As unfettered capitalism reached a fever pitch in China in the early 2000s, a boom in investigative journalism was hailed as the most salient example of growing citizen power. National politics, which had disappeared from public conversations after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, again felt immediate and personal.
A middle school student at the time, I spent weekend afternoons poring over Southern Weekly, the standard-bearer of investigative journalism, devouring exposés of urban crimes and corporate scandals, a reality that was worlds apart from my cocooned life in a university neighborhood.
The newspaper’s journalists, heralding the new era, wrote in a 1999 editorial that investigative journalism should “give power to the powerless, and motivate the pessimists to march on.”
But we don’t hear that pledge, or anything like it, today.… Seguir leyendo »
In late November, days after a fire raged through an apartment building in a Beijing suburb, killing 19, officials began to uproot migrant communities on the city’s periphery. Residents were wrestled out of their rented homes, and bulldozers flattened entire neighborhoods. Tens of thousands were made homeless overnight.
While city officials justified the campaign as an effort to forestall future accidents, it was, in fact, the latest and most aggressive move in a series of heavy-handed urban policies that attempt to redeem the dire consequences of Beijing’s haphazard urbanization.
Before the evictions some eight million migrants lived in metropolitan Beijing. In the last few decades, they have flocked to the city from the countryside for the low-level jobs that have fueled the country’s spectacular economic boom.… Seguir leyendo »
The censorship order handed down from the Chinese Communist Party earlier this year reads like a decree from a Puritan: depictions of underage drinking, gambling and extreme violence are not permitted online; images of scantily clad people and portrayals of homosexuality are off limits; spiritual figures and beliefs cannot be satirized.
The directive, aimed at China’s booming online entertainment industry, prompted uncommon outrage for the number of topics — 68 — it banned. The list includes not only the usual politically sensitive subjects but also subjects that have made the internet an exhilarating and liberating space for this country’s hundreds of millions of web users.… Seguir leyendo »
My generation of urban Chinese, born in the 1980s and 1990s under the one-child policy, were long labeled “little emperors,” a term used to characterize us as narcissistic and weak-willed children spoiled by parental attention and newfound material comfort. It was an image that we rejected: In reality, as I used to joke with friends, our lives of academic grind and adolescent boredom felt closer to that of an overworked county clerk than a privileged little brat. Gradually, as single-child families became the norm, the term fell out of use.
But as young people are venturing into the real world and confronting economic and social challenges with a complexity unknown to our parents, many of us are starting to wonder whether the “little emperor” label had been more accurate than we thought.… Seguir leyendo »
When the Chinese government privatized housing in the 1990s, enriching a vast swath of the urban population, it was hailed as a remarkable achievement of the reform economy. Since then, the housing industry has ballooned into a juggernaut that accounts for 70 percent of the country’s household wealth.
More than just a place to live, private housing in the past two decades came to underpin the aspirations of urban Chinese. Homeownership, especially in cities, proved to be a reliable investment outlet. The skyrocketing values of housing have been providing money for sickness and old age in a country where the state has largely dismantled the welfare system.… Seguir leyendo »
When Zhang Xiaomo worked on a farm in Manchuria in the early 1970s, she shuddered at the screeching noise of trucks pulling over on the icy roads. Her mind would dart back to the summer of 1966, when gangs of men would arrive most nights in large trucks, banging on the door and ransacking the courtyard house she lived in by herself. It was the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, and her mother, hunted for her contact with the Japanese during World War II, had gone into hiding.
“They kept coming day after day,” she recalled in her Beijing apartment recently.… Seguir leyendo »
On a Saturday afternoon in late September, I sat in the brand-new auditorium of my former high school in Beijing, watching the gala for my 10-year reunion. Near the end, teachers stepped onto the stage to deliver speeches.
“Girls, I hope you will focus on finding your life partners,” said the Chinese-language teacher, with the same stern air as when she urged us to succeed on the college entrance exam. “Marriage cannot be delayed,” the biology teacher said. The physical education teacher offered to set up single alumnae with eligible bachelors at her husband’s company.
At the dinner afterward, the conversation at my table turned to career changes.… Seguir leyendo »
In the spring of 1999, when I was in fifth grade, my teacher at my Beijing elementary school gave me an assignment one day after class. A week earlier, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the war in Kosovo, killing three Chinese reporters. Washington called the attack an accident, while the Chinese public believed it to be a deliberate provocation. I was to write a speech for a school meeting the next day, my teacher told me, that “condemns the hegemonic behavior of Western powers that had suppressed China for centuries.”
That evening I labored amid piles of newspapers, composing the speech by stringing together phrases lifted from front-page headlines.… Seguir leyendo »
In early November, when Beijing played host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, city officials closed hundreds of factories and forced millions of vehicles off the roads to clear the soupy gray smog that normally blankets the sky. But one day the pollution level soared, with data from the United States Embassy showing an index reading six times the World Health Organization’s safe daily limit. Seeking their last course of action, the Chinese officials summarily removed the American statistics from smartphone apps and Chinese websites.
Reading the news while on my university campus in the United States, I joked with friends in Beijing that it had reminded me of a proverb we learned in elementary school that tells the story of a man who tries to steal a large copper bell from a house.… Seguir leyendo »
Every September, the campuses of Peking and Tsinghua Universities, dubbed the Harvard and M.I.T. of China, brim with bright-eyed new students, the winners of China’s cutthroat education system. These young men and women possess the outlook of cosmopolitan youth worldwide: sporting designer clothes and wielding smartphones, they share experiences of foreign travel and bond over common fondness for Western television shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “Sherlock.”
They are destined for bright futures: In a few decades, they will fill high-powered positions in government and become executives in state banks and multinational companies. But their ever-expanding career possibilities belie the increasingly narrow slice of society they represent.… Seguir leyendo »
I don’t remember the first time I heard the term liu si — June 4 — which is how the Tiananmen protests, the widespread demonstrations in 1989 that ended in bloodshed, are referred to in China. It was perhaps sometime around 2003, when I was 15 or 16. The word was probably uttered at the dinner table by one of my parents, both of whom were on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, the street in front of Tiananmen Square, on that night. They bore witness to the senseless killing, a memory that has haunted them ever since.
I do remember the first time the topic came up in conversation with my Chinese peers.… Seguir leyendo »