China’s Criminal Law (“CL”) – English translation courtesy of China Law Translate – Arts. 102-112).

But unlike Meng, who is out on bail in Vancouver, free to meet with her lawyers and assist them in bringing new cases that challenge her current situation, Kovrig and Spavor sit in an unknown location in China, at the beck and call of the PSB and with little contact with the outside world.  Unfortunately the rights that Meng can avail herself – right to bail and the ability to challenge the constitutionality of her arrest – are not available to those suspected of crimes in China. Instead, for anyone suspected of crimes endangering national security, Chinese police are able to institute residential surveillance at a designated location (“RSDL”) for up to six months. (See China’s Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) – English translation courtesy of China Law Translate – Arts. 75 & 79).  And this six-month RSDL occurs before the police arrest the suspect, giving them unlimited access to interrogate the individual in order to build their case, or more aptly to pressure the suspect into confessing.

Detained Canadian Michael Spavor

While the designated location cannot be a detention facility (CPL Art. 75), it can be any other place where the police maintain constant surveillance. And while most criminal detainees have the right to meet with their lawyer, those suspected of endangering national security do not.  Instead, the investigating body – either the PSB or the prosecutor’s office – must approve the meeting. (CPL Art. 39). And largely they do not approve such meetings. Why should they?  From the six-month RSDL to the denial of lawyer access, the system itself incentivizes the PSB and prosecutors’ offices to ratchet up the possible charges, detaining individuals with crimes of endangering national security and then use the next six months to figure it out. 

Add to that the fact that the detention of Korvig and Spavor comes in the midst of the Chinese government’s row with Canada over the arrest and possible extradition of Meng to the United States.  A day after Meng’s lawyers announced that she filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Chinese Communist Party posted an article on its website about Kovrig’s detention and possible crime.  Relying on an unnamed source within a “relevant department,” the article stated that Kovrig is being investigated for the specific crime of stealing and spying on China’s state secrets and intelligence (CL, Art. 111).  According to this unnamed source, since 2017, Kovrig would enter China on his work visa and obtain state secrets from Spavor. The article failed to state what those state secrets were and how two Canadians meeting and discussing a topic they both work on could somehow rise to the level of stealing state secrets. Oddly, Spavor’s legal liability in all of this was not mentioned.

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou

But the article raised the very real possibility that the Chinese government is willing to send Kovrig to jail for a very long time. Stealing state secrets carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years but for those situations where the circumstances are considered “serious,” the sentence can be anywhere from 10 years to life. (CL, Art. 111). If for some reason “grave harm” to China resulted, then the death penalty is a possibility. (Id.)

So while Meng rightfully accesses the protections afforded to all suspects in Canada’s criminal justice system, including the right to zealously challenge the state’s case, Kovrig and Spavor have another three months to go in RSDL before they even find out what charges will be filed against them.

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