”Taking a walk” against nuclear power

Every day hundreds of protests occur all around China, often with regard to land disputes, unpaid wages, pollution or corruption. The last few days have seen a protest of slightly different kind take place in Jiangmen (江门) in Guangdong province. At least it had a different motive. The form was the usual in recent years, namely ”taking a walk” (散步), which in reality is a demonstration, but named so to avoid the prohibitions on unauthorized gatherings. Even official Chinese media used this term for the protests in Jiangmen.

Protesters in Jiangmen hold up signs saying ”against nuclear [power]”反核
What they protested against? A nuclear fuel processing plant (核燃料加工厂). Some Western media have called it NIMBY protests (Not In My BackYard), and maybe that is some of the truth. From some available reports it seems that the protests were mostly against the location of the plant, not totally against nuclear power as such. It is still very unusual, especially since they managed to get the government of Jiangmen to reverse their decision and not give permission for the plant. There were also some protests against plans for a plant in Pengze (彭泽), Jiangxi province, in 2012, however centred in the nearby town Wangjiang (望江), in Anhui province across the Yangzi River (扬子江).

China first started planning for civilian nuclear power plants in the 1970s, but not until 1991 was the first plant finished and connected to the grid, Qinshan in Haiyan County, Zhejiang (浙江省海盐县秦山), undoubtedly delayed by the Chernobyl disaster. The Daya Bay plant near Shenzhen started production in 1993 and provides around 20% of the power for Hong Kong. There are altogether 17 reactors working in China, at four sites, with another 28 under construction. Most of them are along the coast, with Xianning (咸宁) in inland Hubei province (湖北) (under construction) being one of the exceptions.

Chinese officials have claimed that there will not be a ”great leap forward” (大跃进) in building nuclear power in China. That may sound reassuring, but just a few days before the Jiangmen protests the IAEA director general, Yukiya Amano (天野之弥), said that ”China is at the center of the nuclear energy expansion in Asia”. What if protests grow stronger? What if no Chinese want nuclear power in their ”backyard”? And where to put the nuclear waste?

China is also ”at the center” for solar energy and wind power technology, and has plans for addition of 10 GW of solar power capacity to the grid annually in the coming three years, as well as 100 GW of connected wind power to 2015. What if China would take the lead in alternative energy and stop developing nuclear power? That would indeed be a great leap forward.

Disney, disaster – and what would Nasreddin ependi say?

After the bloody incident near Turpan a few days ago things have escalated. The death toll has risen, and other violence has been reported from Hotan (和田). The response from the authorities have been to show strength, most obviously by arranging ”pledge meetings to fight terrorism and keep stability” (反恐维稳誓师大会) of the People’s Armed Police force (人民武装警察部队) in Urumqi, Kashgar, Ghulja (固勒扎, also known as Ili 伊犁 or Yining 伊宁), Hotan and Aksu (video here). These forces now also patrol Urumqi and other cities. Some reports also tell of disturbances in Internet traffic.

"Pledge meeting" in Urumqi. It is notable that many vehicles are European Ivecos or American Fords. How does that go along with the arms embargo?
”Pledge meeting” in Urumqi. It is notable that many vehicles are European Ivecos or American Fords. How does that go along with the arms embargo?

Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声) came to Urumqi 29 June to hold a ”meeting for party and state cadres” of the whole region (全区党政干部大会), transmitting directives from Xi Jinping and the special meeting held by the politbureau standing committee in Beijing the day before. Meng Jianzhu (孟建柱), secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission (中央政法委员会) arrived in Urumqi to speak at the ”pledge meeting”, and the MInister of Public Security, Guo Shengkun (郭声琨) also took part.

Besides this not so subtle show of force and determination, other simultaneous events provide unintentional (?) irony to the whole situation. On 29 June Urumqi was also the place for the 10th International Symposium on Disaster History (第十届中国灾害史国际学术会议), with the theme ”Disaster and Frontier Society” (灾害与边疆社会). The symposium apparently mostly dealt with natural disasters as floods, earthquakes and draughts, but it is impossible not to think of political and social disasters, killings and ”the 5 July incident” (七五事件) 2009.

To further add to the confusion a top news item on the Kashgar Prefecture government website these days is the upcoming completion at the end of 2013 of the ”Disney of Xinjiang” (新疆迪斯尼) in Shufu county (疏附县 Kona Sheher, meaning ”old city”), Kashgar, namely the Ependi Amusement Park (阿凡提乐园). With a total investment of 200 million yuan (c. 25 million Euro) this theme park will hold an ”Ependi grand bazaar” (阿凡提大巴扎), a culture square (文化广场), ”Ependi ethnic village” (阿凡提民俗村), a great Ependi sculpture (阿凡提大型雕塑), reliefs (浮雕), a culture wall (文化墙) and ”Adil dawaz performance centre” (阿迪力达瓦孜演艺中心). Adil Hoshur (阿迪力·吾休尔, b. 1971) is a world renowned tightrope walker. Basically more ”singing and dancing”

Image of Ependi from the 1980 film
Image of Ependi from the 1980 film

But who was Nasreddin ependi? He might have been a Seljuq sufi from Konya in present-day Turkey, living in the 13th century. He might also just be made up. There are thousands of stories about him, sometimes with him as a witty or wise man, sometimes as a fool. Nasreddin is claimed by many Turkic peoples, and among Uyghurs he is known mostly by his courtesy title, Ependi (阿凡提). In the 1980s an very popular animated film was made in China, titled ”The Story of Ependi” (阿凡提的故事). Despite being appropriated and modulated into an ethnic sterotype, and despite calls to make him a ”image ambassador” (形象大使) for Xinjiang, Ependi’s wit is of the kind that could function as a safety valve and also bring hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

More dancing and singing = no trouble?

Yesterday morning (26 June) another tragic and violent incident happened in Xinjiang, this time in Lukqun township, Pichan (Shanshan) county, close to Turpan (新疆吐鲁番鄯善县鲁克沁镇). 27 people died, according to official sources 17 people (including nine policmen) killed by local ”knife-wielding mobs” (all Uyghur), and then the police shot and killed ten people from these mobs. The PRC state news agency Xinhua only published this news in a brief English statement. Nothing in any Chinese language media inside the PRC. Interestingly the People’s Daily affiliate Global Times later came with a longer piece, quoting reporting by the Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao (大公報)! Usually only Xinhua reporting is allowed, most likely meaning that Ta Kung Pao, a ”Beijing-friendly” newspaper (claimed to be party funded), was used to show the exception to the rule.

It is notable that the word terrorism was not used in the first official reports. Global Times, however, added this, and this has been the theme in most similar incidents. In late April this year there was another clash in Maralbexi (Bachu 巴楚) outside Kashgar (喀什噶尔 or 喀什) where 21 were killed, 15 of them policemen. This was claimed by authorities as ”planning for terrorist attacks”. Notably, in all recent incidents of this kind the perpetrators have been using large knives, not explosives or guns. The authorities never seem to consider it to be ”merely” criminal groups, without any political or terrorist goals. The incident yesterday might actually be related to an incident in a neighbouring village 9 April, where a young Uyghur boy was brutally killed by a Han Chinese man. Revenge by devastated relatives, spurred on by longtime frustration and inability to control and change one’s own situation?

Vice governor of Xinjiang, Shi Dagang 新疆自治区副主席史大刚

One should perhaps not speculate, but certainly one must condemn such acts of violence. With the propaganda situation in China facts are always distorted, sometimes to the degree that one doesn’t know what to say or think. A friend made me aware of a Reuters report saying ”Xinjiang minorities too busy dancing to make trouble”, apparently a comment made by Xinjiang vice governor Shi Dagang (史大刚) 28 May. The original Chinese reporting reveals even more of his peculiar comments. Shi Dagang also claimed that ”there is always a mutual respect between our Han cadres and locals of all nationalities, and they are all good friends” (我们的汉族干部和当地的各民族之间相互非常尊重、相互都是好朋友). I still remember clearly my first visit to Xinjiang in 1998 where one of my hosts, a local Uyghur government cadre, had a Han driver and several Han subordinates. They were all courteous towards him during work time, but apparently they had never met after work hours, and they lived in separate compounds far away from each other.

Governor Shi also claims that ”every time we are guests in ethnic minority homes, we are treated with good meat and wine, they sing and dance; ethnic minorities are very simple and kind in such matters, generous and passionately hospitable” (我们到少数民族家里作客,好肉好酒的招待,跳着舞唱着歌,少数民族这种情感非常淳朴、非常善良、非常热情、非常大方,真的是热情好客). Who would not do his best to entertain a visiting governor?

Stereotypes about dancing, singing, friendliness and hospitality are merely one of many ways of controlling non-majority culture in the PRC. It is not enough to cause violent clashes, but is one of the factors underlying the ever growing tensions. Next week is the 4th anniversary of the ”5 July incident” 2009, where almost 200 people were killed in Urumqi (乌鲁木齐). This year it happens to come just before Ramadan (斋月), which starts 9 July.

Manchus in space…

The last (latest?) imperial dynasty that ruled what we call China today, was the Qing (清朝 1644-1911), founded by the Aisin Gioro (爱新觉罗) family of the Gioro clan. Around the time of the founding the Qing empire 1644 this clan had united several other clans and the notion of a united Manchu people (满族) became stronger. Towards the end of their reign the Manchu language was less spoken and today only few native speakers remain. However, there has been an increasing interest in recent years, and it is again being taught in some schools in northeastern China. There are also close relatives in what is now called the Sibe (Xibo 锡伯) ethnic group, living primarily in Xinjiang.

During the Qing dynasty the Manchu rulers imposed the so called queue (辫子) on the Chinese population, that is the style to shave the hair on the forehead and bind the rest into a long queue. During the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) in 1911 many Chinese were rather harsh on the Manchus, and one common banner during the fighting said ”promote Han, eliminate Manchu” (兴汉灭满). Negative images of Manchus also spread into Western popular culture, possibly the most bizarre example being the evil Dr. Fu Manchu (傅满洲). Several Hollywood movies were made in the 1920-30s where Fu Manchu was portrayed by the Swedish-American (!) actor Warner Oland (1879-1938), most known for his role as the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan (陈查理).


Werner Oland as Fu Manchu


After the establishment of the Republic of China, Sun Zhongshan (孙中山 Sun Yat-sen 孙逸仙) and other Han Chinese leaders often talked about ”the Chinese nation” (中华民族), meaning all major ethnic groups within the state borders, trying to create a common ground and belonging. This expression has become increasingly popular again in recent years, especially after tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang. In the eyes of the PRC party-state a well-adapted ethnic minority person should first think of him- or herself as a PRC citizen, then as belonging to his own ethnic group, and then further on the scale of various identities.

First Manchu astronaut Zhang Xiaoguang!

Manchus are not among the most prominent ethnic groups in contemporary China, although being one of the largest. They do not belong to a specific religion, and therefore usually do not get any ceremonial posts as Uyghurs or Tibetans do. They are rather invisible in contemporary society. However, 11 June 2013, the first Manchu astronaut launched into space from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Shenzhou 10, the fourth manned Chinese space expedition. The space craft will land within hours of the publication of this blog, early morning Beijing time 26 June 2013. The official biography of senior colonel (大校) Zhang Xiaoguang (张晓光, b. 1966) mentions his Manchu ethnicity, but there seems to be very little focus on this first for the Manchu people. However, in an interview with China National Radio (中央人民广播电台 ”Central People’s Radio”), one of the more typical stereotypes of ethnic minorities in China suddenly pops up. The reporter says: ”only after a few sentences, one could clearly feel the simple, unadorned and sincere character of this Manchu fellow” (短短几句话,就让人真切地感受到了这位满族汉子的质朴和真诚). Would the same have been written about the Han astronauts?


In 2002 I published an article about Liu Xiaofeng (刘小枫) in the magazine 书城 (Book Town), and they cut one or two sentences where I had mentioned Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), without notifying me in advance. That was the only experience I had personally of Chinese censorship, until now.

Towards the end of 2012 I attended a conference in China and presented a paper on religion as a factor for building ”harmonious society”, also making comparisons with the Nordic revival movements and building a democratic ”harmonious” welfare society (福利社会) in Sweden. Just at the end of the year a journal affiliated to the university arranging the conference sent me an e-mail saying in English that they had selected mine and a few other articles for publication. It is a good Chinese journal, listed with Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index (CSSCI 中文社会科学引文索引), and with international ambitions, so I was glad to hear they liked my article. I worked on it for some time and then submitted again.

Just over a week ago I received an e-mail from the same editorial department, in Chinese, and only signed ”the editorial department”. The subject was ”return of manuscript” (退稿), and the main content was that mine and a few other articles ”cannot quite agree with the requirements of the journal” (不是很能契合学刊的要求). First I was very puzzled, but then I realized that I had been censored (审查). Not just a few lines here and there, but the whole article.

I wrote directly to the editors, expressed my surprise and asked for an explanation. No answer came. I wrote again, a second and a third time, and only then there was an answer, ten days after the original e-mail. This was an actual apology, and even an explanation of the pressure they had got not to publish mine and a few other articles as they were ”too sensitive”. Who was giving pressure? I don’t know. Maybe there was no one, but merely self-censorship. It is very discomforting and disturbing to experience such a thing from persons you know and trust.

Having studied China for more than 20 years I know that such things, unfortunately, are everyday matters (!) in China, and I have heard friends telling me many stories about it. But how to deal with it as a non-Chinese researcher? I cannot censor myself. Should I not publish in Chinese journals? I think that an ”as if” stance like the one taken by Geremie R. Barmé and the Australian Centre on China in the World can be the answer:

…to act as if the People’s Republic had already sloughed off the vestiges of Cold War-era and Maoist attitudes, behaviour and language. We engage with the People’s Republic as if it enjoyed an environment like that of any other mature, open and equitable society.

The quote is from a letter written by Barmé as an answer to criticism from the Chinese embassy in Canberra to the content of the Centre yearbook 2012, Red Rising Red Eclipse.

New year, old methods

New years usually come with promises, expectations and hope for a brighter future. The first days of 2013 has proved rather an exception, at least here in China.

First Guangdong province propaganda chief (广东省委宣传部长) Tuo Zhen (庹震) heavily censored a new year special issue (新年特刊) of outspoken Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekly (Nanfang zhoumo 南方周末). This sparked fierce protests and leading journalists directly published a protest. Now ”the management” of the newspaper has also taken over its Weibo account from the editors. Interestingly Tuo is new in Guangdong, just as the up-and-coming party chief of the province, Hu Chunhua (胡春华), one of the ”post-60” young leaders. Nothing ”new” or ”young” in behaviour, however.

Protester in Guangzhou with mouth cover saying ”prevent speech cover” (避言套), a pun with 避孕套 (condom), only changing the middle character…

On New Year’s Eve another outspoken magazine, Yanhuang chunqiu (炎黄春秋), was notified that its website would close, which it did in the morning 4 January. The editorial department continuously comments and updates on its Weibo. The print version seems to be unaffected this far, but such a closure is not a good sign.

Are such acts sign of the ”four new modernizations” (新四化) that CPC no. 2, Li Keqiang, likely the next Chinese premier, has been talking about during the autumn 2012? One of these ”new” modernizations is ”application of information technology” (”IT-ization”) (信息化), and it seems that this ”application” is not beneficial to freedom of speech, but rather the contrary.

While brave people stand up for their rights in Guangzhou, supporting Southern Weekly, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia (刘霞), sits isolated in house arrest in their flat in Beijing. She has been there more than two years now, just for being Liu Xiaobo’s wife. 6 December 2012 some reporters from Associated Press (AP 美联社) managed to pass the guards and make a short interview with her, and crying she described the absurd life she is forced to live. On 28 December 2012, Liu Xiaobo’s birthday, a group of her friends, including Hu Jia (胡佳), Xu Youyu (徐友渔) and Liu Di (刘荻), also managed to enter her flat and talk to her. How come Liu Xia is not a major cause for concern and action outside China? Her house arrest is surely not legal even by PRC standards, and the emotional pressure on her must be enormous. One cannot but think of Wei Jingsheng’s (魏京生) proposal for a ”fifth modernization” in 1978, namely democratization. 35 years later it is still valid.

End of an era – and the start of a new one?

China is changing, not only with the CPC leadership change through the 18th party congress a few weeks ago. Thursday morning last week, 22 November, bishop Ding Guangxun (K. H. Ting 丁光训) passed away, just over 97 years old. Today, 27 November, his funeral was held in Nanjing. You never heard of him? Well, he was not that often mentioned in Western media, and his death seems to have escaped Western attention almost totally, except for brief statements by the World Council of Churches (世界基督教会联合会), the Fuller Theological Seminary (福乐神学院) and a few others.

This is quite remarkable. Bishop Ding was one the major Protestant leaders in China for nearly 60 years, and from the late 1970s he was predominant leader of the Three-Self Movement (三自爱国运动) until his death. He established the China Christian Council (中国基督教协会) in 1980, which became a more church-like structure in post-denominational China. All Protestant denominations were abolished in 1958.

Bishop Ding Guangxun

When he died the registered congregations within China Christian Council had around 25 million members, probably the largest Protestant church in the World. It is noteworthy, however, that so-called ”house churches” (家庭教会), or better ”unregistered churches” (非登记教会), probably have even more members together, making the total number of Protestants in China more than 50 million.

Bishop Ding initiated one of China’s first NGOs, the Amity Foundation in 1985. But he was also very controversial, because of his close relation to the party-state. He was one of the Vice Chairmen of the the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (中国人民政治协商会议 CPPCC) for almost twenty years (until 2008). He was also on the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (中国人民代表大会 NPC), China’s parliament. The CPC called him a ”close friend of the Communist party” (中国共产党的亲密朋友) after his death.

He was often criticized for being a ”non-believer” (不信派), and for what some saw as theological deviations. Such comments have dominated Chinese microblog Weibo writings about him the last few days. Others loved him, and credited him for making it possible for the church to function openly in China at all. He was respected by many as an important ecumenical leader in the worldwide church.

His last years were darkened by dementia (失智症) and hospitalization, but as long as he lived his thinking and theology continued to influence church life in China. Research on his life and theology is only starting, but Philip L. Wickeri (魏克利) and Li Jieren (李洁人) have already made good contributions. But what will happen now? Will the church be even more fragmented, will denominations come back? How will the party-state react? At best Ding’s legacy will serve as a reminder and inspiration for the future, and a new era will start. At worst things will just continue, without reflection and change.

What happens in Xinjiang? Or, China is not only Beijing and the CPC congress

These days of 18th CPC congress (十八大) frenzy, it can be interesting to note that many other things happen around China. A few weeks ago news emerged about an attack on a border post in Kargilik county (叶城县), south of Kashgar in Xinjiang. The attack occurred on Chinese national day 1 October. A young man rode his electric bike (电单车) into a border post, and around 20 people were killed or injured in an explosion. The border post was in Kokkowruk village (阔可寇热克村) in Chasamechit township (恰萨美其特乡).

Not long before the attack, but well ahead of the party congress, state news agency Xinhua (新华社) started a dedicated Uyghur news page. It almost immediately came under fire from Uyghur exiles for ”brainwashing” Uyghurs. But how many people trust official Chinese media without reflection, even in Xinjiang? Maybe no-one cares, but maybe it also fits very well with CPC media strategy and with giving an image of multiculturalism.

The media focus on the CPC congress is understandable, but one may also learn much about what happens in China through watching other areas, following trends and events outside Beijing. It is highly unlikely that anything unexpected would happen at the CPC congress, and that Xi Jinping and other leaders-elect would make drastic changes day one of their term of office. Therefore it is more interesting to look into the play on the sides, the protests in the countryside – and the games around leaders even further on in time. It seems that even Xinjiang may play a part in the game.

”Iron fist against terror” – Nur Bekri

In 2009 the Chinese journal Huanqiu renwu 环球人物 (Global People, a subsidiary of People’s Daily) published an interesting article on the questions of youth and “the 6th generation” leaders. Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri (Nu’er Baikeli 努尔·白克力) was ranked among the top five of ”the post-60” (60后) CPC leaders, the generation born after 1960. He is portrayed as a ”scholar ruling the region” (文人治区) and an ”iron fist against terror” (铁腕反恐). What do we make of this? Nur Bekri and the four others (Zhou Qiang 周强, Sun Zhengcai 孙政才, Hu Chunhua 胡春华 and Lu Hao 陆昊) were predicted to become top party leaders in 2022, at the 20th CPC congress. The idea that an Uyghur would even be considered is quite astonishing, even if it is only a token ”affirmative action Chinese style”. It has never happened before. But will there be a 20th CPC congress?

No words by Mo Yan?

Finally! That must have been the word on many Chinese lips this evening as the Swedish Academy (瑞典学院) announced that Mo Yan (莫言, real name Guan Moye 管谟业) would be given the Nobel prize in literature 2012. Almost instantaneously some Chinese voices got overexcited, and professor Zhang Yiwu (张颐武) from Peking University claimed that ”Mo Yan getting the prize is really an outcome of China’s rise and development, and Chinese civilization can no more be neglected” (莫言的得奖其实是中国的崛起和发展带来的结果,中国文明已经不能被忽视). Zhang is a professor at the Chinese Department and Vice Director of Peking University Centre for Research on Cultural Resources (北京大学文化资源研究中心). Is Mo Yan now a ”cultural resource”?

Apparently people still read – and like – his books. This evening I was giving a lecture on ”Sinology, literature and translation”. As the prize announcement coincided with the start of my lecture I put on the webcast from Stockholm, and to all our surprise ”Mo Yan” were the words pronounced. The students, all except two Mainland Chinese in their 20s, were laughing and clapping hands, and they had all read Red Sorghum (红高粱) – or at least seen the film, some has also read Big Breasts and Wide Hips (丰乳肥臀) and Frog (蛙).

Despite the Nobel Prize, this year has not only been positive for Mo Yan. Earlier this year he was severely criticized for taking part in copying by hand a part of Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yan’an Forum for Literature and Art (在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话). 99 other writers and artists did the same. One wonders why. One can also wonder if his choice of pen name may have gone too far – Mo Yan means ”no words” or ”no speech”. He has claimed that it was taken to remind himself not to speak too much, as he was earlier known for his outspokenness. Being a Nobel laureate will give him time and space to reconsider and maybe start speaking again. He could start by mentioning the other Chinese citizen who has won the Nobel prize, Liu Xiaobo.

How do you get fifteen years in a Chinese prison?

Former Chongqing vice mayor and police chief Wang Lijun (王立军) was sentenced to fifteen years in prison yesterday for ”bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking” (徇私枉法、叛逃、滥用职权、受贿). A detailed account of the trial was also published by the official news agency Xinhua. Without mentioning him by name, only by position, it was revealed during the trial that Bo Xilai had literally ear slapped Wang Lijun when he told Bo of his wife Gu Kailai’s alleged involvement in the killing of British businessman Neil Heywood. How will Bo Xilai be punsihed for that – or will he? Hopefully People’s Daily offspring Global Times is right when saying ”… justice will eventually trump over any privilege”.

Actually, Wang Lijun got several sentences of seven, nine and two years, that would combine to 20 years in prison, but he was instead given a total of fifteen years, and one year deprivation of political rights. It is likely that his revealing of facts around the Bo-Gu affair helped reduce his sentence.

Besides the bizarre setting of the whole case, it gives some perspective to Chinese criminal punishment. In 2009 Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit (阿里木江·依米提) was also sentenced to fifteen years in prison for ”illegally revealing state secrets to a foreigner” (向境外人员非法提供国家秘密). He had told his American friend of the pressure he received from the local religious affairs office. Is that a state secret? In 2010 Uyghur journalist Gheyret Niyaz (海莱提·尼亚孜) was also sentenced to fifteen years in prison for ”endangering state security” by talking to Asia Weekly (亞洲週刊).

Abuse of power is a central issue in all these three cases. Global Times writes also on this: ”Is such abuse of power by Wang [Lijun] an individual case, or is it typical?”. It seems typical to me.