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China’s Auto Industry: The Joys and Sorrows

China has become the third leading car manufacturer in the world. In 2005 alone, China manufactured 5.6 million cars. However, an over-investment in the Chinese car industry has led to an excess production capacity and decreased profits.

According to figures disclosed by the China Association of Automobile manufacturers on December 9, 2005, in the first 11 months of 2005, China manufactured 5.15 million cars, a 10 percent increase over the same period in 2004. During the same time, 5.14 million cars were sold, an increase of 12 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Both the number manufactured and the number sold surpassed the totals of 2004 by 10 percent or more.

Even though both the total manufactured and the total sold has increased by such a large margin, the authorities have been worried about overinvestment and excess production capacity in China’s automobile industry. One study done by China’s National Development and Reform Commission shows while there are 117 automobile factories, over 90 of which produce less than 10,000 automobiles a year, they are nowhere close to reaching economies of scale. In the first 10 months of 2005, although the total manufactured increased by 9.2 percent, profits dropped 36.7 percent. Of those firms that had losses, the total losses increased by 86.2 percent.

The Auto Industry in China (2005 Jan-Nov, Unit: 1,000 cars)

  Total Cars  Over the Previous Year Passenger Cars Over the Previous Year  Commercial Cars  Over the Previous Year
 5,145  10.20%  3,523  16.40%  162.2  -1.10%
 4,138  12.10%  3,515  19.50%  162.2  -1.20%
Source: The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM)

In 2003, China’s automobile production capacity usage rate reached 68 percent. Since 2003, many automobile factories have increased their capacity. In the first half of 2005, the automobile production capacity reached 8 million per year. It is estimated that, by the end of 2005, the capacity increased by another 2.2 million, reaching a grand total production capacity of 10.2 million automobiles per year. At the same time, factories are making investments which will cause production capacity to increase by another 10 million cars. Since the automobile production cycle usually takes more than 18 months, overinvestment in 2003 has already led to overcapacity in 2005. In 2005, China’s car production capacity usage rate already dropped to 55 percent. Since the capacity is more than the necessity, and even though in 2005 the sale of automobiles increased, due to overcapacity, the substantial increase in fixed costs has caused profits to drop. Presently, the increase in automobile production seems to have surpassed the growth in the average Chinese citizen’s ability to purchase. The result of this overcapacity of production, along with the heightened intensity of competition will, without a doubt, cause the car manufacturing industry profits to decline.{mospagebreak}

Moreover, the fact that foreign businesses are entering into the Chinese automobile industry has made competition more intense. The 51 Fortune 500 companies that have automobile production as a main sector have all set up factories in China. Presently, multinationals have become the main body of the Chinese automobile industry. This is rarely seen anywhere else in the world.

China has just stepped into the world of cars. At present, there are only an estimated 3 cars for every 100 people, far lower than the international scale of 13 cars per 100 people. As the Chinese economy grows, more and more Chinese citizens will become car-owners. In 2005, there were 35 million cars. The growth of the Chinese car industry will most probably be maintained at above the growth rate of China’s GDP. The demand for cars by the 1.3 billion Chinese citizens will increase in the future, year by year. However the Chinese car industry still has many insufficiencies in human capital, R&D, materials, technology, credit system, sales, and other areas. China will need to break through many barriers and surpass many difficulties for its auto industry to be both successful and competitive.

Mengyang Jian and Tianlun Jian are economists based in Boston.

My Life as a Migrant Worker

It was in late 1980. When I told my mother that I had been accepted by a prestigious high school, she didn’t say anything. Instead, she turned her back to me and sat on the threshold. Since then, we never mentioned the subject again. My 14-year-old brother had to quit school at that time. We became the youngest migrant workers in our county.

Back then, in the county capital, one could make one yuan (US$1 is about 8 yuan) for a 12-hour shift carrying rocks at a construction site. After weighing different options, my brother and I decided to seek job opportunities elsewhere. Therefore, right after the Chinese New Year in 1981, we left our tearful mother and began our journey as migrant workers.

Our first stop was Yan’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province. As we walked on the street with our bedding on our backs, we felt lost and scared. Soon we learned that one could make only 1.2 yuan a day for carrying rocks but would often end up without getting paid at all. We finally went to Huang-ling County, which is 200 kilometers (125 miles) away from Yan’an.

We worked as lumberjacks for the first six months and then did road construction for three months. We put ourselves in harm’s way and endured nine months of inhuman labors. Then one day, after a long day’s work, we went back to the place where we usually ate and slept only to find that the foreman and his relative, who used to cook for us, had both disappeared. They had left without paying us a penny. Everyone burst into tears. My brother was screaming. I walked over, held him in my arms, and we both cried.

After nine months, still penniless, we made a tough decision to become coal miners.

"Mining’s dangerous; mining’s tough. Nine out of ten will not survive." For generations, that’s how the locals described a miner’s miserable life. No one would want to go down into the mines if he had any other choice for making a living.

My brother and I picked a mine where we could make one yuan for each ton of coal we hauled out.

I had two worries. I worried about the possible collapse that could kill or injure my brother. I also worried that someone might bully him. It had happened before. Every time I heard some loud scolding, my heart would jump into my throat. I would pause and listen carefully to make sure that it was not my brother who was being berated.

The foreman used different excuses for delaying our pay. He kept promising that we would eventually get paid in full. The local miners were not easily pushed, and they usually got paid in full every month.{mospagebreak}

My brother was only 14 at the time but was more productive than I was. I had never hauled more than nine tons of coal a day, but his daily output was never below 12 tons. The highest was 17 tons.

During those days, we were physically exhausted but mentally excited. We were living in an abandoned, doorless, windowless cave dwelling. Every day we marked on the wall the amount of money we would bring home to our mother. We wrote numbers that only we could understand.

Whenever we thought about this, we had joyful tears in our eyes. However, these numbers never turned into real money. After six months of slave labor, my worst nightmare came true.

The coal pit collapsed. My brother was wailing with pain. I forgot my own fear and rushed to my brother’s rescue. Carrying him on my back, I scrambled to a safe place. I put him down on the ground and ran like a crazy man to our dining place where I found some newspapers. I quickly ran back and burned the newspapers. I scooped up the ashes and put them on my brother’s wound. Then I carried him out of the pit.

We barely made it to a place to rest. Before I had a chance to lay my brother down, the owner kicked us out.

That started another miserable chapter in our lives. I had to work for the local farmers in exchange of crackers and water to save my brother.

After more than 40 days of rest, my brother was fully recovered. By then, 19 months had gone by since we had left home, and we were still penniless despite the fact that we had worked like slaves. We decided that my brother would go to Xi’an to look for work, and I would stay where I was.

I talked to the farmer I was working for and asked to be paid in advance for 20 days of wages-14 yuan (0.7 yuan a day)-so I could pay for my brother’s bus ticket to Xi’an.

My work with the farmer ended 23 days later. The farmer himself was also poor. When I was ready to leave, to my surprise, he held me in his arms and burst into tears. "How come your life is so miserable? You’re such a nice kid. You could have simply disappeared after you got paid in advance. But instead, you worked for me for three additional days." He tried to squeeze two yuan into my hand and pushed me to hit the road. I refused to take the money. I bowed to his family for having taken good care of my brother and left.

What I did afterward was, in hindsight, a big mistake.{mospagebreak}

I could not get over the fact that my brother and I had been kicked out of the coal mine without getting paid a penny. I thought that I had the right to ask the owner, named An, to pay us. Besides, I was penniless and could not go home anyway. So I put in quite some effort to find out where An lived. To please An, I volunteered to harvest his crops during the day and slept in his cowshed at night. Of course it was a senseless move. I wasted another 40 days and became really desperate.

I did some hard thinking during those 40 days. I realized that being a migrant worker offered no light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to go home first and then join the army.

It was not an easy decision to make. However, it paled in comparison to the difficulties of actually getting home. I was penniless, and home was 400 kilometers (250 miles) away. Nevertheless, I began the journey. This was my only hope for survival.

I walked about 45 kilometers (28 miles) the first day and reached the downtown of Huangling County. The only thing I was thinking about was how to get something to eat, since I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink on the road. I went to a few state-owned cafeterias to beg for food. I even took my clothes off, hoping to exchange them for some food. None of my efforts worked. In despair, I walked on the narrow street of Huangling with an empty stomach.

My spirits lit up when I saw an army officer stepping off a military truck across the street. Back then, people truly believed the propaganda that "the People’s Liberation Army serves the people wholeheartedly." I walked over to my "beloved" officer, squatted down, and grabbed his leg.

While tears ran down my cheeks, the words poured out about my ordeals. But when I looked up, I found that my "beloved" PLA officer was not listening at all. He was staring at a girl walking toward him. Apparently he wasn’t even aware of my presence. Disappointed, I quickly left him.

All I could do was to sleep at the entrance of the long-distance bus station so I could follow its route home the next day. I didn’t know how long I had slept. I felt someone’s hand on my head. I didn’t even have the energy, physical or mental, to feel scared.

"Hey kid, why are you sleeping here in such cold weather?" Someone squatted down next to me.

"I’m starved to death," I answered.

"Poor kid, come with me."{mospagebreak}

I followed him to a cave dwelling. He turned the light on, and I saw he was an old man. On his shoulder, he was carrying a mason’s tool commonly seen in this area. It was made of half a basketball. He put me down on his bed. All I can remember now is he went to the other room and came back with some flour on a plate. He poured the flour into a washbowl and started to knead the dough. Soon, there was a half washbowl of noodle soup in front of me. I gobbled it up and hit the pillow, drifting to sleep in the darkness.

I had no idea how long I slept until the old man woke me up. "Kid, let’s get up. It’s time to go." I opened my eyes and saw him smoking a pipe in front of me. "Here is the bus ticket to Yan’an. Here is five yuan. That’s all I can offer. I’m also poor. I make only 1.5 yuan a day. Take the money, OK?"

Without saying a word, I took the money and followed the old man to the bus station.

I arrived in Yan’an in the afternoon. I spent 14 fen (2 U.S. cents) for seven dumplings and another five fen for a cooked lamb hoof. I spent the night in front of the bus station again.

When I got up the next morning to follow the bus to Suide County, my legs were numb from sleeping on the icy ground overnight. I didn’t have any feeling in my legs until I had walked quite a while.

After walking about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles), I saw a man by the roadside busily working on his truck. Subconsciously, I picked up his bucket. Seeing that he did not stop me, I sensed that I was close to something I had been hoping for. Twice I walked half a kilometer to fetch water for him.

We didn’t say a word to each other. When the truck was ready to leave, he signaled to me to get on. I was so excited that I was ready to climb onto the passenger’s seat, but he grabbed me and pointed to the back. I understood him and got in the back.

After a long day’s journey, I reached Suide County. I was only 95 kilometers (60 miles) away from home!

The driver never said a word to me during the entire journey. He pulled the truck over and asked where I wanted to be dropped off. I asked him to drop me off at the long-distance bus station if it wasn’t too much trouble. I was afraid of getting lost.

I slept again in front of the bus station. By midnight, I was awakened by some heavy kicks. Someone was shouting at me, "You petty thief! Who allowed you to sleep here? We’re the militia patrol. You’re arrested."{mospagebreak}

They started to search my body. Obviously they were disappointed with the results. One of them fiercely kicked me again and cursed, "You wretch! Do you carry any ID?"

I didn’t say a word. I was relieved that the 4.8 yuan I had hidden in my shoe were safe.

Apparently they didn’t want to carry around a penniless kid as they continued on their patrol. They turned me over to the old man who was the guard at the bus station. "We’ll deal with you in the morning!" they warned me and left.

The fire the old man was using to keep warm reminded me how cold it was outside. It wasn’t until then that I realized that the warmth had drained from my body. Actually I had to thank the patrollers for "arresting" me because without them, I might have died from the cold.

I had nothing to fear anymore. I couldn’t be in any worse situation. Nonetheless, I worried that what might happen next could destroy my chance to join the army. I cried and begged the old man to let me go. I told him that I wanted to change my fate by joining the army.

The old man didn’t utter a word. When I finished talking, he left the room and locked the door from outside. I figured he was tired of my story.

To my surprise, the old man soon returned. He took out two big boiled yams and started to roast them on the fire. Still, he did not say anything. I began to have an uneasy feeling.

When the old man finally opened his mouth, my fate took a drastic change.

"Come, kid. Hurry up and eat up the yams while they’re still hot. Then leave here as soon as you finish eating. It’s almost dawn. If those patrollers come back and see you, they’ll beat you up badly. Those bastards dare to do anything. I work here and I’m old. They can’t do anything to me."

Although I had no intention of seeing the patrollers again, I had to thank them for taking me from the freezing outdoors to the heated indoors. Furthermore, after having nothing to eat or drink for nearly 40 hours, I was able to fill my stomach again.

When dawn came, I was a dozen kilometers away from Suide County.{mospagebreak}

When I was about a dozen kilometers away from Mizhi, I saw a grain truck from Jia County (my hometown) slowly climbing a slope. Without any hesitation, I threw my bedding on the back and climbed onto the truck. But when the truck reached the flat road, I sensed that something was wrong. The truck was slowly pulling over to the roadside. It was going to stop!

I quickly tossed my bedding on the road, jumped out of the truck and ran toward the wheat field as fast as I could until I couldn’t run anymore. The driver finally caught me and kicked me. I started to cry but not because of his kicking. I was pouring out all my grievances with my tears.

"Can’t you stop crying?"

I was surprised that the guy didn’t leave.

"Maybe I shouldn’t have kicked you. I frequently haul relief grain on this road. On this slope, people often climb onto my truck and steal the grain. I thought you were one of them. Now tell me where you want to go."

That good-hearted driver gave me a lift to Jia County!

I had planned to get home in 20 days. Instead, it took me only three days. I was penniless when I left Huangling County. By the time I got home, I had 4.8 yuan. When I gave the money to my mother, whom I had not seen for nearly two years, her face was covered with tears.

In November 2003, the Power Plant in Huangling County retained me for a legal case. Thus I was able to revisit the place where I had worked as a coal miner 22 years earlier. I went to the village where An, the owner, used to live. An’s family was quite influential in the area back then. An had died in his early 50s several years earlier. His brother was a hunchback. After so many years, I recognized him immediately when I saw him.

"Boss An the Second," I addressed him as I had back then.

He looked me up and down with a wooden face. "Do I know you? Who are you? No one has called me that for many years."

His wife suspected that I was some town government cadre. "What do you want from him?" she asked. Calmly I recounted the ordeal my brother and I had suffered in the mine pit and how we had been kicked out.{mospagebreak}

Still showing no expression on his face, An the Second turned around and lowered his head. "You can’t make up a story like this. There was no such thing. I’m not the guy you are looking for."

I told him that I didn’t come for money. Also, 20 years of time had turned a sharp cut into a dull memory.

Walking from memory, I found An’s house and pointed out the locations where the coal miners used to cook and sleep. An the Second actually smiled. He tapped my shoulder and said, "Kiddo, this is fate. This is fate."

Then he began telling me his story.

By 1982, he had saved more than 300,000 yuan (US$37,500). His son, who’s one year younger than I am, got married in late 1982. His grandchild suffered serious polio, and he spent all his savings on his grandchild’s medical bills.

"I finally got it all figured out and quit the business," he said. "Take it easy now. Man never has the final say."

Written on January 30 and 31, 2006, in the cave dwelling in northern Shaanxi.

Translated by CHINASCOPE from The Epoch Times.

Nine Hot Issues in 2005

1. Beijing Keeps Tight Control Over Former Chinese Leader Zhao Ziyang’s Death

When former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Zhao Ziyang died on January 17, 2005, the CCP took a pragmatic and opportunistic approach in dealing with his memorial by allowing a limited number of people to mourn him. His mourners, however, were but a fraction of those from all levels of society who are discontent with the Party. They bravely broke the CCP’s taboo to gain a little bit of freedom-the right to express their grief.

In 1989, Zhao Ziyang was a central figure in openly opposing the use of force to suppress the pro-democracy protestors. In typical CCP tradition, guns lead the Party, and the Party directs the government. Party Chief Zhao Ziyang was helpless to stop the June 4 Massacre and was ousted for "supporting the turmoil" and "splitting the Party." As a result, Zhao was forced to join the ranks of the many CCP general secretaries who had lost power in the CCP’s brutal political struggles.

In the past 15 years since Zhao was stripped of his position, political dissidents have continued to demand that the government redress the June 4 event and restore Zhao Ziyang’s freedom and his reputation. The CCP power holders, however, who have reaped benefits from the June 4 crackdown, have continued to suppress the voices of dissent. The CCP made it taboo even to mention Zhao Ziyang-a taboo that was broken by Zhao’s death. In a number of ways, Zhao’s passing has created occasions for political expression.

The overseas media reported on several topics: the CCP’s evaluation of Zhao Ziyang, the Party’s control of the memorial activities for Zhao, reactions from Zhao’s family and his supporters, public memorials for Zhao overseas, and the CCP’s suppression of dissidents during this politically sensitive time.

The taboo on discussing Zhao was broken when some individuals within the CCP published memorial articles that openly supported Zhao and criticized the Party for the June 4 Massacre. Although they do not hold high positions, their influence should not be underestimated. According to the Hong Kong-based Ming Pao newspaper, Hu Jiwei wrote a 2,000-word memorial entitled "Deeply Mourn Zhao Ziyang" that criticized the CCP’s house arrest of Zhao as a violation of the Party’s constitution, state laws, and humanity. Hu Jiwei was once the People’s Daily chief in the 1980s and a member of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress before he was demoted for supporting Zhao Ziyang.

People outside the Party who hold diverse opinions have appealed for democratic reforms and for redressing the June 4 event. Although their voices have been suppressed in China, they have gained attention in the international community with the help of modern media and communications. Their voices for democracy exert pressure on the Chinese communist regime. Typical among them are the "Tiananmen mothers," whose children were murdered during the June 4 Massacre, and such dissidents as Bao Tong, Li Rui, Liu Xiaobo, Yu Jie, and Zhang Lin.{mospagebreak}

The CCP did not allow people to publicly mourn Zhao Ziyang, controlled who could attend his memorial service, and, in his official eulogy, criticized Zhao for making mistakes in 1989. Turning a eulogy into an opportunity for criticism is a rarity in the world. Former U.S. Presidents Nixon and Reagan both made mistakes during their terms in office, but at their memorial services no one blamed Nixon for the Watergate scandal or criticized Reagan for his secret weapon deals with Iran.

2. Pop Culture Fever Challenges CCTV’s Dominance

The pop culture fever created by regional Chinese television stations is challenging the dominant position of CCTV, the television station run by China’s central government. Both the Super Girl contest and the Korean soap drama I, introduced by the provincial Hunan Satellite Television Station, have gained unprecedented popularity among Chinese viewers. The ensuing culture fever is shaking the elite position that CCTV has enjoyed over the years.

Produced by Hunan Satellite Television, Super Girl enables amateurs to compete in a televised Karaoke contest much like the American Idol show. The competition is open to any female regardless of age, beauty, or talents. The recent contest attracted 120,000 applicants from five cities—girls and women ranging in age from 4 to 89. The winner was chosen by viewers who cast their votes through a cell phone Short Message Service, with each phone number allowed a maximum of 15 votes. The grand finale drew 400 million television viewers and tallied eight million votes sent via cell phone for the Super Girl finalist.

On the day of the finale, there were 2.4 million postings about the show on the Internet discussion forum. Television ratings for the finale reached a record high for a provincial level television station, second only to CCTV. Li Yuchun, the winner of the contest, has become a household name in China and made the cover of Time magazine’s September issue as one of "Asia’s Heroes" in 2005.

Super Girl owes its popularity to the public’s desire for free participation, a fair contest, and democratic voting. For "the girl next door," being on a televised show is no longer merely a far-fetched dream. The contest promotes free expression, as conveyed by the show’s logo-"If you want to sing, sing."

The contest took off in a country where the people don’t even have the right to elect their president. As one person put it in an online posting, "I don’t think that I will ever get to vote for a president in this lifetime, so I will choose a girl that I like." Moreover, the contest has sparked the desire for popular entertainment rather than the dull programs characteristic of the Party-controlled media.

Along with the success of Super Girl, Hunan Satellite Television bought the broadcasting rights for Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace), a 70-episode South Korean television drama. Dae Jang Geum was a runaway hit in China in 2005 following its success in Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan. On October 2, the Central News Agency reported that since the show’s broadcast in the mainland, it has reached an 18 percent rating, with close to 18 million viewers.{mospagebreak}

Dae Jang Geum focuses on the life of Jang Geum, the first female royal physician in Korean history. Chinese fans are fascinated by the slow-paced Korean show. Besides the appeal of the exquisite Korean court food and fashions, and the beauty of Lee Yong Ae, the actress who plays the title role, fans attribute the success of Dae Jang Geum to its rich cultural content.

Freelance writer Shan He has pointed out that the popularity of Dae Jang Geum is not simply due to the story of Jang Geum’s suffering, endurance, and triumph over hardship, but rather her purity, kind nature, feminine character, and especially her compassionate way of resolving conflicts. The show highlights the true nature of humankind and reawakens in viewers the inherent longing for truth, compassion, and tolerance.

Dae Jang Geum‘s success drew criticism from China’s television industry, fearful of "cultural infiltration" that threatens its market share of domestic television dramas. Based on the Report of China’s TV Drama Market (2005-2006), China produces 40,000 episodes of TV drama series each year, with 7,000 eventually making it to living rooms across China. But none has come close to the success of Dae Jang Geum.

Many have criticized China’s television industry for its formulaic programs and lack of refined taste. Fans indicate that even though Chinese television drama has matured over the years, with grand historical scenes, complex story lines, top-quality productions, elaborate costumes and stage settings, productions still lack the most important ingredient—uplifting cultural content—which Dae Jang Geum amply provides.

3. The Fate of the CCP: Will It Survive or Fall Apart?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) turned 84 years old in 2005, its fate in serious question. This was evidenced by two dramatic events that marked 2005: The ongoing drive to "Resign from the CCP" movement and the CCP’s "Maintaining the Advanced Nature of the Party" movement.

The "Resign from the CCP" phenomenon started in late 2004 with the publication of the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, which triggered this tidal wave. The Nine Commentaries is a compilation of a series of nine editorials first published between November 19 and December 4, 2004, by the overseas media group The Epoch Times. This book presents the untold, uncensored history of the CCP and lays out in detail the massive crimes of the CCP. It calls on the Chinese for self-introspection and moral purification, and predicts the disintegration of the Communist Party when the majority of Chinese make a conscious choice to distance themselves from it.

In responding to the call, many Chinese started to resign from the Party in late 2004 after reading the Nine Commentaries. They included some well-known figures such as Mr. Meng Weizai, who is a retired artist and former director of the Party’s Propaganda Department Art Bureau, and Ms. Huang Xiaomin, who is China’s swimming medal winner in the Seoul Olympics.{mospagebreak}

The wave of resignations picked up momentum in 2005, when the "Global Service Center for Resignations from the CCP" was established. The Service Center has set up websites; hotlines; and systems for receiving faxes, voicemail, and emails so that Chinese people can safely, anonymously (using pseudonyms), and publicly renounce their affiliations with the Chinese Communist Party. By end of the 2005, over 6.7 million Chinese had used the service to declare their resignations from the Party.

Of the 6.7 million resignations, a portion of them were from people who were not Party members but wanted to renounce any affiliation they had ever had with the Communist Party. Under the reign of the CCP, almost every Chinese has had some affiliation with the Party, beginning with the Red Pioneers in elementary school, the Communist Youth League as teenagers and young adults, and on to the workers’ unions that pledge loyalty to the Party. It’s understandable that even non-Party members also feel strongly and have chosen to publicly "resign from the Party."

The 6.7 million resignations might have only represented those who could access modern communications. Others in China chose to register their conscious choice by posting their resignation declarations in public places.

By contrast, the CCP followed tradition by launching a political movement. In January 2005, the CCP Politburo gathered three times to discuss the upcoming campaign to "Maintain the Advanced Nature" of the Party. Hu Jintao told the senior CCP leaders that this campaign "concerned the fundamental survival of the Communist Party." His warning underlined the critical challenges that the CCP was facing: the death of communist ideology, severe corruption inside the Party, and increasing tensions between the people and the Party.

The CCP campaign set out to reclaim its "superiority" and "legitimacy" by relying on its tried and true methods of propaganda, brainwashing, and internal purges. In the months that followed, Party Committees in the cities organized their members to attend a total of 40 hours of study sessions devoted to Marxist theory and CCP documents. At the end of the sessions, the members were required to write their own reports and to pledge loyalty to the Party before they could be "re-certified." June 2005 began the second phase of this campaign involving 1.8 million grassroots Party organizations all over the country.

Both movements attempted to win people over, but each used a very different approach. The official CCP campaign inundated the Chinese media, "Advanced Nature" became a common theme in Chinese editorials, and the red hammer and sickle flag was visible on most official websites. Party members were compelled to participate in order to be "re-certified." Nevertheless, this was a hard sell to the Chinese people. Soon after the campaign started, in private conversations the meaning of the phrase "xian-jin-xing" for "advanced nature" turned into "advanced sex," because the combination of those three Chinese characters could be interpreted either way.{mospagebreak}

The Nine Commentaries, on the other hand, was suppressed by the CCP at every opportunity. Nevertheless, it found its way to the Chinese people, who were very receptive. Modern technology certainly helped: from proxy Internet servers to encrypted emails, from shortwave radio broadcasts to satellite television, from CD discs in regular mail to overseas faxes and telephone calls, many Chinese people received the Nine Commentaries and started to spread the idea of resigning from the Party.

How long can the CCP survive and how soon before it disintegrates? The year 2006 may provide us a more definitive answer to this question.

4. China Comes Down Hard on Citizens Who Stand Up for Their Rights

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) failed to control social unrest in 2005. The country saw a record number 87,000 social disturbances last year, topping the previous record of 74,000 in 2004. It marked a continued trend of people rising up in their efforts to weiquan (Chinese phrase for "guard the rights") against encroachment by corrupt communist government officials.

Two events should be recorded in the Chinese weiquan history of 2005: In Dongzhou Village the CCP ordered its paramilitary police to fire upon and kill farmer protesters, while in Taishi Village the CCP suppressed by force the citizens’ attempt to replace their village chief. Both villages are within a short distance of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province not far from Hong Kong.

The villagers in Dongzhou lost their means of livelihood after a power plant was built over their farmlands. When they did not receive fair compensation for their loss, they accused the government officials of corruption. The villagers staged peaceful protests in front of the plant for seven months until the regime authorities finally sent in paramilitary troops to crack down on them.

On December 6, while the villagers were mounting a sit-in demonstration, the police made a number of arrests and ordered the protesters to leave. When this had no effect, they detonated teargas bombs, but even this failed to drive people away. Then, at dusk, the police started to fire on the protestors, killing between 10 and 20 farmers.

The regime sealed off the Dongzhou area with tanks and troops, arrested more people, and tried to prevent the news of the killings from spreading. While the Chinese communist regime downplayed the number of deaths and laid blame on "a handful of plotters with ulterior motives who incited the masses into a confrontation with authorities," the shocking facts about the slaughter of peaceful protesters by the Chinese police still found their way out of the village. It was the first time since the Tiananmen Square Massacre that people again saw the CCP using troops and tanks against peaceful protesters.{mospagebreak}

The crackdown in Taishi Village occurred two months earlier. Although it was less bloody than the Douzhou tragedy, it touched upon a sensitive issue—village elections. For many years the experimental village elections in China have excited certain Western experts, who like to predict that someday, based on successes at the village level, the CCP will allow free elections at the national level.

Taishi is a small village of 2,000 people. The village chief, Chen Jinsheng, was also the Party secretary. Villagers began to suspect Chen of embezzlement in 2005. In accordance with Chinese election law, they drew up a recall petition and collected more than 400 villagers’ signatures. Their legitimate request, however, was met with resistance and opposition on the part of the communist authorities. The officials eventually sent in riot police to break up protests and made sure that the village’s Party secretary remained unchallenged as Taishi’s "elected" chief.

The Taishi story attracted worldwide attention on October 8, when the Chinese rights activist Lu Banglie was severely beaten after he attempted to take The Guardian‘s Shanghai correspondent Benjamin Joffe-Walt into Taishi. The attack was staged by a group of gangsters at the entrance to Taishi. They were hired by the authorities to "secure" Taishi. When Lu and Joffe-Walt arrived by car in Taishi, the mob dragged Lu to the curb where they kicked and punched him until he passed out. Lu did not die as believed earlier by his companions. The news of this violent incident alerted the world to the events in Taishi and revealed the limits set by the CCP in their experimental village elections.

These two events from late 2005 seem to indicate that the CCP is taking a tougher stance toward social uprisings. The Chinese people who are now choosing to rise up and "guard their rights," however, may not be so easily deterred by this CCP crackdown.

The Chinese rights movement benefited from several factors in 2005. Frequent reports by the overseas free Chinese media helped to spread important news and to connect Chinese people in the rights movement. An emerging wave of "resignations from CCP" provided moral strength to the Chinese who stood up for people’s rights against the regime. The involvement of Chinese scholars in some of the weiquan activities helped the participants to organize and to stick with legally sound and nonviolent strategies. It will no doubt be even harder in 2006 for the CCP to keep a tight lid on this boiling kettle, no matter how harsh the crackdown becomes.

5. Chinese Attorney Fighting for Rights

On November 24, 2005, the Beijing Justice Bureau ordered Mr. Gao Zhisheng’s law firm shut down for one year.{mospagebreak}

Mr. Gao has become the latest in a group of outspoken and fearless lawyers facing persecution because of their efforts in seeking justice in cases of religious freedom, official corruption, land seizures, and police abuses. Their opponent is usually the Chinese Communist Party.

The year 2005 was an eventful year in the Chinese legal community. It all started with Mr. Guo Guoting, a prominent Shanghai attorney with over 20 years of experience in international law and regarded as "The Conscience of Chinese attorneys" for his pro bono practice representing rights advocates and victims of Communist Party persecution.

On February 22, 2005, Mr. Guo was barred from a scheduled visit to his client Mr. Zhang Lin, a dissident writer imprisoned for articles he posted on overseas online news sites related to Falun Gong. The authorities in Shanghai searched Attorney Guo’s offices on February 23, 2005; seized his law license; and confiscated his computer and client files. On March 4, the authorities issued an order suspending his right to practice law for one year for "anti-constitutional speeches and acts." After over two months of house arrest and interrogations, Mr. Guo was let out of China in late May, with no permission to return.

Attorney Guo’s struggle might be viewed as a test to determine just how far China’s legal system has evolved into an independent force that can protect the rights of individuals against the Communist Party.

What happened to Mr. Gao Zhisheng, however, has much broader implications and the potential to eventually bring the Communist Party to its knees.

Mr. Gao was born to a farming family in Shanxi Province. Their home was a cave dug out of a hillside, and his family was so poor that neither he nor his six siblings were able to go to school. Later, with the help of a relative, he learned to read and write and joined the People’s Liberation Army in Xinjiang where he became a Communist Party member.

After he left the service, he took a self-study course in law and became a lawyer in Xinjiang. Throughout his career, he represented victims of official corruption and abuse, dissidents, and fellow rights lawyers.

It was his advocacy and representation of Falun Gong that brought about the shutdown of his law firm. Beginning on December 4, 2004, Mr. Gao wrote several open letters to the Communist Party leadership in which he described in detail how Falun Gong practitioners were tortured, raped, and brainwashed, all based on his interviews of these victims. "These calamitous deeds did not begin with the two of you," he wrote in a letter addressed to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, "but they have continued under your political watch, and it is a crime that you have not stopped them."{mospagebreak}

On December 13, 2005, Mr. Gao published his announcement on The Epoch Times website that he had quit the Communist Party. Later he was baptized and became a Christian in an underground church.

As police surveillance of Mr. Gao and his family has intensified, support from people throughout China and from all walks of life has poured in. Everyday Mr. Gao receives numerous phone calls from individuals expressing their support. The public is watching, and Attorney Gao has now become a symbol of a widespread social movement that could bring down the Communist Party.

"In China, nothing can stop the momentum of the democratic mainstream nor can it delay the Chinese people’s pursuit of freedom, democracy, and rule of law," wrote Mr. Gao on December 31, 2005.

6. Harbin Water Crisis Following Chemical Plant Explosion Exposes China’s Hidden Environmental Foes

The toxic chemical spill into the Songhua River in Jilin Province was the largest industrial pollution accident in China in 2005. It is considered "probably one of the largest transboundary chemical spill incidents in a river system in recent years" by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in its Songhua River Spill Field Mission Report.

It all started on November 13, 2005, when an explosion occurred at a petrochemical plant located a few hundred meters north of the Songhua River in Jilin City, Jilin Province. The China National Petroleum Corporation, which is state-owned and reports directly to the central government, owns the facility.

The explosion led to five deaths and one person missing. One hundred tons of toxins, specifically benzene, aniline and nitrobenzene, spilled into the Songhua River. These toxic chemicals are known to cause cancer.

The spill posed a health threat to over six million people whose water supplies come directly or indirectly from the Songhua. The polluted water flowed about 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) from Jilin City, passing two major cities (Harbin and Jiamusi) and nine county-level cities before it merged into the Heilongjing River at the China-Russia border.

The regime tried to cover up this disastrous incident and did not want to alert the population of the pollution threat.

Three days after the explosion, Xinhua, the state news agency, quoted the Jilin City Environmental Protection Bureau as saying that all tests proved negative for toxic substances in the air. It did not mention the disastrous river pollution that had already moved downstream.{mospagebreak}

Harbin City, with 3.5 million residents, is the largest city along the Songhua downstream from Jilin City. After the Jilin Petrochemical explosion on November 13, the residents in Harbin were kept in the dark for 10 days. By the time the public was finally informed of the occurrence of the incident, the polluted water had almost arrived at Harbin.

The Harbin water crisis brought the issue of China’s serious environmental pollution to the surface. In a nationwide investigation by the National Environmental Protection Bureau following the chemical plant explosion in Jilin City, it was revealed that serious hidden dangers of massive environmental pollution existed across the entire chemical and petrochemical industry due to inappropriate geographic distribution and structure. Among the 78 randomly inspected chemical and petrochemical companies, 30 of them are improperly located. Some highly pollutant plants under development are even located in densely populated areas or along the banks upstream of rivers, lakes, and seas that are sources for drinking water. Once a pollution incident happens, it will bring about severe consequences.

Such problems are not limited to the chemical industry. For instance, the rapid development of highways has also greatly damaged China’s ecological system.

The toxic spill of chemical pollutants into the Songhua River from the chemical plant explosion in Jilin City only further exacerbates the problem of the country’s water pollution. Water pollution in China is already at an alarming level. According to information from the First National Inland Lakes Symposium in east China’s Jiangxi Province on November 23, 2005, 70 percent of the country’s rivers were contaminated and 75 percent over-enriched. Currently, most of China’s rivers are menaced by shrinkage, disfunction, contamination, and other problems such as the decrease of swamp lands.

7. Growing Discontent with the Chinese Education and Healthcare Reforms

Exorbitant tuition and healthcare costs have become the major problems in people’s lives, and have caused widespread discontent, according to a 2005 research report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The seriousness of these problems is reflected in two Chinese news events.

Xinhua News Agency reported on September 21, 2005, that an 18-year-old girl, Deng Xin, was admitted to Medical School in Kunming, Yunnan Province. However, the good news soon turned to tragedy when Deng Min’s mother committed suicide by hanging herself. The mother was in despair after exhausting all her resources and not being able to raise the funds for her daughter’s tuition.{mospagebreak}

Yahoo Chinese news reported on August 8, 2005, that 42-year-old Chinese farmer Huang Maojin blew up a bus in Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian Province. Huang was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer but had no money to pay for treatment. The desperate man prepared explosives and carried out a reckless deed that killed himself and another person and injured 30 others.

The Chinese are known worldwide for their emphasis on the education of their children. Funding from the communist government for education, however, amount to a mere 3.26 percent of the GDP in China—a level far below the world average. Schools and colleges are encouraged by a central government policy to "create income." This policy has led to increased college admissions costs and steep increases in tuition and fees that are far outpacing the growth in income of average Chinese families.

Even in the richest Chinese city of Shanghai, people are complaining. On February 28, 2005, Chinese News Weekly published a report summarizing a sample survey done by the Shanghai Academy of Social Science on households in the Xuhui District of Shanghai. For all the surveyed households with children in middle school, high school, and/or college, school costs accounted for 39 percent to 52 percent of the total family income. A quarter of the surveyed families spent more than half of their annual income on their school-age children.

In poor and rural areas, many farmers cannot afford to have their children finish middle school.

In December 2005, the Chinese communist regime announced it would spend an additional 200 billion yuan (US$25 billion) on rural education. Premier Wen Jiabao in November promised to remove all tuition and fees in rural areas within two years. However, people are casting doubts on whether the central government’s policy will be carried out in the poor regions. At the end of 2005, the regime still owed more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.25 billion) in unpaid salaries to rural teachers.

Healthcare has also suffered from the regime’s negligent policies. After abandoning the old socialist healthcare system, the regime adopted a policy of allowing the Chinese hospitals to "make money." Government funding amounts to less than 13 percent of the budget of all publicly funded hospitals. The commercialization of the healthcare system has been accompanied by the moral corruption of the whole system. Hospitals routinely set up various unnecessary tests and examinations, and physicians intentionally prescribe the more expensive medicines, costs to be borne by the patients. It has become a common practice in the recent decade that doctors expect to receive "hong-bao" (cash in envelope) from their patients’ families. In 2005, Auditor General Li Jinhua disclosed a shocking set of data: In 2004 and 2005, 10 hospitals under the Ministry of Health in Beijing over-charged 11.27 million yuan (US$1.4 million), 27 percent on prescription medications and 73 percent on medical exams.{mospagebreak}

Hospitals shut out the poor and less-privileged citizens. Media reports of patients dying in front of hospital emergency rooms because they could not pay cash up front and therefore were denied emergency care are not uncommon. They have appeared in different cities all over the country.

China Youth Daily reported the results of a survey of 733 interviewees that showed 90 percent were discontent with the changes in the healthcare system over the past 10 years. Another survey conducted by the private Horizon Group in 2005 showed that 66 percent of the urban population and 80 percent in rural areas were not covered by any health insurance. Published data from the Ministry of Health revealed that 48.9 percent of Chinese citizens had chosen not to go to a hospital when they were sick, and 29.6 percent had decided not to be hospitalized when they should have been.

A report published by the Development Research Center under the State Council and World Health Organization in 2005 admitted that China’s most recent medical and health system reform has been a failure.

8. The Growth of Economic Disparity

China had another year of high GDP growth: 9.9 percent increase from 2004. At the same time, however, the gap between the rich and the poor in China further widened.

A report by the United Nations Development Planning Commission (UNDPC) revealed that the Gini coefficient has reached 0.45 in China. The Gini coefficient is a statistical measure of inequality in which 0 expresses complete equality while 1 expresses complete inequality. Scholars generally regard a Gini reading of 0.4 as a warning sign of social disparity.

China’s Ministry of Labor and Social Security pointed out in a report that the income gap in China has now reached the second most serious "yellow-light" alert level, and unless effective measures are taken in the next five years, it will fall into the "red-light" danger zone.

The large gap is due to the disparity between the Chinese coastal cities and the vast rural inland. Official statistics provided by the Central Policy Research Office show that the current income gap between urban and rural residents may be as high as 3.3 to 1, which is the highest since 1978. Scholars say the gap could be much wider if subsidies and benefits for urban residents are taken into account.

The UNDPC said that the income gap between urban and rural communities in China is among the highest in the world and is already threatening social stability.{mospagebreak}

Income disparity in China is not just a story of the great urban-rural divide. The trend is also present within Chinese cities, even in the flashy showcase metropolises. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the income gap among residents in Beijing is widening and has significantly surpassed the warning limit. The city has registered a Gini coefficient of 0.5—higher than the national average.

Why has this fast economic development of around 10 percent annual GDP growth for the last 15 years not fairly benefited the population at large? It has to be that the system is not working. Of the 155 countries ranked by the World Bank’s Investment Climate Department, China’s rank is 100. The Chinese system, which lacks transparency, provides far too many opportunities for the privileged to rip off the average citizens.

For example, the Chinese stock market in 2005 saw its fifth consecutive bad year, and the Shanghai Index sank to its eight-year low in the midst of long-term economic growth. The companies were profitable, but the minority shareholders lost their money. Beijing controls two-thirds of the shares of China’s 1,400 listed companies. Its regulations seemed only to help the companies defraud its Chinese investors. For the 70 million individual Chinese investors, 2005 was a year full of bitterness and disbelief.

In another example, the revenue from state land sales failed to benefit the farmers on the land. According to the Ministry of Land Resources, Chinese cities earned more than 200 billion yuan (US$25 billion) in land sales in the past two decades, but most of that money did not benefit the farmers who lost their lands to the development of the cities. While the farmers are the actual land users, the state claims to own the land. By the most conservative Ministry estimations, at least 20 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) from land sales were lost to corruption and embezzlement.

Those who have gotten rich easily and sometimes illegally are living in luxury and laundering their money by sending it to overseas safe havens. According to a survey conducted by China’s Ministry of Commerce, in recent years as many as 4,000 Chinese officials have fled overseas, taking with them approximately US$50 billion. The real figure is believed to be much higher.

Those who have not fled often send their children abroad in a bid to establish a foothold in the West in preparation for their own eventual flight. As a result, a whole new breed of Chinese students has become a dazzling phenomenon in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries, where these youngsters can afford to pay cash for new cars and big houses.

The Chinese communist leaders are eager to invest for GDP growth but unwilling to fund education and healthcare. As a result, the ordinary citizens have to shoulder the burden. The steep increase in tuition and healthcare costs is another factor contributing to poor Chinese families’ hardships.{mospagebreak}

9. Sino-U.S. Relations in Hindsight: The Peace of 2005

To many people, 2005 was halcyon by any definition with regard to relations between the United States and China. Absent any event resembling the bombing of Yugoslavia’s embassy in China or the collision of jet planes, there was no attention-grabbing incident that would have compelled commentators to quickly announce a "nadir" in the relationship. Equally disappointing, however, was the absence of any great "progress" in the relationship and therefore the opportunity for a celebration that could have invoked an outpouring of goodwill. A quiet year, you may call it. But uneventful it wasn’t.

All the old problems, if not amplified, persisted during 2005. To the frustration of many Americans, outspoken dissidents in China continued to be nabbed by the police without any qualms over legal proceedings. The police were sometimes helped by the information and technology offered up by U.S. technology firms, such as Microsoft and Yahoo!, which had chosen to curry favor with the authoritarian regime at the expense of the values upheld by their home country. People in China continued to protest various grievances, but the buzz of China’s economy drowned out the voices of protest. Out of more than 87,000 public protests in China last year, Americans might remember one, a tragedy in Dongzhou in Guangdong Province. It featured the Chinese police on a gory killing spree of its own people, reminiscent of the Tiananmen Massacre 17 years earlier.

China remains a communist totalitarian regime. After decades of generous supplies of foreign capital and technology, the Chinese economy boom has not led to its transition to a democracy. Rather, it has made the communist regime more powerful and more able to confront America.

"If Americans train their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons," Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu said at an official briefing in Hong Kong last July.

While Zhu’s statement drew loud protests in America, he drew equally loud applause in China, where the communist regime has convinced the population that America is the greatest obstacle to China’s growth.

However anxious the PLA generals may be to talk about or prepare for war, the communist leaders are biding their time. When Hu Jintao was in New York for the U.N. summit last September, "peaceful growth and development" were the words out of his month. After all, the regime needed the investment capital, the modern technology, and the vast market for goods made-in-China, which all have to come from the West in a time of peace.

Time does not seem to be in America’s favor, though. After "engagement" for more than a quarter of a century, the Communist tiger is stronger—and becoming harder than ever to contain.{mospagebreak}

President Bush redefined China as a "strategic competitor" not long after he arrived in the White House. He might have had a vision of China’s future and the role of the U.S. in shaping it, but that plan has not been actively pursued until recently.

During his visit to Asia last November, President Bush made several notable speeches that appeared to have Chinese listeners in mind. Before arriving in Beijing, Bush discussed freedom and democracy in Kyoto, Japan, "In the 21st century, freedom is an Asian value—because it is a universal value." After his visit to China, Bush spoke in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, "Mongolia has made the transition from communism to freedom, and in just 15 years, you’ve established a vibrant democracy and opened up your economy. You’re an example of success for this region and for the world."

It’s obvious that Bush wants China to follow its neighbors in embracing freedom and democracy, but he chose to promote those values only outside of China. If America’s long-term strategy is to bring freedom and democracy to China, 2005 did not find China ready to implement such values. While the U.S. has been obsessed with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other anti-terrorist initiatives, China’s duplicity in the unfruitful six-party talks and its closeness to North Korea, a party to those negotiations and a member of the "axis of evil," might have alerted some already-strained nerves in the U.S.

Indeed, as long as the fundamental differences between the two giants exist, there is little hope that frictions will fade away by themselves.

Ann Lee, Steven Tian, and Victor Gu are correspondents for Chinascope

Avian Flu: The China Perspective

I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened up the window
and in flew Enza.

In 1918 and 1919, this was the last ditty you might want to hear—and not just on the playground. That year the world saw the loss of over 50 million lives—more than the death toll in World War I. The little "Enza bird," or influenza, also known as the Spanish flu, was the cause of it all.

Eighty years later, this little bird has begun to haunt us again. This time its name is "bird flu," or avian influenza (avian flu). A flu virus identified as H5N1, which has been on scientists’ radar screens since 1997 and particularly since its resurgence in 2003, causes the bird flu. Like the 1918 virus, however, the H5N1 influenza virus is unusually virulent, with the potential to cause a public health catastrophe.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the current outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, which began in Southeast Asia in mid-2003, are the largest and most severe on record. Despite the death or destruction of an estimated 150 million birds, the virus H5N1 is still considered endemic in many parts of Asia. Starting in mid-2005, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, and even Columbia in Latin America began to report H5N1 outbreaks in poultry.

In the current outbreak, more than 100 laboratory-confirmed human cases have been reported in six countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, and China. So far, the disease has manifested only after direct contact with infected poultry or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces. The real nightmare for health experts, which has yet to come, is when the H5N1 virus mutates into a viral strain that can easily jump from person to person. This could set off a pandemic, potentially killing millions of people without immunity to the new strain.

"Made in China?"

Interestingly, chances are that this little bird—just as your shirt, pants, or your Christmas tree lights—is actually "made in China," according to a "bird flu hunter" based in Hong Kong.

Dr. Guan Yi, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, has specialized in the study of avian flu for years. Through research done in a laboratory at Shantou University in mainland China, Dr. Guan and his team have collected and analyzed more than 100,000 samples from birds throughout the country in the last five years. Dr. Guan said that scientific evidence showed that H5N1, the potent avian virus currently spreading worldwide, probably originated in southern China.{mospagebreak}

"Based on all existing scientific evidence, southern China is the birthplace of this disease. It has been repeatedly exported to other places from this location. The virus found in Eastern Europe is the same as we found at Lake Qinghai in China," Dr. Guan said.

Outside of mainland China, bird flu hit Hong Kong the earliest. In 1997, Hong Kong had the first recorded instance of human infection with H5N1. The virus infected 18 people and killed six of them. In early 2003, the virus caused two infections, with one death, in a Hong Kong family that had traveled to southern China.

Following the 1997 bird flu, Dr. Guan and his colleagues have traced the origin of the H5N1 virus back to a single goose in Guangdong, Hong Kong’s neighboring Chinese province.

This pattern is reminiscent of the 2003 SARS epidemic. It also originated in southern China and then spread to the rest of world, claiming about 800 lives as the result of a cover-up by the Chinese authorities.

"This is a huge tragedy and a bad joke. It is about the helplessness of human beings. Now the key question is, ‘Why? Why it is just from our region?’ This virus (first) occurred in southern China, and, what’s more, it has been around for as long as 10 years! This is something to which we have to give some reconsideration," said Dr. Guan.

Dr. Guan and his team published their scientific results in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, concluding that the genetic markers of the viruses found in the Qinghai outbreak pointed to southern China as the likely source. The publication of Dr. Guan’s findings, however, got him into trouble with the Chinese communist authorities. After the article appeared in print, China’s Ministry of Agriculture criticized Dr. Guan’s conclusions and the quality of his research. The authorities later shut down his laboratory at Shantou University.

Dr. Guan may not be the only one whose efforts to track down the source of bird flu are not welcome by the Chinese authorities.

A Japanese virologist stunned his colleagues at a meeting in Germany in mid-November when he broke the news of a confidential disclosure from a Chinese scientist that 300 people had died from H5N1 bird flu in China. As the head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease, a WHO-collaborating center for bird flu, Dr. Tashiro said that he got his information through a "private channel," an unofficial, unpublished report about China’s H5N1 infection situation regarding humans that noted the deaths of 300 people.

On November 16, 2005, the Chinese Health Department confirmed the first three human cases of bird flu in China; two of the infected died. Among them were a sister and brother in Hunan Province. Back in October, the authorities denied the presence of bird flu, saying only that the sister died of an unknown type of pneumonia. Because her body was cremated immediately, the actual cause of death will never be known. WHO insisted on sending medical personnel to check on the brother, who survived, and finally confirmed that the boy had had H5N1.{mospagebreak}

China has so far reported seven human cases of bird flu: three fatalities in eastern Anhui Province, two recovered cases in central Hunan Province and northeast Liaoning Province, one in the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and one in the eastern province of Jiangxi. The most recent fatality was reported on December 29, 2005. The infected individual was a 41-year-old factory worker surnamed Zhou in Sanming City, Fujian Province. She showed symptoms of fever and pneumonia on December 6 and was hospitalized two days later. She died on December 21, according to a report released by the Health Ministry.

China’s Special Concerns

As the bird flu continues to spread across the borders of Asian countries to Europe and other parts of the world, fears of an ultimate pandemic are also starting to mount. To cope with such a possible pandemic, governments worldwide are trying to stockpile medicines and vaccines against the flu virus. Apart from these efforts, China is an area of particular concern for other reasons.

In China, domestic flocks are not only a major source of meat but also an important part of farmers’ domestic economy. Every family in the countryside raises domestic fowl and lives in close proximity to its birds. Because 80 percent of its population resides in rural areas, China presents a vast danger zone of opportunity for the avian flu virus to jump to human beings. Once in a human being, the real threat is that the virus could then mutate and acquire, if it ever happens, the ability to be spread from person to person.

To halt the spread of bird flu, the first step is to control the source of infection and break the chain of transmission once it is identified. It is necessary to cull and destroy all the remaining live domestic fowl in the epidemic area as soon as possible. Such a strategy appears to be just a matter of implementation, but in China it can be a daunting task to put into practice.

In most instances, the financial loss and damage to the family economy is too devastating for many low-income farmers to ever overcome, making the farmers usually very reluctant to report any suspected cases of avian flu. Nor is it to the benefit of local officials to insist on such a report because of the negative publicity and possible damage to the local economy. In some instances, those who reveal the presence of the epidemic can even face retaliation and punishment.

According to a report by the Chongqing Morning News on December 4, 2005, and later picked up by many other media outlets, Qiao Songju, a farmer who came from Jiangsu Province and raised geese and ducks in Lianyin Village in Anhui Province, received just such treatment. After learning of a sudden, massive death of geese and the villagers’ plan to transport the geese to other areas for sale, Qiao reported to the Ministry of Agriculture his suspicion that this was an avian flu outbreak. The Ministry confirmed the presence of the H5N1 flu virus and 126,185 fowl were subsequently eliminated. Qiao’s action caused resentment among the local farmers and also angered the local officials. Two days after the epidemic was publicized, the local public security department arrested Qiao on charges of being involved in fraud two years before. At the police station, Qiao was asked: "How much money did you get from the Ministry of Agriculture (as a reward)? Who encouraged you to report? Do you realize the severe losses you’ve caused?" Qiao said that he didn’t get any reward from the Ministry of Agriculture and denied that he had ever committed any crime.{mospagebreak}

In battling the avian flu, the government claims to provide subsidies to compensate for the loss to farmers. But farmers say that they are empty promises. Qiao complained to Agriculture Minster Ja Youlin, "If the government would give us full compensation, there would be no need for me to report." He said that many farmers are unwilling to report any outbreak because the subsidies fall too far short of making up for their losses.

Hu Jia, a famous AIDS activist in China, explains that either the government does not fulfill the promise or, when it does, officials at each level of government skim off a portion of the money, with only a small fraction ending up in the farmer’s hand.

Due to insufficient knowledge about avian flu, farmers usually do not pay much attention to the potential danger of infection in human beings. Farmers rarely bury their infected poultry after it has been destroyed. They either cook and eat it or sell to middlemen who collect the carcasses and then sell them to various restaurants. After special cooking, the difference between a diseased bird and a healthy one is almost indiscernible.

Media Not Transparent

Media transparency is another area of particular concern in China. Asia Times compiled a "Top 12" list of online news items that were blocked in China in 2005. Avian flu is listed as number nine. Asia Times reported that the Chinese media did not confirm the avian flu breakout until after the news was posted on the Internet and widely reported by the media outside of China.

An article entitled "Avian Flu: China Should Confess to the World" in Asia Times on November 21, 2005, revealed that China kept a secret policy on avian flu before 2004. Since 2000, many research groups in China have already been investigating avian flu viruses, including H5N1 and another less virulent virus (H9N2), and vaccines. The article also quoted a report by First Financial Daily on November 11, 2005, that Chinese scientists have isolated three clones of the H5N1 virus in addition to other virus subtypes from sick poultry between 1995 and1999. The results were published in the fourth 2002 issue of Biological Bulletin.

China has also tried to prevent foreign media from visiting the avian flu epidemic area. On February 4, 2004, Reporters Without Borders revealed that Chinese police detained TV reporters from France 2 TV for two hours in a Beijing suburb, alleging that the reporters had videotaped the vaccination process of domestic poultry without permission. In outbreaks of avian flu in other provinces at the end of January, China also prohibited foreign media, including European TV ARD, France 2 TV, and BBC, from visiting those areas.{mospagebreak}

In a commentary article published in First Financial Daily on October 31, 2005, Hu Shuli, the outspoken chief editor of Caijing (Finance, one of the top financial magazines in China), criticized the practice of China’s domestic media reporting on avian flu outbreaks only after the news is well known outside the country. She also complained that local officials had stymied her journalists’ attempts to explore the death of a 12-year-old girl in Hunan Province, the first possible human H5N1 influenza case publicly reported in China.

Scientists have long been mystified by the low number of cases in humans reported in China, which has had such severe bird flu outbreaks in 11 provinces across the country that it recently announced plans to vaccinate 14.2 billion chickens, geese, and ducks. Far smaller countries with less severe bird flu outbreaks have reported many more human cases. Vietnam has reported 91 cases of bird flu in humans, with 41 deaths, whereas China has just recently started to report human cases, with seven cases of infection in humans resulting in three deaths.

In an aired phone interview, a resident of Anhui Province said: "We did not know this at first. A student was sent to a hospital that specialized in respiratory diseases. We were just told that it was pneumonia. The doctor, who said that the student had gotten infected from domestic poultry, could do nothing about this disease. Later I asked, ‘What pneumonia? Isn’t it just bird flu?’ He laughed and said he had to listen to his superiors, listen to his leaders, and follow the official newspaper. I said, ‘Aren’t you the expert?’ He laughed and said it was not convenient for him to say anything. He could say nothing, and if I continued to ask, I would be asking for trouble."

"Quite honestly, some provinces have the virus and they still haven’t announced any outbreak. I can show direct evidence, even though China is still trying very hard to block my research. The government doesn’t do any surveillance studies, but they say there is no outbreak." Dr. Guan told Reuters, "In the eyes of Chinese officials, any honest information about bird flu could be a threat to their jobs." Dr. Guan continued, "The leaders say they are working very hard, because they don’t want to sacrifice their political futures. But for the international community, they have nothing to share. They don’t want to lose their prestige, their power, or their position—like the Health Minister who lost his job in the SARS outbreak. They want to mask things. That’s why they only allow one laboratory to do any work. Then they have only one version, and they can manipulate the figures."

"The outside world has no way of verifying the information," the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily commented in an investigative report in November. "The Beijing authorities are imposing a tight blockade on news from the epidemic-affected areas," the newspaper said. "There are now numerous clues indicating that some people are covering up the epidemic situation or are too afraid to make the epidemic situation known to the public."{mospagebreak}

On Thursday, December 29, 2005, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang pledged at a regular press briefing that China would continue to strengthen its cooperation with the world community to deal with the challenge of bird flu. But Qin still did not respond to WHO’s requests to share more samples of bird flu collected from animal and human cases with the international society, which would help to develop anti-bird flu drugs and vaccines and trace the mutation of the virus.The article is partially based on the script of a TV program "China Today" by Journey to the East.

Xiao Yang is a reporter for Journey to the East, a TV program, and Wei Zou is a correspondent for Chinascope.

The Chinese Media’s Freezing Point

The latest assault by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on freedom of information hit the popular weekly magazine Bingdian (Freezing Point), which is affiliated with the China Youth Daily. Publication of Bingdian was suspended by the Chinese communist regime on January 24, 2006. Editor-in-Chief Li Datong[1] and Assistant Editor-in-Chief Lu Yuegang were subsequently stripped of all editorial responsibilities.

The event that triggered this retribution was an article published in Bingdian on January 11, 2006, entitled "Between Modernization and the History Textbooks" by Yuan Weishi, a history professor at Zhongshan University in Guangdong Province.

In the article, Professor Yuan used the metaphor "children fed on wolf’s milk" to describe students in China who are taught distorted history. Citing numerous examples from a widely used history textbook, Yuan concluded that the content of this textbook was based on three premises: 1) present Chinese culture is superior to all others; 2) foreign culture is invariably evil and has corrupted the pure nature of the present Chinese culture; 3) it is right and acceptable to use political power and totalitarian means to eradicate evil in the realm of ideology. This article drew the attention of the CCP to the magazine and led to its suspension.

Founded in January 1995 and published every Wednesday, Bingdian was outspoken in its unreserved criticism of the Chinese communist regime’s policies. Most noticeably, in late 2003 the magazine published an article based on an interview with human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. That article detailed the plight of property owners whose properties had been expropriated so that the state could lease them out to generate income. In 2004, Bingdian published an open letter directly criticizing Zhao Yong, who was the General Secretary of the Youth League, for his remark bidding good riddance to any news reporter who did not want to take Party orders.

Given how Bingdian has offended some senior Party members, many see the removal of its chief editors as a kind of revenge that also serves the purpose of "killing one man to terrorize a thousand."

The news of Bingdian‘s fate immediately caught the public’s attention in China. Thirteen senior Party members wrote an open letter in the magazine’s defense, among them Zhu Houze, the former Head of the Central Publicity Department; Li Rui, former secretary to Chairman Mao Zedong; Li Pu, Vice-President of the China News Agency; and Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of People’s Daily.

Echoing the CCP’s confrontation with Bingdian is its encounter with Google. {mospagebreak}

Since 2000, Google has had a Chinese-language version of its website, which mirrors its English version with uncensored news and webpages. The Chinese authorities did not like it. Using the "Great Firewall of China" (online filters), the regime caused Google to run with annoying slowness and sometimes not at all. The option given to Google was to launch a new site in the Chinese language——which is heavily censored with the communist government’s preferences. China’s websurfers now have a choice: They can use either slow, often-interrupted, relatively uncensored or speedy, self-censored

As an example, typing in "Tiananmen" on brings up photos showing row upon row of tanks, the unforgettable afterimage of the tragedy of 1989, and links to that event begin the entries. Do the same search with, and the result is innumerable links to tourist information on Tiananmen, with a snapshot of U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and his wife posing on their visit to Tiananmen Square.

By purging dissident editors in the state-controlled Chinese media, the Chinese communist regime enforces its control over the Chinese press and its influence on the Chinese people. However, in the Internet age, this alone is not enough. To keep freedom of the press "below the freezing point," the regime also needs to seal off channels of free information on the Internet from overseas. The launch of the highly self-censored by one of the largest American Internet companies indicates that the regime’s tactic of enticing businesses in but coercing them to conform to Communist Party standards is working.

To the top management of Google, this may sound like a simple trade-off. Yet, as a U.S. company, Google also has social responsibilities. When American companies give in to the Chinese communist regime and become helping hands in information censorship, they betray both American principles and 1.3 billion Chinese people.

[1] Li Datong, Chief Editor of the magazine Bingdian (Freezing Point), was stripped of his position as ordered by the Ministry of Propaganda after he fallowed publication of an article that challenged the Chinese history books in the January 2006 issue. Bingdian under Li has been one of the more liberal magazines that has won the votes of its readers by has offended regime authorities in China.

Rising from Coalminer to Human Rights Defender

It was a cold winter day on January 20, 2006. Gao Zhisheng was driving back to his hometown, a village with a population of 200 in one of the poorest regions in northwestern China. It was a planned, five-hour journey. Mr. Gao was not alone: An entourage of over eight state vehicles escorted him on this homecoming trip. It was the 84th day since the police had put him under surveillance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Because Mr. Gao has openly supported rights activists, victims of government abuses, and Falun Gong, the Communist Party views him as a priority security risk and ordered his law firm shut down. He has also been the target of an assassination attempt and death threats. The communist regime has investigated every member of Gao’s extended family in his hometown.

None of this appears to have affected Mr. Gao.

Mr. Gao’s Early Life

In 1964, Mr. Gao was born in a cave where his family lived. Their home was dug out of a hillside in the Loess Plateau in Shaanxi Province, northwestern China.

The family was so poor that the older brother regularly sold his blood to support the family. When Gao’s father died of cancer at the age of 41, the family could not afford a coffin.

Mr. Gao started out in life searching for Chinese herbs in the hills. With the help of an uncle, Gao attended junior high school. At the age of 15, he went to work as a coal miner. On his way home from the coal mine, he begged for food. One of the happiest moments in his life, as he recalled, was the time he was stranded far away from home and an old stone carver gave him 5 yuan (US$0.6 at today’s exchange rate), the old man’s wages for three days.

Gao Zhisheng was very close to his mother, who passed away in 2005. He recalled that during his childhood, his mother would invite homeless people to share their limited food and sleep in their cramped and shabby cave, even though his family often went to bed with empty stomachs. His mother called these homeless people "our relatives." Today Mr. Gao still provides financial support to some of these "relatives." His mother’s kindness and compassion toward the have-nots influenced Gao in his mission to assist the weak and downtrodden in his later years.

From Army to Attorney

In 1982, Mr. Gao joined the People’s Liberation Army in the hope of having a better life. Stationed at a base in Kashgar in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, he received a secondary-school education and became a Communist Party member.{mospagebreak}

There he met his wife, who was also in the PLA. Gao was not considered good-looking among the other young service men, as she recalled. In 1985, he was discharged from the service at the age of 21 and began working as a food vendor.

Fate intervened one day in 1991 when he picked a torn piece of newspaper up off the street. It had been left by one of his customers who had used it to wrap vegetables. He saw an article about how to become an attorney by means of a self-taught program.

Within two and half years, Gao had completed all 14 courses by studying wherever he went. Against all odds—the pass rate was one percent—he passed the bar in 1994.

Legal Career

By 1995, Mr. Gao was a licensed attorney in Urumuqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Anticipating a future as a public figure, he got up early in the morning and walked down rows of wheat, imagining the field an auditorium full of important officials. He delivered lectures in a loud booming voice to quivering stalks.

Victims of government abuses soon started to line up in Gao’s office for help: "Attorney Gao, whatever you say, we will do it. If you do not have a way, we still have one—suicide and self-immolation." He would draft a complaint for them or introduce them to the media. If nothing helped, he would pay for their trip home.

On July 15, 1998, Mr. Gao read an article in China Lawyers Daily that contained a plea for free legal representation for a boy, Zou Weiyi, who had lost his hearing due to an overdose of the antibiotic gentamicin at a local state hospital. The newspaper rejected Gao’s initial offer because "the retaining of a Xinjiang attorney would shame the 150,000 attorneys in Beijing." Gao was finally selected when no other attorney offered to take the case pro bono as he did. Gao eventually won a 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) payout for settlement on appeal, a headline-generating sum and the largest medical malpractice award in China at that time. However, the sacrifices this family made during the years they were seeking justice were enormous. "For over seven years the family was homeless. They slept in bus stations, on piers and along the streets, and begged for food," said Gao.

Several years later, Mr. Gao won another, similar case in which a boy, Zhou Chenghan, lost his hearing as a result of medical malpractice. Due to pressure from higher authorities on the court to rule in favor of the state hospital, the victims did not receive any compensation. In closing, Gao addressed the court: "Your honor, when morality, truth, and conscience lose power, the society loses power. Today, under the banner of justice in this court, what is really happening is that morality, conscience, humanity, and truth are all losing power. The police, the prosecutor, the court, the defendant hospital, the Public Health Administration, the Communist Party Committee, and the government are acting in unison against a disabled child."{mospagebreak}

Gao Zhisheng quickly developed a reputation for winning pro bono cases. In the case of a three-year-old boy who drank from a water bottle that contained a toxic solution to keep fish fresh in the farmers’ market, Gao opened his argument in court: "If the defendants are rational, what you lose is money—you compensate the boy. If you are not rational, you will lose integrity and the money." Gao won the case, but it was too late. The child died due to lack of early treatment.

As a result of his zealousness in helping the victims of government abuses, Gao was called "a pro bono mad dog." Gao disagrees: "As an attorney, pro bono legal representation is not my goal. It is, rather, an acceptance without choice. When you learn about their pain and suffering, their tears are your tears. What choice do you have?"

In 2001, the China Ministry of Justice named him one of the top 10 attorneys in the National Advocacy Competition, a title that the Ministry of Justice retracted in 2005 after Gao became a target of the communist regime.

Against the Odds

In the summer of 2005, the authorities detained Zhu Jiuhu, an attorney, for "disturbing public order” while representing private investors in oil wells that were seized by the communist government in Gao’s home province, Shaanxi. Mr. Zhu had sued the government for violating the rights of these investors.

Mr. Gao became an attorney in Zhu’s defense, joining a team of fellow attorneys and journalists. He camped out in local government offices until officials agreed to meet him. He told one Party boss in a recorded conversation, "You will forever be on the wrong side of the law and on the wrong side of the conscience of the people unless you let Mr. Zhu go."

Mr. Zhu was released from police custody in the fall of 2005 after an intensive publicity campaign mounted by his supporters and led by Gao. Since then, Zhu has been under a highly restrictive bail arrangement that bans him from practicing law.

Turning his enemies’ weapons against themselves is a typical Gao tactic, as is pushing a situation to its limit. Last year he went to Shaanxi Province to investigate the alleged confiscation of private oil wells by the regime authorities. On the way, he heard that the authorities were lying in wait to detain him. He drove to the police station and confronted the police chief. "I told him I had saved him a lot of bother so at the very least he should pay for my transportation costs," said Mr. Gao. "The chief reimbursed me my car rental cost and arranged for a police car to drive me home."{mospagebreak}

Of late, Mr. Gao has defended adherents of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that the communist regime outlawed in 1999 as a major threat to its monopolized power.

The communist regime has prohibited any attorneys in China from filing lawsuits on behalf of Falun Gong. In November 2005, Mr. Gao slipped police surveillance to investigate claims of police torture and sexual abuse of Falun Gong in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province.

After his investigation, he wrote an open letter addressed to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. In the letter, Gao said that the secret police had tortured Falun Gong members to try to make them renounce Falun Gong. "A mother and son died in police custody within 10 days of each other," he said. "Police told the boy’s father he had committed suicide by jumping from a window, but they wouldn’t let him see where the tragedy took place or his son’s body. They still have the corpse more than a month later. It is disgraceful." In his letter, he described a police-run, extrajudicial "brainwashing base” where, he said, Falun Gong members were first starved and then force-fed until they threw up. Female Falun Gong members were routinely raped while in police custody.

"These calamitous deeds did not begin with the two of you [referring to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao],” he wrote, "but they have continued under your political watch, and it is a crime that you have not stopped them.”

In addition to Falun Gong, Mr. Gao represents underground "house church" Christians. He is one of the attorneys for a house church pastor, Cai Zhuohua, in Beijing. Mr. Cai was arrested for printing and distributing Bibles to Christians in China and convicted of running an "illegal business operation" a year later in November 2005. On December 21, 2005, Gao issued an investigative report regarding persecutions against house church leaders and Christian believers in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. He quoted at great length from 13 Christians who have been subjected to intense persecution, including torture and inhuman treatment, while in police custody.

On December 13, 2005, Mr. Gao declared that he had quit "the cruel, untrustworthy, inhumane, and evil Party." "This is the proudest day of my life," wrote Gao. Later he was baptized and became a Christian in an underground house church in Beijing.

Many in China and elsewhere are closely following the events surrounding Gao. At a website sponsored by The Epoch Times, one posted a message: "There is a shining star high up in the dark night sky. It is not alone-people on earth are all watching it."

Xiao Tian is a correspondent for Chinascope.

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