Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Deaths, lung damage linked to nanoparticles in China

Truly scary stuff, and perhaps it is time to be a bit more aware of the things developing around us beyond our control, sight, or reason to fathom. Nanoparticles! Science fiction not too long ago, then high technology, now pervasive everywhere.

Deaths, lung damage linked to nanoparticles in China
By Tan Ee Lyn
Source – Reuters 17 August 2009

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Seven young Chinese women suffered permanent lung damage and two of them died after working for months without proper protection in a paint factory using nanoparticles, Chinese researchers reported on Wednesday.

They said the study is the first to document health effects of nanotechnology in humans, although animal studies in the past have shown nanoparticles could damage the lungs of rats.

“These cases arouse concern that long term exposure to nanoparticles without protective measures may be related to serious damage to human lungs,” Yuguo Song from the occupational disease and clinical toxicology department at Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing wrote in the European Respiratory Journal.

But a U.S. government expert said the study was more a demonstration of industrial hazards than any evidence that nanoparticles pose more of a risk than other chemicals.

Nanotechnology is an important industry. One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter (yard) and nanoparticles measure between 1 to 100 nanometers.

It is used in products like sporting goods, tires, electronics, cosmetics and surface coatings and has a projected annual market of around $1 trillion by 2015.

“Their tiny diameter means that they can penetrate the body’s natural barriers, particularly through contact with damaged skin or by inhalation or ingestion,” Song and colleagues wrote.

They said the seven women had worked for between five to 13 months in a factory spraying paint on polystyrene boards before they developed breathing difficulties and rashes on their faces and arms.

The women breathed in fumes and smoke that contained nanoparticles while working in the factory, Song said.

PARTICLES AND FLUID

According to the paper, doctors found the women had excess fluids in the cavities surrounding their lungs and hearts, conditions that impair breathing and heart function.

Their lung tissues and fluids contained nanoparticles about 30 nanometers in diameter — matching particles that health protection officials later found in materials used in the factory where the women worked.

Two of the women died within two years of working in the factory. The condition of the other five women has not improved even though they are no longer handling such materials.

It is impossible to remove nanoparticles once they penetrate lung cells, wrote Song.

Allen Chan, a chemical pathologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong not connected to the study, said the findings were significant.

“These findings are important because they provide concrete evidence that these materials are harmful and protection must be given to workers,” he said.

But Clayton Teague, who heads the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted that the women who were sickened on the job were spraying a paste containing nanoparticles in a very small, unventilated room, and wore gauze masks only occasionally.

He said in the United States the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has developed extensive safety training for nanotechnology workers and a proactive risk management system to help companies maximize worker safety.

“From what we know, this tragedy could have been avoided by proper industrial hygiene techniques,” Teague said.

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Filed under: Culture, Environment, Reuters, Technology

China slams Dalai Lama visit

Two versions of the same story – the first via the Straits Times (from Reuters), and the second from Al Jazeera; and it’s got to do with Tibet, and the Dalai Lama again (visiting Taiwan for the third time) who asserts his trip is ‘not for political reasons

A statement by the state run Xinhua Agency made it quite resolutely clear – they still see the Dalai Lama as a ‘splittist’ who has no place in the Greater China sphere.

And this is is always tricky as we have one ‘spliitist’ in the Dalai Lama, and the ‘split-ed’ (albeit now seemingly and gradually ‘unifying’ Taiwan together in the same media spotlight. Result – kneejerk Chinese reaction although this time the Chinese improved their tact. From the Reuters report in the Straits Times…“As with a denunciation it issued when the visit was announced last week, China focused its criticism on the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.By not blaming Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou or the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), Beijing may have indicated that it does not wish to escalate the issue.”

China slams Dalai Lama visit
Reuters
The Straits Times 31 August 2009

BEIJING – CHINA denounced the Dalai Lama’s trip to Taiwan, saying the visit by a man Beijing brands a separatist could ‘have a negative influence’ on relations between the mainland and Taiwan, state media reported on Monday.

The Tibetan spiritual leader arrived on Sunday in Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, for a hasty visit to comfort victims of a typhoon.

As with a denunciation it issued when the visit was announced last week, China focused its criticism on the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

By not blaming Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou or the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), Beijing may have indicated that it does not wish to escalate the issue.

‘The Democratic Progressive Party has ulterior motives to instigate the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan, who has long been engaged in separatist activities,’ a spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

‘We resolutely oppose this and our position is firm and clear,’ the spokesman said. ‘The Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan is bound to have a negative influence on the relations between the mainland and Taiwan.’ China is considered unlikely to retaliate by choking off growing economic ties between the long-time political rivals.

China opposes the Dalai Lama’s trips abroad and condemned Taiwan opposition leaders for inviting him last week to visit until Friday. He will pray for victims of Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan’s worst storm in 50 years which killed up to 745 people.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, flew from India to Taiwan’s main international airport for a mass prayer and other religious activities in storm-hit southern Taiwan. — REUTERS

China slams Dalai Lama Taiwan visit
NEWS ASIA-PACIFIC
Source – Al Jazeera English 27 August 2009

China has denounced a proposed visit to Taiwan by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, saying it threatens to “sabotage” improving relations between the two states.

Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, approved the visit by the Nobel Peace laureate to comfort victims of deadly Typhoon Morakot that struck earlier this month and devastated parts of southern Kaohsiung county.

China said it was “resolutely opposed” to Thursday’s visit, in a statement carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency on Thursday.

The Chinese government considers the Dalai Lama a “splittist” for promoting autonomy in Tibet.

Comforting victims

Beijing has often reacted angrily to governments which allow the Tibetan leader to visit.

“No matter under what form or identity Dalai uses to enter Taiwan, we resolutely oppose this,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Bureau said in its statement.

“Some of the people in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) use the disaster rescue excuse to invite Dalai to Taiwan to sabotage the hard-earned positive situation of cross-straits relations,” the statement continued.

An aide to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, home to the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the spiritual leader had been keen to visit Taiwan.

Tenzin Taklha said: “We want to make it very clear that the Dalai Lama is visiting Taiwan to express condolences to victims and lead prayers.”

More than 400 people were killed after Typhoon Morakot struck Taiwan on August 8 and unleashed floods and mudslides.

Strong moves

China is considered unlikely to retaliate by holding off growing economic ties between the long-time political rivals.

By blaming the opposition DPP, and not Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou or the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), Beijing may have indicated it does not wish to escalate the issue.

“Beijing will be a little uncomfortable, but if they understand how severe the disaster is they will show some respect to Taiwan’s people,” said Wu Den-yih, the KMT secretary-general.

Last year, the Dalai Lama said that he wanted to visit Taiwan, but at the time, Ma said the timing was not right for such a visit. Taiwanese Buddhist groups criticised the decision.

But Beijing is also aware any strong moves against the Dalai Lama could play into the hands of Taiwanese opponents of President Ma, who has sought to ease tensions with Beijing.

Taiwan’s relations with China have improved under Ma, who has taken a more conciliatory approach than his predecessor. Then-Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian rejected China’s assertion that there is only “One China” and Taiwan is an inalienable part of it.

Political significance

China claims self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory, although the two split amid civil war in 1949.

Victor Gao, the director of China’s National Association of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated with the Chinese government, told Al Jazeera that the Dalai Lama “continues to play both spiritual and political roles”.
He said that while the proposed visit to Taiwan was for spiritual purposes, the Dalai Lama has “been consistently undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“We also need to make it known that he himself is a Chinese national, and would be welcomed back if he chose to give up his activities,” Gao said.

Over the past 12 years, the Dalai Lama has made three visits to the island which is home to a large exiled Tibetan community and millions of Buddhists.

The Dalai Lama made his first trip to Taiwan in 1997 and visited the island again in 2001, triggering strong condemnation from China.

The Tibetan spiritual leader is due to arrive on August 31 and to stay for four days.

Filed under: Al Jazeera, International Relations, Straits Times, Tibet

Central Beijing Shut Off

Good weekend all! Plenty of anniversaries this year, and one more to take the cake – 60 years since Mao’s proclamation of Communist China. And coincidentally, the 101st entry in this blog. 🙂

Central Beijing shut off
AFP
Source – Straits Times 29 August 2009

BEIJING – AUTHORITIES shut down much of central Beijing on Saturday as China staged huge rehearsals for a parade and other festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the nation’s Oct 1 founding.

Tiananmen Square and adjacent roads at the heart of the capital were closed to the public from Friday night to early Sunday morning for the rehearsals which state press said involved 200,000 people and 60 parade floats.

China is planning a parade, song and dance performances, and fireworks on October 1 to mark the day when revolutionary leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of Communist China in 1949 at Tiananmen Square.

Authorities were keen to maintain the secrecy and security of the rehearsals and security checkpoints manned by officers with police dogs were seen at several points, with police diverting traffic and checking vehicles.

The subway system’s main lines through the city centre were to be intermittently closed to the public as they transported performers, the China Daily said.

In recent weeks, China has deployed thousands of extra police in the capital to monitor people and vehicles entering and leaving the capital.

They would guard key infrastructure points such as bridges, railways, and the subway system to prevent any disruption on the sensitive anniversary, state press has said.

State media reports have said the security measures have been toughened in part due to last month’s riots in China’s far western Xinjiang region by Muslim Uighurs, which the government said left nearly 200 people dead.

China typically cracks down on politically sensitive anniversaries to prevent any action by groups critical of the Communist Party’s iron-fisted rule such as dissident groups and restive minorities including Uighurs and Tibetans unhappy with Chinese control of their homelands.

Beijing police have also recruited hundreds of thousands of volunteers to keep an eye on suspicious activity in the city in the lead-up to National Day, state media have said. — AFP

Filed under: Culture, Politics, Straits Times

Beijing marks Olympic Games first anniversary

And this comes late.

“We have established August 8 as National Fitness Day to fully embody… the government’s loving concern for the life and prosperity of the people,” sports minister Liu Peng said in an address outside the iconic Bird’s Nest national stadium.

The first anniversary of the Beijing Olympics!

Beijing marks Olympic Games first anniversary
AFP
Source – The Times of India, August 8 2009

BEIJING: China marked the first anniversary of the Beijing Olympics on Saturday with its first national sports day that saw up to 34,000 people gather for the world’s largest martial arts exercise.

“We have established August 8 as National Fitness Day to fully embody… the government’s loving concern for the life and prosperity of the people,” sports minister Liu Peng said in an address outside the iconic Bird’s Nest national stadium.

“This is a vivid reflection of the legacy that the Beijing Olympics has left for the people, the society and our system.”

Liu’s remarks came as nearly 34,000 people dressed in white silk performed “taiqiquan,” or martial arts shadow boxing, in the drizzling rain outside the stadium early Saturday morning.

Ranging in age from seven to 65, the shadow boxers hope to set a Guinness world record for the largest martial arts exercise, organisers said.

A year after the Beijing Olympics, reminders of the Games’ physical impact are visible throughout the capital, but so are signs of the many ways in which the event could not change China.

China has a collection of state-of-the-art venues and can also point to the new Olympic subway lines that now transport millions of Beijingers to work.

But there is also the choking smog that has returned to the city, and the dissidents jailed in the past year for speaking out against a government that had promised “tremendous” human rights improvements in bidding for the Games.

“The successful hosting of the Olympic Games is the result of China’s social and economic development,” Cui Dalin, vice minister of the general administration of sports said.

“Without a strong nation we would not have had a successful Beijing Olympics.”

Saturday night over 60,000 fans are expected to watch International Milan face rival Lazio in the first sporting event to be held in the Bird’s Nest since the paralympics ended in September.

The stadium, made of a lattice of cement and steel, has largely served as a tourist attraction since the Games ended, prompting criticism that many costly Olympic venues are sitting idle and not being used for sporting events.

Filed under: Beijing OIympics, Culture, Health, Times of India

China starts organ donation system to beat trafficking

Beating the pirates! Seems like China’s main mode of organ donations has been coming from executed criminals. Now that’s food for thought. That’s really making the best out of everything isn’t it? This is a pretty positive step forward for the recipients of such organ implants – a ‘proper’ national organ donation system.

“Nearly 1.5 million people in China need organ transplants, but every year, only 10,000 people can get one, according to the Health Ministry’s website.”

China starts organ donation system to beat trafficking
It also aims to cut dependence on organs from executed criminals
Source – Straits Times 27 August 2009

BEIJING: China has launched its first national organ donation system in a bid to crack down on organ trafficking. It also aims to create another source of organs for transplants, other than executed prisoners who currently make up the majority of donors.

Executed criminals account for 65 per cent of organ donors, the state-run newspaper China Daily said yesterday, in an unusual admission of the prevalence of the practice.

‘(Executed prisoners) are definitely not a proper source for organ transplants,’ Vice-Health Minister Huang Jiefu told the paper.

Nearly 1.5 million people in China need organ transplants, but every year, only 10,000 people can get one, according to the Health Ministry’s website.

The shortage means that desperate patients bid up the price, and contribute to corruption and unfairness in organ allocation.

‘Transplants should not be a privilege for the rich,’ Mr Huang said.

The new donation system has been piloted in 10 provinces and cities – namely Liaoning, Zhejiang, Shandong, Guangdong and Jiangxi, as well as the cities of Tianjin, Shanghai, Xiamen, Nanjing and Wuhan.

The system – launched on Tuesday – will encourage post-death donations, and start a fund to provide financial aid to the needy and to donors’ families.

The Red Cross Society of China will link possible donors with recipients, and make public a waiting list of patients to increase transparency in allocating organs.

‘The system is in the public interest and will benefit patients, regardless of social status and wealth, in terms of fairness in organ allocation and better procurement,’ Mr Huang said.
The new system is China’s latest step to better regulate organ transplants.

China’s 2007 organ transplant law bans organ trading and trafficking as well as ‘transplant tourism’ for foreigners.

However, illegal transplants from living donors, and cases of foreigners paying huge sums for transplants in China, are frequently reported by the media. Recipients sometimes pay up to 200,000 yuan (S$42,200) for a kidney, not including other medical services.
Chinese law allows organs to be donated by living people only in the case of blood relatives and spouses or people who are considered ’emotionally connected’.

But organ middlemen often forge documents by making donors, who are desperately in need of money, appear on paper as ’emotionally connected’ to the recipients.

Living transplants accounted for up to 60 per cent of total transplants last year, a jump from 15 per cent in 2006, said Dr Chen Zhonghua, an organ transplant specialist at Tongji Hospital in Shanghai.

REUTERS, ASSOCIATED PRESS, XINHUA

Filed under: Culture, Health, Politics, Straits Times

‘Civilised city’ campaign

Things are getting better all the time. Reminiscent of the great Beijing Olympics cleanup in 2008, cities in China are competing to get civilised. Although in this case, it seems really cosmetic.

But… “Women wearing red armbands patrol the streets and pick up cigarette butts. Volunteer crossing guards with yellow flags and whistles make sure people wait for green lights. Beggars, even those with legs withered by polio, are banished from their usual haunts on pedestrian bridges.”

Too much? Going too far?





‘Civilised city’ campaign
AP
Source – Straits Times 25 August 2009

Each year, the central government awards the prized designation to one or more cities, and it is a big deal for Guangzhou (left), once known as Canton, as it tries to shed a reputation for being dirty and crime-ridden. — PHOTO: AP

GUANGZHOU – GOVERNMENT-BACKED neighbourhood groups are going door-to-door in south China’s gritty business capital with a set of simple requests: Please stop spitting in public, cutting in bus lines and talking loudly in the streets.

It’s all part of a campaign in Guangzhou, China’s third-wealthiest metropolis, to win the coveted ‘Civilised City’ award – an annual ritual that sparks months of frantic scrubbing and buffing in cities across China.

Women wearing red armbands patrol the streets and pick up cigarette butts. Volunteer crossing guards with yellow flags and whistles make sure people wait for green lights. Beggars, even those with legs withered by polio, are banished from their usual haunts on pedestrian bridges.

While some citizens remain skeptical of the cleanup drive, it jibes with Chinese leaders’ goal of shifting away from the blind pursuit of blistering economic growth at any cost. They want to focus more on creating a spiffier, healthier, more cultured and harmonious society.

Each year, the central government awards the prized designation to one or more cities, and it is a big deal for Guangzhou, once known as Canton, as it tries to shed a reputation for being dirty and crime-ridden. Next year, this historic port city of 10 million people hosts the Asian Games – the region’s equivalent of the Olympics – that will draw 25,000 athletes, coaches and journalists from 45 countries.

The civility campaign also highlights how the Communist Party still likes to indulge in often heavy-handed Big Brother social engineering, reaching deep into people’s lives – or at least their living rooms – to try to mould the masses.

Beijing launched a similar campaign before the 2008 Olympics, trying to curb spitting, jumping ahead in line, littering and reckless driving.

In Guangzhou, members of neighbourhood committees, government-backed councils that monitor households, are knocking on doors in the evening and handing out a survey and brochures about improving civil behaviour. — AP

Filed under: Culture, Environment, Straits Times

Chinese snap up Australian properties

70,000 migrants from the mainland to Australia just last year. Australia is synergistically aligned with China for its economic wellbeing (think natural resources, coal, steel, uranium, the list goes on), but the reverse flow is resulting in the Chinese buying up property and land in Australia. Tricky situation.

Chinese snap up Australian properties

By Jack Levine
Sun, Aug 23, 2009
China Daily/Asia News Network
Source – AsiaOne

SYDNEY: Chinese buyers are snapping up some of the best luxury properties in Sydney including big homes on the harbor, and new condominium developments.

Real estate brokers and developers said Chinese buyers are most interested in hot properties in the inner-city and by the beach. They are attracted by new foreign ownership rules, a favorable exchange rate, and the relative stability of the Australian property market.

After the UK and New Zealand, China is third in the lineup of countries that sends immigrants to Australia. Last financial year, more than 70,000 Chinese arrived in Australia to live permanently, including a steady stream of business migrants and a growing number of students.

“In many cases, Chinese immigrants to Australia are buying into key lifestyle markets, which are characterized as being close to the ocean or within the inner-city,” said Tim Lawless, national research director at RP Data, a property and analytics information company.

In March, Chinese businessman Jiang Mei bought one of the most expensive houses ever sold in Sydney, an inner-city, Point Piper house for A$32.4 million (S$40 mil).

This set off a buying trend. Chinese buyers paid $14.5 million for a home at Rose Bay, and then a Shanghai couple bought in the same waterfront suburb for $15 million. Another Chinese couple bought a $5.8 million house, and a Chinese investor bought a smaller, second property for $1 million, with plans to rent out the home.

Raine and Horne, an Australian real estate agency that negotiated the Point Piper house deal, said interest from the Chinese mainland picked up by about 15 percent at the beginning of 2009.

In March, Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) introduced dramatic changes to rules governing foreign buyers, including that all apartments in new projects can be sold to foreigners. Previously, only half the apartments in a development could be sold to overseas buyers. Student visa holders who live in Australia are no longer limited to spending only $300,000 on a property.

Richard Lawrence, a partner with Holland & Knight’s Beijing office, who often advises clients on China-related real estate projects, said Chinese buyers are becoming more active in foreign real estate, particularly those looking to diversify their portfolio.

In China, some people have concerns that a serious asset bubble is developing in real estate, so overseas markets are starting to look cheap by comparison.

“I think we will see Chinese corporate and institutional investors start to turn to real estate investment opportunities elsewhere,” he said, noting that Australia and the US are key markets.

One real estate agent who deals with top-tier properties said more Chinese than ever are looking to buy in Sydney. Many Chinese want to migrate to Australia, either because their children attend school there, they are considering retiring, or they want to buy investment property.

Wendy Searle, a spokeswoman for Di Jones real estate, said most Chinese are discreet buyers.

“You only get to know they have purchased by looking at completion records, available after a sale,” she said. “It is said in some circles that a majority of houses with the best Sydney harbor views will be owned by Chinese people in a few years.”

She cited a list of the top 100 house sales in Australia for 2008. “A lot of the names of the buyers were Chinese,” she said.

Australia’s real estate market has proved to be very resilient in comparison with other Western markets. Housing prices fell by just 3.8 percent during the 2008 downturn and have since recovered during the first half of 2009.

Filed under: AsiaOne, Australia, Culture, International Relations

‘China threat’ theory rejected

This comes a little late – but we’ll be hard pressed to find such stories that damn China the past few months. Note – article came up in April 2009. Not exactly Chinese style to go full-frontal in terms of strategy as it disobeys the mantra of Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦), but how interesting the ‘accusation’ –

The Wall Street Journal, quoting American national security officials, Wednesday reported that spies from countries like China and Russia had infiltrated the US electrical grid, planting software programs that could disrupt the network in a time of war.

CBS has a report here, whilst the original Wall Street Journal article is here and a recommended read. If it’s true, there’s certainly more a little more than meets the eye to China’s rise and development.

‘China threat’ theory rejected
Source – Global Times 9 April 2009

Chinese scholars Wednesday rebutted US’s allegations that China was engaged in spying and forging secret nuclear deals with foreign countries, saying these were induced by the perceived “China threat” worrying Washington.

US politicians have been debating the country’s foreign and military strategy shifts in the wake of the financial crisis, and some took the opportunity to play up the “threat” posed by China for their own gains, experts in Beijing said.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting American national security officials, Wednesday reported that spies from countries like China and Russia had infiltrated the US electrical grid, planting software programs that could disrupt the network in a time of war.

China was accused earlier of using malicious software to infiltrate and take control of almost 1,300 computers belonging to the Dalai Lama in 103 countries.

In another development Wednesday, US prosecutors accused a Chinese metals company, along with six Iranian firms, of collaborating on a scheme to transfer missile and nuclear technology from China to Iran.

The Dalian-based LIMMIT Economic and Trade Co Ltd was among seven companies from China, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that were sanctioned by US President Barack Obama on Feb 2 for spreading missiles and other weapons technology.

But the company’s manager, Li Fangwei, told the Financial Times Wednesday that the company was “unaware of the charges”, denying that the products were intended for “military use”.

Teng Jianqun, deputy general-secretary of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said these sanctions on China took place only in recent years, and it was a common strategy of the US to interfere in China’s civilian trade.

“More accusations are being made nowadays, probably because the military contractors are fighting against a fundamental defense budget now proposed by the US defense chief,” said Beijing-based military expert Song Xiaojun.

and an exerpt from the Wall Street Journal here –

Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies
By SIOBHAN GORMAN
APRIL 8, 2009
Source + Full Article – WSJ Online

WASHINGTON — Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.”

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. “There are intrusions, and they are growing,” the former official said, referring to electrical systems. “There were a lot last year.”…

Full article here.

Filed under: International Relations, Politics, Strategy, Wall Street Journal

Pictures expose peculiar prejudices of the propagandist

The media has and always been an instrument for manufacturing consent within the masses. Some (I hope some day soon, all of us will be, it’s all a huge fog of war) are perceptive enough to see the forest for the trees, and Zhang Dali, China’s ‘first’ graffiti artist has a good story to tell – how the pictures and reality tunnel he grew up with under the CCP’s massive propaganda machine painted a very different reality of what should have been.

This is the story of how one man parted the fog and exposed how history had been re-written by agendas.

Pictures expose peculiar prejudices of the propagandist

Source and Photos: Global Times 23 August 2009
By Peng Yining

Zhu De, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai salute the first PLA national sports meet in 1952. The bottom photo was published in Selected Photographs of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The altered version appeared in People’s Pictorial of 1977.

Zhang Dali realized he had been living in a distorted world for many years. The world he had believed in collapsed, history all a great big lie.

He began collecting the old news photos in 2004, going to archives to find the original negatives and then comparing them with the published versions: shabby old houses transformed into multi-story buildings where residents were leading the good life, bonus pigs pasted beside a farm to add prosperity, revolutionary heroes moved in front of pine trees and red flags plus of course famous politicians airbrushed out of history.

“I felt so depressed when I found that things I had seen with my own eyes might not be true,” he said.

“Like being manipulated by something or somebody for years and one day, you suddenly feel it in your soul: ‘I live a fake life.’

Zhang first heard about doctored photos in the 1970s. His father showed him a calendar. There used to be four leaders in the photo, his father said: Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong.

Liu had gone.

Global Habit

In 1993, Zhang read Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and so he knew a bit about propaganda image manipulation, but the Czech writer’s book had not prepared him for the discovery of so many wrong Chinese mainland photos.

He picked 130 out of more than 300 he had collected and named his work A Second History.

A portrait of Mao Zedong and the slogans “Follow the Communist Party” and “Listen to Chairman Mao” replace a shabby wall and door in the new photo of Chengzhuang Agriculture Labor School published by People’s Pictorial in February 1969.

“There are different versions of history,” Zhang said. “The first is objective, but usually we only get to read the second: history that was revised.

“I want to find the hidden truth that was revised or deleted.”

Some photo alterations are easily understood, like cutting a tall person out of a group photo from alongside propaganda folk hero Lei Feng.

“The publisher wanted to make Lei Feng look taller, more heroic,” Zhang said. “That’s just standard practice in China. It could have been revised by the publisher or art editors. Anyone could revise it.”

But other changes confuse us today.

“It’s like ‘Spot the Difference’,” said Zhang. “A man’s hat has been removed for no obvious reason.

“Maybe he was the only one in the photo who wore a hat and that nonconformity made people uncomfortable back then. But it seems only natural today.”

To obtain the original negatives, Zhang went to almost every archive in China, even managing to get hold of some classified film through some sympathetic connections.

Most of these archives are not open to the public, he said, so collecting the original film was actually the hard part.

“I knew some photos of leaders were sensitive, but I really enjoy finding the truth I never knew,” he said. “The leaders and political issues are just a part of history, an element of the truth.”

A Second History exhibits in the New Art Gallery of Walsall in the United Kingdom in May 2009. Photos: courtesy of Zhang Dali

Mao disappears

The very last photo of A Second History concerns Mao Zedong. The original photo was of Mao and many villagers, but all the villagers were deleted to make the photo focus on the leader. So far as expected.

But what makes the exhibit so surprising is the 2007 version of this photo: Mao has been deleted. The editors just wanted to compare the view with today’s view: the place had changed so much they had found it impossible to locate a picture with the old view. Until they saw Mao.

This little story showed in his opinion that everything changes, and the photo just represents a change in people’s own sense of worth. Important things might be ignored in another context, Zhang said.

As the process of collecting continued, Zhang became more and more optimistic. He stopped to think about what is real and what is fake and stopped obsessing over all the lies and deceit. He realized the whole process of revisionism reflected the whole country’s mindset, not just propaganda and cultural policies but also the lives and habits of every ordinary Chinese person.

“And we can still trace answers for today’s China in those photos,” he said. “Why we are so cocky but blush at our own mistakes and poverty?

“Why we are so sensitive and inferior that we refuse to admit there are problems?

“Don’t be afraid to face history. This is what we have done and this is our nation. Every rational intellectual has the capacity to uncover our real history. An artist is part intellectual.”

A Second History just finished exhibiting in the New Art Gallery of Walsall in the United Kingdom in May this year.

“They said the artistic expression of A Second History surpassed any individual painting or statue,” said Zhang, who was delighted by the rave reviews.

“It’s the best way to display China’s cultural policy for a long time.”

Some of his photos admittedly contain some relatively sensitive political issues, Zhang said, but he urged authorities to think carefully about the message his exhibition sent.

“I didn’t set out to criticize anything,” Zhang said. “Fake photos exist all over the world. If someone uses my works to attack China, I can’t help that. I’m just an artist. I just show what I see.”

Zhang will try to get A Second History exhibited in Beijing this year, but he conceded there was little chance he could succeed and so he is already thinking about other Chinese cities. The display boards are all now leaning against the wall of his study.

“Such a pity,” he said. “My work is for Chinese.”

Did Zhang Dali sell out?

There’s a lazy stereotype of artists that they loll about the street all day, growing long hair and then suddenly get hit with a flash of inspiration, Zhang Dali told the Global Times.

“People should ask themselves where this so-called flash of inspiration comes from,” he joked.

Well, perhaps it came from Zhang. Zhang himself had long hair 22 years ago when he graduated from the Central Academy of Arts and Design in Beijing and started painting.

“I am not that into Beijing now. People here wandering all the time and calling themselves ‘artists’,” said the lesser-known artist in the 1988 documentary film Drifters in Beijing. Zhang was huddled in a cramped rented room, his straight black hair hanging to his shoulders, unclean beard obscuring a small chin.

The Zhang of today sports a crew cut and a clean-shaven face. Only the Harbin drawl remains the same, perhaps a bit softer.

Returning from Italy in 1995, Zhang made his name as the “first graffiti artist of China” for his trademark profile of a bald man on Beijing streets.

But annoying many of his fans, he stopped graffiti in 2007.

“Zhang cleaned up,” Liu Yuansheng, a photographer who spent years documenting Chinese graffiti, wrote in his blog. “He became rich and his life was changed, so he abandoned graffiti.”

Some new graffiti artists agree with Liu.

“He disparaged graffiti after becoming famous from it, but I can understand why Zhang quit,” Seven, a member of a graffiti crew in Beijing told the Global Times. “He’s a rich man now.”

“They think like that about me?” Zhang lifted himself out of the sofa and paused for a moment in thought.

“Well, I suppose to some extent, they’re right. It’s true that today I just don’t get that sudden yen to sneak out at midnight and ride a bicycle to spray a blank wall.”

“But their conclusion about me is simplistic,” he shook his head, and fell back into the sofa.

“I am beyond street graffiti now. I seek fulfillment through something more complicated, more magnificent, like A Second History.”

Fast facts: Zhang Dali

1963 Born in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province
1987 Graduates from Central Academy of Arts and Design in 1987 and works as a freelance painter in Beijing
1989 Moves to Bologna, Italy
1992 Paints his trademark profile of a bald man on the street of Bologna, and names it Dialogue.
1995 Back to Beijing as China’s first graffiti artist.
1998 A photo of his graffiti appears on the cover of Newsweek in the United States.
2003-2005 Portrays 100 immigrant workers in life-size resin sculptures of various postures, with a designated number, the artist’s signature and the work’s title Chinese Offspring tattooed onto each of their bodies.
2008 Work about migrant workers Wind Horses Flag exhibits in Beijing.
2009 A Second History exhibits in Walsall, UK.

Filed under: Culture, global times, Media, Politics

Singapore’s ties with Tibet to grow with improved connectivity

And fresh off the oven, Singapore-Tibet ties.

Singapore’s ties with Tibet to grow with improved connectivity
Channel News Asia 23 August 2009

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s relations with Tibet are expected to grow with improved connectivity.

Noting that Singapore’s ties with China are excellent, Foreign Minister George Yeo who is in Lhasa, said on Saturday that he hoped there would be direct flights between Singapore and the Tibetan city one day.

Mr Yeo met Executive Vice Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, Mr Hao Peng, who has asked for Singapore’s help and involvement in urban management and in developing Tibet’s tourism industry.

Briefing Mr Yeo on the political, economic and cultural situation in Tibet, Mr Hao noted that Tibet has made enormous progress in the last fifty years and the main priorities are now on economic development, as well as environmental and cultural protection.

On economic development, he added that Tibet’s infrastructure is improving dramatically and two more airports would be opened in addition to the existing three.

The Singapore delegation was also briefed on ethnic relations in Tibet, specifically the March 14 riots last year.

Mr Yeo added that he understood the challenges of ethnic diversity in Tibet. What is important, however, is for the problems to be managed well, taking into account ethnic sensitivities.

Filed under: International Relations, Singapore, Tibet

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