”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.

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.

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.

”Elders” who speak out

In the wake of the Wang Lijun-Bo Xilai-Gu Kailai-(and whoever more is involved…) scandal, the so-called ”security chief” (安全头目) Zhou Yongkang (周永康) have been hit by rumours. The latest is that he already has been stripped of real power, and 9 May a group of ”party elders” (党内元老) published an open letter asking for his public dismissal. Now and then such groups of ”elders” speak out on certain issues, sometimes with positive response and real effect, sometimes only met with silence. Usually, there are a few more well-known names among the signatories, and ”elders” do not only point to age but political seniority.

In this case the undersigned all come from Zhaotong (昭通) in Yunnan, a very poor area, and none has had any senior position. Leading writer is Yu Yongqing (余永庆), b. 1933, and short life-stories of him and other signatories can be found online. Most of them were badly hit by the ”anti-rightist” campaign in 1957, and they have also been publishing other letters and stories in regard to the 55th anniversary of this campaign. But will their letter have any impact on Zhou Yongkang or CPC decisions? Not likely. It more seems like media spinning on rumours ahead of the upcoming 18th CPC congress this autumn.

There are, however, other ”elders” who speak and who should get more attention. Cheng Siwei (成思危), b. 1935 is not a Communist party member, but a former China Democratic National Construction Association (中国民主建国会) leader, and also former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. At the 60th anniversary celebrations for China University of Political Science and Law (中国政法大学) 16 May, Cheng Siwei spoke on rule of law and division of power, among other things. He said he following (around 2:00 on the video clip):

We must first establish the concept of a legal system. You could say that in the minds of some officials the issue of which is greater, the party or the law, has not yet been fully resolved.


As the leading role of the Party is written into the constitution of the PRC, it cannot be easy for ”some officials” to come to a final conclusion on this issue… but it is certainly time to establish rule of law in China.

Hidden agendas – or confused Confucians?

During my recent visit to Beijing I went for a walk one morning, and ended up at Guozijian (国子监) and the Confucius Temple (孔庙). Guozijian was a kind of national academy for examinations (科举) during imperial times. A few Chinese tour groups passed through, and there was a distinct smell of incense, but I could not see it burning anywhere. I heard a tour guide discuss the difference between burning incense in a Buddhist temple and a Confucius temple, focusing on the different things one should ask for at each place… Popular ”Confucian” worship in the middle of Beijing?

Yu Dan (于丹) speaks at the Confucius ceremony in Beijing in 2010. Her popular book "Confucius from the Heart" (论语心得) has sold many million copies around the World.

In the side buildings were exhibitions about Confucian ceremonies and on Confucianism and its influence in the World. The exhibition on Confucian influence made me confused. The final display showed the distribution of Confucius Institutes (孔子学院), and the text in both English and Chinese explained:

[we] shall carry traditional Chinese culture and Confucianism forward to the world, establishing Confucianism as an outstanding branch among the various world cultures

So much for the criticism of Confucius Institutes as tools of Communism! This is their true aim… or maybe not? Other texts claimed, in both Chinese and English, that Gottfried Leibnitz (莱布尼兹) was a German missionary. I thought he was a philosopher inspired by Confucianism.

Painting of Kim Jong Il funeral, December 2011, displayed at Guozijian exhibition

It all seems very confused and haphazard for being the second most ”sacred” place for Confucianism in China after his birthplace Qufu (曲阜). However, I found more clues to contemporary ”Confucianism” as I was about to leave Guozijian. In the last side building there was a temporary art exhibition. To my great surprise it was an exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung (金日成), ”eternal president” of North Korea! I would rather not see Kim as a benevolent Confucian father figure, but maybe someone thought it would be a proper place for him. A more plausible interpretation would be that not many people visit Guozijian, and it is therefore easy to ”hide” such an exhibition, unwanted but necessary for diplomatic reasons. ”Confucianism” can be very useful…

Time for a new song — “The East is shaking” (to the tune of “The East is Red”)

The time when ”singing red songs” (唱红歌) was considered to ”fill us with enthusiasm and unbounded confidence” (激情满怀、信心百倍) is over for this time. Many people thought that time passed already in the 1970s. As much as Bo Xilai dismissed as ”complete nonsense” (无稽之谈) the claims that ”red songs” were ”leftist” and a way back to ”the Cultural Revolution”, he was himself dismissed from the politburo (政治局). His wife Gu Kailai (谷开来) is under investigation for murder on British businessman Neil Haywood (尼尔·海伍德), along with Zhang Xiaojun (张晓军), an aide to the Bo family. These recent events could have been a novel plot by Qiu Xiaolong (裘小龙) – or maybe a chapter in Wang Lixiong’s China Tidal Wave (黄祸) – but it is for real. The question now is if these events will cause any political tsunami (海啸) for China.

The Wang Lijun case could have functioned as a kind of ”tsunami warning system” for the top party leaders, and maybe it did give them time to stop some rumours (谣言), and prevent a few people from escaping. Things seemed a little out of hand, however. These events show how vulnerable the party-state is, even its top leadership, despite all the control mechanisms.

Bo Xilai looking at eggs at a market in Xining, Qinghai

Official media now talks about justice and discipline, and gives an idealized image of how the legal system works: ”Our country is a socialist country ruled by law, and the respect for law and the status of the law cannot be trampled. No matter who it involves, if you offend the law, you must be dealt with in accordance with the law” (我国是社会主义法治国家,法律的尊严和权威不容践踏。不论涉及到谁,只要触犯法律,都将依法处理). This is especially interesting in the PRC, where the constitution defines the special role of the Communist Party to lead and guide the Chinese society, including the improvement of ”the socialist legal system”.

Things must be rather shaky now with preparations for the 18th party congress this autumn, and the next politburo meeting should perhaps start with a new song called ”The East is shaking” (东方摇)? ”东方摇、太阳升、中国出了一个薄熙来…” Trustworthy sources tell me that such singing fills you with ”enthusiasm and unbounded confidence”. ”Shaking” is also a homophone of ”rumour” (谣) in Chinese…