Tag Archives: beijing

Atmosphere, I love a Party with a happy atmosphere….*

9 Nov

jiang zemin laughingHong Kong is bracing itself for an influx of bewildered mainland Chinese searching for pencil sharpeners, kitchen knives and balloons, if reports about the 18th Communist Party Congress are to be believed.

Yes, it’s the carefully choreographed, once-every-five-years PR exercise this week, and as usual in China, the Party officials are out to stage manage the event down to the last detail.

Even for an institution that’s institutionally paranoid – how else do you rule a land mass the size of China, with a population over 1 billion for more than 50 years? – the Party Congress takes paranoia to a whole new level.

First there’s the obligatory internet clamp down, which has prevented discussion about anything remotely politically sensitive, blocked several foreign media outlets’ web sites, and even interfered with VPNs – which for those in the know is the only way to circumvent the Great Firewall and access banned content.

However, this year’s affair has also given rise to some rather unusual extra precautions.

Taxi drivers in Beijing have been ordered to remove all passenger window handles and keep them firmly locked, and told to keep an eye out for anyone carrying balloons or ping pong balls.

The reason, apparently, is to prevent said items being distributed with reactionary slogans drawn on them. That, as we all know, is how the French Revolution started.

Toy airplanes have also disappeared from the shelves of Beijing stores – presumably to prevent some kind of tiny 9-11 happening to Communist Party HQ, and pigeon fanciers have been told to keep their birds locked up – this was apparently an old school, pre-internet way of sewing political dissent.

The sale of knives has, a little more understandably, been banned for the week – leaving budding chefs in need of a new Sabatier in the lurch – and the edict has been rather excessively applied to all blades, including pencil sharpeners.

Evil bastards, pencil sharpeners, I once saw a man mugged by one in Brixton…

Finally, the inappropriately named Ministry of Culture has reportedly cancelled a US amateur production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Needless to say, the group performed in Hong Kong with no adverse effect on the political stability of the region.

* Yes, this actually happened. We are all responsible.

It’s erection time in Hong Kong – get your poll face on

8 Sep

If you’ve tutted yourself to sleep over the past few days bemoaning the woeful state of British politics, and then woken up again screaming at the thought of failed bell-ringer Jeremy Hunt in charge of the life or death of the NHS, spare a thought for Hong Kong.

It’s erection, sorry, election time here and the streets are filled with sinister looking people smiling, waving, handing out leaflets and leaning out of curb-crawling cars bawling into loudspeakers. They could be politicians but they look more like members of a particularly unforgiving cult.

Now, Hong Kongers are particularly passionate about their democractic voting rights – well you would be after having basically been denied them under colonial rule and with the one-party shadow of the motherland China casting an imposing darkness over all. People turn out here in embarrassingly large numbers, putting established democracies like good old Blighty to their eternal shame, although the problem is the elections aren’t really democractic.

The boss of HK, CEO CY Leung, for example, wasn’t directly elected by the people but chosen by a mainly pro-Beijing bunch of businessmen selected for the job. Then there are this week’s elections for legislative councillors. The LegCo, as the ‘parliament’ is known, has been expanded from 60 to 70 seats but only half are directly elected, the rest being divided into functional constituencies representing various professional sectors. Not everyone gets to vote for the latter, with professional bodies granted block votes which kind of distort any sort of democratic accountability said seats would have. Also, the voting system is quite frankly baffling and no amount of even more confusing TV ads mouthed in cheery voices – which have been running almost non-stop in the past fortnight – will change that.

Anti-Beijing sentiment has been rising in Hong Kong, and if enough pro-democracy legislators are elected on Sunday then universal suffrage could be introduced as slated in 2017 – if not then pro-China parties could block such a decision. If there’s one thing the folks here don’t like, it’s being told what to do, even if it’s for the greater good of a unified Han empire.

That anti-Beijing sentiment has bubbled up most recently in the form of protests at the planned introduction of national education classes in schools. It has been on the cards for years, but that shit is only now getting real, with the fear that, if introduced, these “patriotism classes” will indoctrinate young’uns in the ways of the Dark Side, sorry, teach them to love communist China and all it stands for. Several people are already on hunger strike…it’s all getting rather tense. Although schools ultimately have the final say on what they teach, no-one knows how rigorously these ‘suggested’ guidelines will actually be implemented. One school has even forbidden parents from seeing the curriculum, which doesn’t inspire much confidence.

These people aren’t paranoid, well they might be a little, but as the old saying goes: “Just cos you’re paranoid don’t mean China’s not watching you.” The insidious pro-Beijing bias is seen no-where more blatantly than in this TV news piece, on Hong Kong TV mind you, which rather obtusely tries to lay the blame of the national education protesters on foreign interference. Crazy.

Beijing and Hong Kong – a week of storms

30 Jul

typhoonYou might have seen there’s been a spot of rain in China over the past week or so. I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say it was absolutely twatting it down. The most interesting thing about Bejing’s deadly floods and Hong Kong’s rather camp typhoon, however, is the damage each did and how the authorities handled the aftermath.

I’m not going to launch into another China-slagging post here because the facts pretty much speak for themselves. The ‘worst floods in six decades’ hit Beijing. Apartment ceilings caved in, inadequate sewers and drainage systems collapsed, 70+ people died. How can 70 people die in 6.7 inches of rain? Well, that’s what millions of angry social media users wanted to know, and let their anger at local government be known via the usual weibo channels. Until the posts began, sadly and predictably, to be deleted. Almost a year to the day after the deadly high speed train crash which sparked a weibo backlash over government incompetence, the authorities’ response is still to censor first, think later.

In what seemed like an unusually speedy response to public opinion, Beijing’s major and deputy resigned. However, read between the lines, and Communist Party politics, and the deadly floods were more likely being used to justify a decision which had already taken place in a closed door Party meeting. many moons previously. No-body’s sure exactly why they went so quickly, they just know that it wasn’t an honourable mea culpa.

Cut to Hong Kong a few days later. I looked out of my window at 3pm and saw sideways rain. At about 5pm office workers were told to go home as typhoon Vicente was coming to play, and a no. 8 signal hoisted. Later that night, as the wind grew, a no. 10 signal was raised, forewarning 100mph winds, a near direct hit and the worst storm since ’99. So what happened? Death and destruction? Organisational chaos and government turmoil? Nope. A bit of flooding. About 100 injuries from flying debris. Delayed trains. All was back to normal by about midday the next day.

Oh yeah, and we were all allowed to tweet and weibo about it. Not that there were many complaints – a few people got stranded on MTRs, but nothing too extreme.

Now I know it’s not really fair to compare the two extreme weather conditions, or the two cities. And I know that it’s perhaps unfair to judge Beijing’s local government based on this incident, given they endured a spectacular drenching for a city normally more used to sandstorms and smog. But I’m gonna anyway. Beijing’s big play at the 2008 Olympics was “I’m here, I’m queer”…no, hang on.  It was more: “I’m a modern, global capital. I have the money, the infrastructure and the balls to shake things up around here. Gaze on me with envy London, New York, Berlin. I’m the shit. Yeah.”

Except it was bluffing. As with China as a whole, it grew at such a pace of knots that a lot of the important stuff was forgotten: human rights, environmental protection, the rule of law … proper drainage. We can sit back all smug in the West, and especially in London, as it hosts this year’s Olympics. We’ve had our industrial revolution. Hong Kong too has come through its steep learning curve and thanks to international finance, British know-how and Chinese industry is now one of the best places to live in the world.

The Chinese govt will surely throw billions at Beijing in response to what happened last week, but whether on purpose or not, vital stuff will still get missed off that list.