In the U.S., Americans rely on insurance to protect against disasters. In China, families rely on themselves. CNBC Asia's Eunice Yoon has more from Beijing.
By Adrienne Mong, NBC News
Imagine a day-long storm with torrential rains and high winds pounding your home. By the time it blows over, you have lost everything you own. And you have no insurance.
This was the scenario in July for residents of Fangshan, a district 50 miles from the center of China's capital Beijing.
Some 18 inches of rainfall dumped on Fangshan, causing a normally dry river to overflow and flood the surrounding homes. Half of the 77 people killed as a result of the storm were in Fangshan – as were half of the estimated 57,000 people forced to evacuate their homes.
Liu Su Xia, a spirited 60-year-old grandmother, was in her house when the water rushed into the single-story courtyard building.
"I was terrified," she said. "The water was this red color and went everywhere."
She grabbed a ladder and clambered up to the second floor window of her neighbor's house to watch. As soon as the water receded, she climbed back down and began cleaning what she could.
When her 63-year-old husband Xin Zhong Qi returned from the city center, where he was working on a construction site, they toiled together all night and into the next day to salvage what they could.
"There was nothing worth saving," Xin said. "We had to throw everything away."
As for compensation, "the government still hasn't come forward with a plan," Xin said.
'I can only rely on myself' The flooding in Fangshan highlighted the Chinese state's weaknesses and faults – and also underscored how much ordinary Chinese still have to rely on themselves. In the United States, families rely on homeowners' insurance to protect them against damage from disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, which hit the Northeast in November. But in China, many ordinary people remain unaware of and often unable to buy insurance.
Damage from the flooding across Beijing cost $1.6 billion, according to municipal officials. Authorities have supplied temporary housing in Fangshan and announced plans to help create new permanent housing on safer ground.
But there was plenty of popular outrage over the authorities' handling of the disaster, especially the official casualty count, which many believed to be too low. Then there was criticism over the existing emergency response system, deemed too slow and inefficient. Finally, the destruction of so many homes raised concerns that existing buildings in Fangshan were built on unsafe grounds.
Xin and Liu have not availed themselves of the temporary housing; it wasn't clear whether they were eligible or whether they did not seek out the option.
Miguel Toran / CNBC Asia
Friends help Xin Zhong Qi repair his home after it was damaged by flooding.
"I can only rely on myself," said Xin. "At least 90 percent of the time, you have to rely on yourself."
When asked whether they had ever heard of homeowners' insurance, Liu cackled.
"Aiya! We’re peasants! Who has that kind of money?"
Xin also admitted he doesn't quite understand what it is.
An opportunity? He's probably not the only one. The concept of homeowners' insurance is still new in China. It was barely two decades ago that private home ownership was re-introduced across cities, when the Communist Party gave millions of state workers the opportunity to buy their government-supplied homes at bargain basement rates.
"With around 250 million households entering the middle class in China over the next five or 10 years, that's a great opportunity for insurance products to reach even deeper in the Chinese population," said Joe Ngai, managing partner at McKinsey & Co.'s Hong Kong office.
In fact, McKinsey believes China will be the second largest insurance market in the world after the U.S. in 2020.
"We would think about insurance if it was offered to us," said Yu Shuang, another Fangshan resident whose home was badly damaged by the flood. Yu and her husband used their savings to repair their house and to replace their furniture and car. "But we're not sure whether we would want to look at what the government might offer or buy our own."
Xin, however, remained skeptical.
"We're old. We don't have that many years left. Why bother [buying insurance]? And we don't have any money," he said. "Anyway, this was a once in a lifetime event. One big flood in 60 years."
A feeding station popular with manta rays is not far from the Misool Eco Resort and Conservation Center in Raja Ampat, eastern Indonesia.
By Adrienne Mong, NBC News
RAJA AMPAT, Indonesia —They’ve been described by one scientist as “pandas of the ocean.”
“They’re such an iconic species, beloved by divers,” said Andrea Marshall, director of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, who came up with the description during an interview with NBC News. “They’re just amazing.”
Unlikely as it might seem, the panda and the manta ray have a lot in common.
Just as scientists still haven’t been able to confirm the number of pandas in the wild, they also have no idea how many manta rays exist.
“Globally we don’t know how many manta rays there are,” said Guy Stevens, director of the U.K.-based Manta Trust, whose research is largely based around manta populations in the Maldives.
But -- again, like the panda -- scientists think it’s a small population.
“If they’re lucky, (manta rays) have two pups (over several years). That’s a very low reproductive rate, especially compared to your average fish,” said Dr. Heidi Dewar, a biologist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, part of NOAA.
Anecdotal evidence suggests mantas are under threat, and China may be a major reason for it.
Manta rays are vulnerable on two fronts: as bycatch — getting caught in industrial fishing nets targeting different types of tuna — and, increasingly, because of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM.
Manta rays are abundant in the waters around Raja Ampat, eastern Indonesia.
Manta rays are harvested for their gill rakers, which allow the fish to filter food from water. Some Chinese believe theyhave healing properties or are good at cleaning out toxins. One Chinese-language website claims gill rakers enhance the immune system, promote blood circulation and aid in the treatment of cancer, skin disease and infertility.
“It’s just cartilage,” said Dewar, echoing skepticism expressed by many scientists.
Medicinal fad? Conservationists say manta rays aren’t even considered “traditional” medicine and argue no reference to the animal can be found in TCM books dating back a century. But with rising incomes that enable Chinese consumers to readily adoptmedicinal fads, the impact on manta rays has accelerated over the past 10 to 15 years.
“A lot of it is completely unrecorded,” said Stevens, who worked on a project founded by Shark Savers and WildAid to document the scope of gill-raker harvesting.
Researchers looked at the location, value and species involved. “It does seem the majority of all of those gills that are being traded are ending up in China,” Stevens said.
The conclusion, published in a report called Manta Ray of Hope, found that roughly 3,400 manta rays and 94,000 mobulas(related to the manta ray family) are caught each year, but the numbers reflect only reported catches. “Unreported and subsistence fisheries will mean true landings are much higher,” the report said.
Visits to random TCM shops in Beijing and Shanghai turned up no gill rakers. In fact, a veteran pharmacist at Tongrentang, a long-established purveyor of traditional Chinese and herbal medicines, said she had never heard of manta rays being used this way.
But the Manta Ray of Hope report estimates a mature ocean manta could yield up to 15 pounds of dried gills that can bring in as much as $230 a pound in a market in China.
Marshall said she has noticed an uptick in manta fishing. “I’ve been (in Mozambique) in the last decade … and we’ve seen an 87 percent decline in the population because of the fishing.”
Unlike many shippers, Chinese merchants who transport cheap products from the mainland for export to Africa “want to fill [their unloaded cargo vessels] with resources wherever they go. In Africa, they fill it up with wood, fish or shark’s fin,” she said. “They’ll go out to the local fisheries along the coastline and scout for these products.”
The scientist has spoken to members of local communities, who say the Chinese offer “new nets, new lines, new hooks. (The Chinese traders) say to them, ‘If you get the sharks or the mantas or the turtles, you get all the meat. You can keep all the meat. You just sell us the things you don’t normally eat.'”
Protecting a ‘threatened’ species Mantas were listed last year as “threatened” under the international Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species.
“In the last two years, we have conducted evaluations of the manta ray and submitted a recommendation to the government to list it as a protected species,” said Professor Wang Yanmin from Shandong University’s Marine College.
“There is no regulation for protecting the manta ray so sales of mantas are not illegal,” said Feng Yongfeng, founder of Green Beagle, a group that promotes environmental protection.
Groups like Manta Trust are focusing on getting manta rays listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). But scientists have their work cut out for them.
“It’s very difficult to get listed on CITES. They ask for a lot of detail that is difficult to pin down,” said Marshall. “Maybe in the terrestrial world, biologists can provide those kinds of details. When you’re talking about the megafauna [or large marine species] world, it’s very difficult.”
Marshall – who discovered a second type of manta ray in 2008 and is in the process of identifying a third -- acknowledges little is known about them.
AFP - Getty Images file
A huge manta ray weighing more than 2,200 pounds and measuring nearly 9 yards in length was caught off the eastern coast of China this past September.
Manta births a mystery Vexing questions include the manta’s life span, details of their reproductive ecology and migratory patterns.
“I could wrap my life up in 20 minutes if I could talk to them,” she joked. “It has been driving me insane for the last ten years because I haven’t been able to figure out where they give birth. It’s 2012 and nobody has ever seen a manta give birth in the wild.”
And research is painstaking. For one, concentrations of the animal tend to be around far-flung islands. Stevens of Manta Trust cited the costs of tracking mantas and the difficulty in locating and knowing how to study them.
With technological improvements, however, scientists are gaining some ground. Satellite tags are one way to help the research. “What do they do when we can’t observe them? I’d love to follow an animal to find out how they spend their time,” said Stevens. “The tagging gives you small glimpses of them.”
Two dive instructors at the Misool Eco Resort and Conservation Center in Raja Ampat have uncovered a revenue stream to offset research costs: tourism.
“One manta ray can raise $1 million (U.S. dollars) in tourism income over its lifetime,” said Rebecca Pilkington-Vincett, citing a figure contained in the Manta Ray of Hope report.
With the blessing of the resort, Pilkington-Vincett and Calvin Beale launched a research project off the surrounding reefs.
Last season, the duo raised $32,000 from donations by recreational divers who accompanied them on dives to gather DNA samples and tag the mantas.
With the money, they have bought three satellite tags and collected numerous DNA samples. They are sending off the data to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for analysis by a graduate student.
With online databases such as the Manta Research Project, where some of Pilkington-Vincett and Beale’s data are logged, or the Manta Matcher, developed by Marshall and operating much “like the FBI fingerprint online database,” research on the manta ray has become rooted in a global exchange among scientists and amateurs alike.
Until its secrets are fully revealed, the manta’s mystique seems guaranteed.
“I think it’s fascinating,” said Dewar of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, “that there is such a large and amazing creature that has so many mysteries attached to it.”
Additional research by Le Li, Johanna Armstrong and Yanzhou Liu.
London's multicultural spirit on display at the Summer Games includes food and drink. NBC's Adrienne Mong reports on London's coffee revolution.
By Adrienne Mong
LONDON — The British capital won the 2012 Summer Olympic bid with a pitch for its multicultural spirit. And in the past two weeks, that claim has been borne out by a batch of gold medalists hailing from diverse backgrounds — take for instance, heptathlete Jessica Ennis (British-Jamaican) or long-distance runner Mo Farah (British-Somali), who won the men's 10,000-meter race.
But London’s multicultural spirit lives not just in the people but also the food and drink.
Take coffee, for instance.
In the past decade, this most devotedly tea-drinking city has seen an independent coffee culture gradually take root and flourish, led by the "flat white," a coffee import from Australia and New Zealand that was readily adopted by London's caffeine brigade.
The coffee drink that’s a lifestyle
"It's an espresso with some milk in it," said Gwilym Davies, who opened Prufrock Coffee, an independent coffee house in Holborn almost two years ago.
It sounds simple, but it's not.
The espresso machine at Prufrock Coffee gets a regular workout.
In fact, explaining what goes into a flat white can lead to a lot of discussion over proportions of coffee to milk — a debate that some of the independent café owners now find tedious.
“[D]escribe it as a latte with less milk or a cappuccino with less foam or however you will,” said Anette Moldvaer of Square Mile Coffee Roasters. (Fans say the flat white tastes like a very strong latte, ie, more bean, less milk.)
"There's a lot of mystique around essentially what you could argue is just a balance of milk, foam, and espresso,” said Ben Townsend, owner of The Espresso Room, a tiny gem of a café also tucked away in Holborn that opened in 2009. Ultimately, he added, the "flat white describes a style rather than a specific drink."
That style is very much a London hybrid.
London’s multicultural coffee scene Moldvaer, Townsend, and Davies comprise a group of aficionados who have built a London coffee culture that now rivals – some of the independent café owners say even surpasses – those of Italy, where the espresso was invented.
“[I]f you look at all the major continental brands, the Lavazzas, the Illys, they dominate the market, and…I’ve never seen transparent listings of where the coffee’s from. It’s just named as Illy or whatever,” said Townsend.
The Espresso Room is tucked away on a Holborn side street.
Whereas in London, the independent cafes learned from the Scandinavian countries, adopting “their roasting styles and their ability to get good green beans from the farmers,” said Davies. Depending on the season, the beans might come from far-flung countries in Latin America (for example, Guatemala) or Africa (at the moment, Ethiopia or Kenya). "It's a seasonal product, and therefore it will taste different from month to month, season to season," said Townsend.
Combined with what some describe as “Australian-style” service and speed, London’s cafes have produced their own hybrid culture. “The London scene has been an incredible fusion of quality and speed, and I think you can easily say that London coffee is equal – at its best – to anywhere in the world,” said Townsend.
Even so, “the independent coffee culture here is still young and in constant development, very much creating and educating its customer base as it goes along,” said Moldvaer. She and her business partner James Hoffmann started Square Mile Coffee Roasters in 2007 “to help London serve and drink better coffee.”
Along with other outlets such Workshop (formerly known as St. Ali—a Melbourne outpost), the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, and Allpress Espresso, the independent coffee houses have also had an impact on the chains.
In 2009, Starbucks and Costa in the U.K. rolled out their own version of the flat white. The move within weeks made the flat white, as one observer put it, “as edgy as a soy latte.” (For non-coffee drinkers, that's a diss.)
London has seen a rapid growth in independent coffee houses during the past few years.
In the meantime, purveyors like Prufrock are happy that customers have moved onto the coffee itself. “We’re finding a growth…in black coffee,” said Davies. “And we’re exploring different farms, different varieties, different processing of the coffee bean and exploring the flavor essentially.”
Coffee has come such a long way in London that inevitably one wonders, what will happen to tea?
“You can’t replace our tea,” protested Davies. “I love my tea. If there’s a little disaster going on, I sit down and we have tea.”
China's Communist party unleashed its full weight against former politician Bo Xilai and his wife at the center of a murder scandal Wednesday. ITN's Angus Walker reports from Beijing.
By Adrienne Mong
LONDON—China’s biggest political scandal in decades has embroiled not just the U.S. but increasingly the U.K.
The series of publicly known events culminating in the removal of rising political star Bo Xilai from power appeared to have been triggered by an attempt by Bo’s former police chief to seek asylum in a U.S. consulate in Chengdu back in February.
However, it looks increasingly like it was the death of a British businessman last year that set off the chain of events. And while it might not lead to any firings in the U.K. government, it certainly appears to have ruffled feathers in London.
Murder in Chonqging? Last November, Neil Heywood — a 41-year old Briton who liked to hint at a life of intrigue (his license plate contained the numbers 007) — was found dead last November in his hotel room in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, which at the time was under Bo’s stewardship. The cause of death was initially reported as cardiac arrest from overconsumption of alcohol.
Now it looks as though Bo’s ex-crimefighter, Wang Lijun, had evidence suggesting that Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai had engineered Heywood’s death.
Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images
Chinese Communist Party official Li Changchun and British Prime Minister David Cameron met at Downing Street Tuesday.
New details on Tuesday about Wang’s frantic 36-hour stay at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in February suggest he tried to give American diplomats information implicating Gu in Heywood’s death and demonstrating that Bo had tried to prevent an investigation into his wife’s role.
In a startling revelation, also on Tuesday, sources close to the Chinese investigation told Reuters that Heywood had threatened to expose Gu’s plan to move large sums of money overseas after a dispute over his cut from the transaction.
Chinese officials began stepping up their inquiry into Heywood’s death after Wang was whisked away by Beijing authorities following his visit to the U.S. consulate.
In Britain, opposition members of Parliament (MPs) have raised questions whether the U.K. government had been too cautious or slow to raise concerns in the case because it did not want to jeopardize commercial prospects in China.
During Tuesday’s Parliament session, Foreign Secretary William Hague presented MPs with a detailed timetable of events surrounding Heywood’s death.
“We have demanded an investigation. The Chinese authorities have agreed to conduct an investigation. There’s been a further discussion of that this afternoon,” he told MPs. “
Hague said Foreign Office officials first heard in mid-January of rumors circulating amongst British expats in China.
But it wasn’t until a month later — a day after Wang’s ill-fated visit to the U.S. consulate — that officials flagged the case with Hague and other ministers back in London.
British government under heat Hague’s appearance in Parliament coincided with a visit to 10 Downing Street by one of China’s top ministers, Li Changchun.
Li — the propaganda chief and a member of the all-powerful Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee — held a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who raised the matter with him.
In an abrupt departure from the earlier muted approach, Cameron has promised to demand more from the Chinese on Heywood’s death, which has become tabloid fodder over here. Cameron also read the riot act to his intelligence chiefs.
The Foreign Office has declined to comment further on Li’s meeting or the situation regarding Heywood.
The story, in the meantime, continues to rivet the public in Britain and in China.
“I guess it’s just a good story for normal people,” said an overseas Chinese national now living in London who only wanted to be identified as Lucy. “Murder, high-powered officials, it’s got all the ingredients.”
A shopper at an Adidas outlet in Beijing prepares to buy a souvenir Jeremy Lin T-shirt.
By Adrienne Mong
BEIJING – Asian-Americans continue to be the fastest growing ethnic population in the U.S., according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released on Wednesday.
The data, which come weeks ahead of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in May, also demonstrates how integral a part of the American fabric Asians have been. As many as 1.5 million businesses in the U.S. are owned by Asians. More than a quarter million have served in the U.S. military. And nearly half of the Asian-American electorate voted in the 2008 presidential election.
And yet while generations of Asians have integrated into American society, a small but growing number of the 3.8 million Asian-Americans of Chinese descent are finding themselves in mainland China to study or to work.
Especially since the 2008 global economic crisis, many ethnic Chinese are seeking economic opportunities in China as emigrants. Almost all are also motivated by cultural heritage interests.
At the same time, Jeremy Lin's popularity has reignited discussions about identity among Chinese-Americans that are unlikely to wane as quickly as Linsanity.
A cupcake shop, a brewery and a barbecue restaurant are just three of a growing number of small businesses started by Americans in China. Rock Center travels to Beijing to see how some are pursuing their entrepreneur dreams in another country.
One writer for the sports website Grantland hit on the issue during the height of Lin hype last month: "These have been a revealing two weeks, not only for the Asian-American community or the Ivy League basketball community or the talent evaluator committee, but also for the watchdogs, handwringers, and pulpit-thumpers. Not since Barack Obama's presidential campaign has there been so much national discussion about the appropriateness of discussing race."
And in China, where many American-born Chinese have gravitated over the past few years, race and nationality intersect in interesting, sometimes confusing, ways.
Brittney Wong feels "even less Chinese" in China than she expected.
"I realized how American I am," said the 23-year old Seattle native, who recently arrived in Beijing for a year-long intensive Chinese language course. "Which is strange, because I just assumed I would just blend in perfectly here."
Cultural disconnect But in trying to befriend local Chinese, Wong came to see that "learning about their experiences in high school and their lives, how they lived so far, [are] so different from my experiences. Even their personalities."
The cultural disconnect is compelling enough to have provided some inspiration for a new feature-length film.
Daniel Hsia is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who has just wrapped up production for "Shanghai Calling," a movie about American expats in Shanghai. "The world is turning on its head. Expectations are being reversed all the time," said Hsia.
In the movie, the main protagonist is a Chinese-American executive whose employer sends him to Shanghai. "I thought it would be more interesting to have the character [be] of Chinese descent but completely ignorant of Chinese culture. It just creates more conflict. It's more interesting to watch a character who looks like he fits in but doesn't."
Sometimes the cross-culture experience makes people feel even more American.
"In many ways, being in China has caused me to have a strong appreciation for just how American I am," said Jason Chu, a 25-year old Delaware native. "It has helped me come to terms or embrace the positive aspects of being distinctly Asian-American."
Chu is wrapping up two years in Beijing, where he has been dividing his time between serving as a pastor and writing music. The child of ethnic Chinese parents from Malaysia and Thailand, he grew up speaking English and began learning Chinese in college in the U.S.
Novelist Gish Jen discusses the sometimes complicated relationship between native Chinese and Chinese Americans with NBC's Adrienne Mong.
Speaking fluent Chinese, Chu has found, is perhaps the most critical determinant of authenticity. "There is this sort of disappointment that many Chinese-Americans are familiar with, where if you look Chinese or people know you're Chinese and your Chinese language isn't good, you're less of a person," he said.
Writer Gish Jen, on a recent trip to Beijing, recalled similar reactions when she first visited the mainland in the 1980s.
"In the early days, I used to feel they were quite critical," said Jen, one of a handful of hyphenated American novelists who led the multicultural wave of fiction in the U.S. in the early 1990s. "They saw me as a sort of fallen Chinese… You don't even speak Chinese, what's the matter with you."
Asian body with a Western mind Although Jen believes mainstream Chinese attitudes toward overseas Chinese such as herself have improved, she thinks many still fail to understand what it means to be American.
"I don't think they understand what it means to be in between [China and the U.S.]," she explained.
The Chinese "don't distinguish between nationality and ethnicity," said Chu. "They don't understand that it's possible to have an Asian body but a Western mind."
That seemed to be the case when U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke arrived on the mainland last year. Some Chinese media commentators and bloggers voiced expectations that Locke, an ethnic Chinese born in the U.S., would be more sympathetic to Beijing's point of view. When it became clear that he was here to represent America, some of those same voices accused him of betrayal. One critic called him a "fake foreign devil who cannot even speak Chinese."
For Chinese-Americans like Chu, being in China means more about being American and behaving more overtly like an American. "I dress more differently [than the Chinese here]," he said. "I over-emphasize my foreignness."
Sense of apartness Similarly, Toronto native Lili Gao thinks living in China has brought out a sense of apartness that she said she never experienced growing up in Canada.
"I never had any cultural identity issues in Canada. I speak Chinese, but I'm Canadian," said Gao, who was born in Shanxi before moving to Canada when she was 6 years old. "But then, coming back here, I realized I really was not Chinese. That was an interesting experience to have a clearer idea of identity."
As with many other Westernized Chinese, Gao found the issue of identity to be rooted in communication. Although she speaks fluent Mandarin, the young marketing executive said that social culture was a large hurdle.
"I couldn't possibly get used to it…the way people interact [here,]" she said. "The Chinese have a different way of communicating" that is not simply about language.
Now, having lived in Beijing for five years and working at Chinese companies, Gao finds herself "over-interpreting all the time, even when I'm communicating with foreigners!"
For someone like Jonny Chin, an 18-year-old senior at an international school in Beijing, it's simply that his American identity is much stronger. Even though he was only 6 years old when his parents, originally from Hong Kong, moved the family to China from San Francisco – meaning he has spent two-thirds of his life in Beijing.
"I still refer to America as home," he said. "Like when I say I'm 'going home' for Christmas. And when people ask, 'Where are you from?' I say I'm from the U.S."
With additional research from Brittany Tom and Isabella Zhong
It’s no secret that China has an intellectual property rights problem, but recently it seems it's taken copycatting to new heights.
Over the weekend, a blogsite brought to our attention the rather impressive phenomenon of ripping off movie posters.
But one American’s had enough.
Last week, Conan O’Brien discovered that a Chinese tv program hosted by Da Peng has copied the opening sequence to his own talk show.
“Someone made us aware of it, we looked into it, and it blew my mind,” said O’Brien on his show Monday evening.
“This is a really weird show,” he added before throwing down the glove.
“For years now, China has been ripping off America with cheap knock-offs, right? Well, China, if you’re gonna rip off my show, I think I should rip off their show, don’t you? And let’s see how you like it?”
O’Brien then proceeded to lift from Da Peng’s program pop-up characters in Chinese, the sound effects, and an odd character bunny-hopping in the background, ending with chants of “USA! USA! USA!
Da Peng was not to be upstaged by O'Brien's smackdown.
Chinese tv show host Da Peng responds to Conan O'Brien's smackdown.
The Chinese host began his riposte without fanfare and an apparent humble apology: “I am Da Peng without an opening sequence. Sorry, I’ve embarrassed the Chinese people.”
But the regretful stance quickly becomes a playful joust before lapsing into a lecture--albeit a light-hearted one--about “soft power” and geopolitics.
“For many years, you Americans have tried to push your culture and values onto the entire world. You might be happy to know China has millions of netizens watching your shows and are influenced by your humor,” said Da Peng in his monologue.
“On the other hand, you are always saying, ‘Oh bull@!$%# this is all ripped off,’” he continued. “From this perspective, we’re a bit nicer. China has bought so much of your national debt. But in this show we have never made fun of you running around borrowing money from everyone.”
He concludes with his own chants of “China! China! China!”
If only all international conflicts were this entertaining.
This past winter Beijing has seen some of the worst air pollution since the government promised more "blue sky" days after the 2008 Olympic Games. NBC's Adrienne Mong reports.
By Adrienne Mong, NBC News
BEIJING — Earlier this month, a U.S. study on the economic impact of China’s air pollution was released with little fanfare. Maybe it was because of the series of successive “blue sky” days we were enjoying in the Chinese capital, thanks to the gusty winds blowing down from Mongolia.
The conclusion? “[D]espite improvements in overall air quality,” the cost of air pollution (as in lost economic productivity growth) in China has mushroomed from $22 billion in 1975 to $112 billion in 1995. But for at least one pair of 29-year old software engineers in Beijing, air pollution has actually meant greater economic productivity and a business opportunity.
A killer app Wang Jun and Zhang Bin each moved to Beijing in 2001 to attend college. Zhang, a Fujian native, was a math major at Beijing University while Wang left Inner Mongolia to study traffic infrastructure at Jiaotong University.
They met at a high-tech company, where for three years they worked together. Last year, they decided to strike out on their own and set up Fresh Ideas Studio.
“The primary aim … is creating mobile apps for solving practical problems in our daily lives,” Wang said, on a blustery (but sunny) afternoon at a coffee shop.
Last year saw some of the worst air pollution in Beijing since the 2008 Summer Olympics, spurring intense discussion among Chinese residents, teeth-gnashing among Western expats, and a near-diplomatic spat between the U.S. and China over fine particulate matter in the air known as PM2.5 that can wreak havoc on the respiratory system.
“Recently, the media and Weibo [a popular Chinese microblog like Twitter] users are very concerned about air quality, especially in Beijing,” Wang said.
In particular, there was a lot of online chatter about @Beijing Air, the U.S. embassy Twitter account that posts hourly Air Quality Index(AQI) data.
The readings come from an air quality monitor that sits on top of the embassy in downtown Beijing, and they differ sharply from the daily results posted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).
Fresh Ideas Studios
The 2.0 version of Fresh Ideas Studio's app shows both U.S. and Chinese air quality readings.
AQI values on @BeijingAir range from 0 to 500. A “good” AQI is 0 to 50 or what the Chinese call a “blue sky” day. Unfortunately, many days in 2011 qualified as “unhealthy” to “hazardous.” But on some of those same days, MEP data maintained the levels were “good” or “moderate.” (The Chinese, in fact, claim there were 286 "blue sky" days in 2011.)
“The [Beijing] government says that nearly 80 percent of the days in the last two years met at least the Chinese standard and therefore had good or even excellent air quality,” Steve Andrews, an environmental consultant who has analyzed the @BeijingAir data, said. “While when we look at the U.S. Embassy data … over 80 percent days exceeded what would be considered healthy air quality and more days were hazardous than good.”
Andrews said that Beijing's pollution levels were "six or seven times higher than the U.S.'s most polluted city." "Air pollution at these levels likely shortens life expectancy by about five years," he added.
The discrepancy was due to the fact the U.S. embassy monitor includes PM2.5, a fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter that, according to the EPA, “pose the greatest health risks [and] can lodge deeply into the lungs.”
The Chinese data, however, only measured the much coarser PM10 particles.
Zhang Bin (left) and Wang Jun watch NBC News cameraman David Lom set up for an interview.
“I’m a Twitter user and saw many Tweets about [@BeijingAir],” Zhang said. “Many Weibo users reposted the data, too.”
The software developers decided to try creating a smartphone application that based itself on the @BeijingAir data.
“Sometimes we can tell there’s a gap between what we feel and the data from the government,” Wang said. “This is probably why many prefer the data provided by the U.S. embassy.”
In November, they released a 1.0 version, available only in Chinese and which came with simple but appealing graphics. On good AQI days, the screen background was light and featured a hiking boot, indicating it was time to be outdoors. On bad AQI days, the screen background turned dark, an X marked the boot, and a person’s face wrapped in a mask would pop up.
There were iOS and Android versions of the app. Within weeks, it had been downloaded 80,000 times. At least half of those users checked the app regularly, according to Wang.
Pollution 'ignored' in past Under popular pressure that has been building since last year, Chinese environment authorities in Beijing have agreed to publish PM2.5 data. But they maintain the air quality has improved steadily in recent years.
“We may have had bad pollution in the past, but people probably didn’t pay too much attention to it before so it was just ignored,” said An Xinxin, who works in the Automatic Monitoring Office at the Beijing Environmental Protection Monitoring Center.
The Center relies on anywhere from 30 to 40 monitoring stations. “Almost every district and county in Beijing has its own station,” explained An. “So citizens in every district and county can know what the pollution in their own area is like.”
Like many of his colleagues at the municipal level, An pointed out that the U.S. embassy only uses one monitor. “[It] can only represent one spot at a certain time. Their spot might be very close to the road where there is a lot of vehicle exhaust, which causes a high level of PM2.5,” he said. “Our statistics are an average of Beijing as a whole, not just one spot.”
Zhang has lived in Beijing for more than ten years, but he said he’s not sure whether the air quality has improved or not. “I don’t know if it’s because now I pay more attention [because of the media and online discussion], or if it’s because the air quality has worsened,” he said.
But he and Wang dreamed up the idea of incorporating both the Chinese and American data streams into their app.
On Monday this week, they introduced a 2.0 version that not only posts real-time data from the U.S. embassy in Beijing and U.S. consulates around China, it also includes data from the Chinese Ministry of Environment’s monitoring centers in 120 cities across the country.
Also available in English, the app has been downloaded nearly 5,000 times.
“We thought it was good to include both. In some cities, users might want alternative information,” Wang said. “If there were a third source for air pollution data, we’d probably include it in the app, too.”
They might also want to add Hong Kong to their list of cities.
This month, a local nongovernmental group said Hong Kong’s air is 20 per cent more deadly than the air in mainland China.
Using data from Hong Kong’s own government and the World Health Organization, the Clean Air Network ranked Hong Kong ahead of mainland China, India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh for its high air pollution mortality rates.
Fans cheer on Jeremy Lin against the Sacramento Kings at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
By Adrienne Mong, NBC News
BEIJING — He means something to many people: Asian Americans, underdogs, geeks, Ivy Leaguers, sports fans, Christians, anyone who loves a great story.
But Jeremy Lin — the Harvard graduate of Chinese descent born in Palo Alto, California, to Taiwan parents — is not the same thing to all Chinese.
If ever there were one event that has the potential to show how fractured Chinese communities can be, "Linsanity" — orlinfengkuang in Chinese — might be it.
For days now, we in Beijing have been fielding emails from our U.S. colleagues: “Hey, we hear Lin’s big in China now? He’s on the cover of the New York Post!” “The NY Knicks player is having a Cinderella week… he’s being noticed/watched in China….”
For the record, yes, he’s big in mainland China.
It’s been widely reported that his Sina Weibo account (a popular Chinese version of Twitter) clocked more than a million followers as he led the Knicks to victory over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — more than doubling the number he had the night he faced off with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers last Friday.
On Taobao, China’s leading e-commerce site, shoppers can buy copies of Lin’s Knicks jersey and t-shirts and sweatshirts bearing his number “17.” A quick look suggests the merchandise isn’t moving as briskly as Weibo messages about the athlete, but it’s an impressive range of goods nonetheless. In the brick and mortar world, however, his jersey — even counterfeit versions — is said to be selling out.
Jeremy Lin shirts are so popular that they are selling out at various retailers, with CNBC's Darren Rovell.
But mainland China is also very big.
Let’s go back to Weibo. Lin’s following, large as it sounds, is still just a fraction of some high-profile mainland Chinese. Pan Shiyi — a Beijing-based property mogul some people liken to Donald Trump — has 8.6 million followers. Hong Huang — a publisher and commentator who is often described as the "Oprah of China" — has four million. Lee Kai-fu, the former head of Google China, has 11 million.
The comparisons may be unfair since none of these Chinese are athletes and all have had profiles on Weibo for longer. But high-profile mainland athletes like Yao Ming, Guo Jingjing (the glamorous Olympic gold-medallist female diver), Liu Xiang (the Olympic gold-medallist hurdler) don’t have a presence on Weibo. Only Yi Jianlian has a profile; the mainland Chinese NBA athlete who plays for the Dallas Mavericks has 6.5 million followers.
Spike Lee shares his thoughts on Jeremy Lin's recent attention-grabbing performance for the New York Knicks.
In the offline world, Lin’s name is not on everyone’s lips the way it seems in the U.S. It’s not perfect evidence, but a random sampling of Beijing taxi drivers, normally glued to radio news, this morning came up blank. “We only know Yao Ming,” said one cabbie.
There’s been steady speculation about why China’s state-run media has been muted with its reporting on the Lin phenomenon and why CCTV — normally awash with NBA coverage — has not been broadcasting his games. (New York City Time Warner subscribers, we share your pain.)
“Mr Lin is a trickier fit for Beijing’s propagandists,” one Western report noted. “His Christianity is perhaps more awkward for China’s atheist Communist rulers. While Beijing officially sanctions some churches, it frowns on the spontaneous professions of love for God that pepper Mr Lin’s postgame comments.”
Lin’s success has also raised the inevitable and perhaps unwelcome question (at least in the mainland) “Could China, an Olympic powerhouse and homeland of Yao Ming, produce such a gifted, confident point guard?” As the journalist pointed out, not for now. Not given the state-run sports industry or its rigid approach to training and talent-spotting.
Then, of course, there’s the fact Lin’s parents come from Taiwan, which has engaged in a fractious rivalry with mainland China for nearly 70 years. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province while the latter regards itself an independent nation.
Tug o’ war over the favorite son Over the weekend, folks in China’s Zhejiang Province, the ancestral home of the athlete’s maternal grandmother, laid claim to him. And today, a local newspaper re-posted photos from Lin’s visit to his mother’s hometown last May.
The accompanying article opens with the following lines: “Lin Shuhao became famous overnight. But what we here are more proud of is his roots here in Pinghu.” It concludes with a quote from Lin’s mother saying the family might return to Pinghu again this summer.
The media in Taiwan — which has hailed Lin as one of their own — have taken notice. Local newspapers on the island today went on a blitzkrieg to assert Lin’s Taiwan identity, quoting family relatives, and also claimed Lin might visit the island this summer. The coverage followed a report in the New York Times, which quoted Lin’s uncle in Taiwan as saying about the Knicks player and his parents, “For sure, they are Taiwanese.”
Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images
Jeremy Lin featured on the front page of many newspapers in Taipei, Taiwan, on Sunday.
Since Lin’s debut for the Knicks on February 4th, Taiwan’s local media have given the overnight sensation blanket coverage, and there has been no problem catching any of his games live on television. “They’re broadcast live in the morning,” one of my uncles who has spent the past month in Taipei told me. “And then they’re shown twice again later in the day. And every newscast has packaged highlights of every game.”
And, yet, something still seems to ring hollow about the mainland's or Taiwan's scramble to call Lin one of their own. One of the mainland Chinese readers who responded to the local Zhejiang newspaper report put it succinctly: "He's American. You should be ashamed of yourself trying to dig up his maternal ancestral grave." In fact, many Chinese--in dismissing comparisons between Lin and Yao Ming--have argued that Lin is distinctly American, has nothing to do with China, and didn't experience the cultural and language adjustment that Yao underwent when he moved to the U.S. to play in the NBA.
But then there are the American-born Chinese (ABCs).
'A watershed moment' Judging by the flood of columns by Chinese-American commentators, Lin’s success means more to this cohort than any other community:
Eric Liu: “[The Knicks fans’] embrace of Lin has made millions of Asian Americans feel vicariously, thrillingly embraced. Not invisible. Not presumed foreign. Just part of the team, belonging in the game. It’s felt like a breakout moment: for Lin, for Asian America and, thus, for America.”
Jeff Yang: “It’s hard not to feel like this isn’t a watershed moment. Hard not to feel like this is historic. Hard not to think that we’re at the cusp of an actual tectonic shift in the culture, when an Asian American “kid” could be the unquestioned king of one of the most storied franchises in sports, the guy that every guy in the room wishes he could meet and every kid in the room wants to group up to be.”
Bryan Chu: “Some might say, why didn’t Yao Ming evoke this type of emotion in you? The difference is that Jeremy is one of us. He was born in the U.S. He was that kid who got straight A’s in school. He was the one that worked at his high school student newspaper. He has a bit of an Americanized accent when he speaks Mandarin. He had a pipe dream of making it to the NBA. He’s humble and sometimes misperceived as a shy, Asian kid who shows flashes of brilliance and then finally explodes on the scene when he’s given a chance. He’s the guy friend who, if he needs a place to crash, will be thankful for a couch.”
Tens of thousands of mainland Chinese women travel every year to Hong Kong to give birth so their children can enjoy the former British colony's benefits. NBC's Adrienne Mong reports on the growing tension the trend has fueled between Hong Kong locals and mainlanders.
By Adrienne Mong
HONG KONG & SHENZHEN, China – Anchor babies. Birth tourism. Cross-border births.
It’s a growing global phenomenon driven by Chinese with wherewithal and wealth. Chinese from a China that – even as it continues to grow and open up to the rest of the world – still faces a restrictive enough present and an uncertain enough future that they choose to give birth outside of China.
Some do it to avoid the one-child policy. Many do so for the benefits the child will receive as a citizen of the country into which it’s born: free or better education, the freedom to travel, good social services, a safe haven.
The United States is overwhelmingly the most popular destination for wealthy Chinese, a phenomenon covered by NBC News.
But a close second is Hong Kong, the tiny former British colony of 7 million people.
Since its return to Beijing’s oversight in 1997, and as China has made it easier for its people to travel, tens of thousands of mainlanders regularly head over the border to book up maternity wards at Hong Kong’s good quality and affordable public hospitals.
Of the 88,000 births in Hong Kong in 2010, roughly 45 percent were delivered by mainland Chinese women, according to Hong Kong's government.
The growing number of cross-border births isn’t just straining health care resources and the local population’s goodwill. It’s also helped to provoke an identity crisis that 15 years after the handover has alienated local residents from their northern neighbors.
A business catering to pregnant mainlanders For four years, Gordon Li has been running a business from Shenzhen, southern China, arranging travel to Hong Kong for pregnant mainland Chinese women.
Many Hong Kong locals believe their quality of life is being eroded by mainland China---including the air.
(*Gordon Li is not his real name; he did not want to divulge his identity. Just last week, another agent from mainland China pleaded guilty to breaching Hong Kong immigration laws for helping mainland women give birth in the city. It was Hong Kong’s first prosecution of its kind and, given the current mood, may not be the last.)
“We work like a travel agency [and] the fee depends on the client –whether they want to stay in a luxury hotel or a small hotel, etc.,” said Li, who charges his clients between a few thousand yuan and 20,000 yuan ($3,200) to navigate the system. Most of his customers are from the mainland’s wealthiest regions like Guangdong, Zhejiang, Beijing, and Shanghai.
Li estimates that he has helped at least a few hundred mainland women to have babies in Hong Kong. “Last year was the most,” he said.
His early clients were trying to get around the mainland’s strict one-child policy, but today most of his new customers travel to Hong Kong because, Li says, there are “a lot of conveniences.”
The public health system in freewheeling capitalist Hong Kong is considered better and safer than it is in its communist neighbor. Maternal mortality ratio statistics collected by organizations like the World Health Organization support Hong Kong’s reputation for good quality health care for mothers and newborn babies.
Every day, more than 10,000 students who live in mainland China cross the border to go to school in Hong Kong.
Other benefits for newborns include being automatically eligible for “the right of abode” in Hong Kong, which means becoming permanent residents. Which in turn means unfettered access to free public education considered superior to that in the mainland; political freedoms; and ease of travel anywhere in the world.
And they are entitled to all of this without giving up their China citizenship.
In fact, more than 10,000 mainland Chinese children who were born in Hong Kong, but live in China, go across the border every day to attend school in the former British colony.
Hong Kong is fed up Huang Lijuan is a 27-year-old kindergarten teacher from Guangdong Province. She and her husband, Tsing Ho Nan, a 32-year-old engineer from Hong Kong, met in Shenzhen and moved to Hong Kong after getting married.
“I’m three months pregnant, and the due date is August 5,” Huang told NBC News one afternoon in a community center in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong. “But I haven’t been able to book a hospital bed in a maternity ward. All of the public hospitals are fully booked.”
“There are 80 to 100 [mainland women married to Hong Kong men living here] who are pregnant, but they failed to book any hospitals to deliver their babies,” said Koon Wing Tsang, an organizer with the Mainland-Hong Kong Families Rights Association. Like Huang, they are all casualties of recent restrictions on non-local women.
Under popular pressure, the Health Authority (HA) in Hong Kong has instituted quotas for non-local residents. Currently, only 3,400 births by non-local women are permitted at public hospitals this year – down from 10,000 in 2011. Private hospitals are allowed 31,000 births by non-local women.
“The government and the HA are committed to ensuring that local pregnant women will be given priority in the use of the services over non-Hong Kong residents (non-eligible persons, NEPs),” said a Health Authority spokesman in a written response to NBC News requests for an interview.
But even the new quotas may not be enough. As Huang found out, all the maternity wards in Hong Kong’s public hospitals – and many private clinics – are fully booked until September.
Moreover, the quotas don’t prevent mainland women from using the emergency wards as a last resort. More than 1,600 such births last year were delivered in Hong Kong’s emergency rooms – an unnecessary medical risk since such wards are not equipped or staffed properly for deliveries.
Some Hong Kong government officials have raised the possibility of an outright ban on mainland Chinese women giving birth in the city, but critics have argued enforcement is problematic.
Others have suggested ending the practice of granting automatic permanent residency status to babies born to non-local parents. To do so, according to legal experts as well as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang, would mean having to reinterpret the Basic Law – the territory’s mini-constitution.
Any such action would require consultations with Beijing, which could prove to be a political minefield for Hong Kong, which prides itself on its Western-style democratic values.
'Locusts' & 'running dogs' Adding fuel to the fire is a recent series of tense confrontations between local and mainland residents.
Last month, Hong Kong citizens were outraged over a report that a Dolce & Gabbana boutique had banned local shoppers from taking photographs of its shop, but allowed mainland Chinese tourists and other visitors to snap away. A Facebook campaign days later galvanized more than a thousand people to protest outside the shop, forcing it to shut early.
Barely a week later, a heated dispute broke out on the Hong Kong subway when a mainland Chinese child was asked to stop eating on the train – a practice banned in the territory. The argument between locals and mainlanders was captured by a cell phone camera, and the video went viral on the Internet.
Tensions were further inflamed by comments from a Peking University professor, who when shown the video of the subway dispute, called the territory’s residents “running dogs of the British imperialists.”
This month, a group of concerned Hong Kong citizens bought a full-page ad in a popular mainstream Chinese-language Hong Kong daily newspaper that called mainland visitors “locusts.” The term refers to the large numbers overrunning the territory to consume all its resources.
The "Locust" song, which features anti-mainland China lyrics, has gone viral on the Internet in Hong Kong.
A “locust” song even made the rounds on the Internet, with spiteful lyrics poking fun at mainland Chinese, and inspiring at least one group of young Hong Kong men to roam around singing the song at visiting mainland Chinese.
An identity crisis “I think the real reason that Hong Kong people are upset is because they feel helpless politically,” said Wen Yunchao, a mainland blogger and activist now living in the territory. “The rules they believe in are being broken by all these mainland visitors, and yet they still have to rely on China economically.”
Dr. Elaine Chan at the Center of Civil Society and Governance at Hong Kong University agrees the tension is “a manifestation of something deeper.”
“Hong Kong people do not have a very positive view of mainlanders,” she said. “Not just because they are buying properties and not just because they are buying all the luxury goods. But also because of how they carry themselves.”
Both Wen and Chan argue there’s an underlying sensitivity to and awareness of the fact that Hong Kong is bound up with China –culturally, historically, politically, and economically – and yet there remains a gap in fundamental values between the two: in terms of the rule of law or basic civility. That tension makes some people in the territory uncomfortable.
For now, Beijing has remained silent at least on the cross-border births issue, although authorities in neighboring Guangdong province have promised to find a solution.
But another hot-button topic may soon eclipse that of birth tourism. The main topic of conversation last week was a government proposal to open up the border to mainland Chinese drivers and their vehicles. Concern over road safety issues is so great in Hong Kong that an online petition has already gathered 7,000 signatures.
Paramilitary police walk the streets of Aba in China's Sichuan province in October.
By Adrienne Mong
BEIJING — Just short of four years ago, NBC News tried to cover an outbreak of violence in a Tibetan community in remote western Sichuan Province.
The drive from the capital Chengdu took thirteen hours, but my colleague and I were turned away just a few dozen miles away from our destination, Aba. We had run into a lone Chinese police roadblock set up around a bend in the road, blocked from our view by a hill. A four-hour standoff with local authorities ensued as the police unsuccessfully tried to view—and seize--our videotapes.
Even back then, the challenge of trying to report from a harsh region that was being sealed off by the Chinese government was formidable, and we found ourselves relying on secondhand reports. Twitter was still in its infancy; its Chinese equivalent Sina Weibo did not even exist.
But BlackBerries did. Impressively there was reception on the Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan, enabling us to read a stream of emailed reports from exiled Tibetan groups alleging Han Chinese atrocities being committed against Tibetans inside Aba. But without being able to enter the area or being able to talk to residents, we could not verify any of the stories.
Fast forward four years later, not much appears to have changed. Once again, foreign journalists are unable to report in the area, and secondhand reports are the norm.
However, the crackdown taking place across China’s Tibetan communities is not so much just another stage of a cycle that’s repeating itself as it is perhaps growing evidence that March 2008 was a turning point.
A watershed moment “The region has never recovered from the 2008 repression,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch who monitors the region.
“That really was a turning point. We’re still in the aftermath of this very, very severe repression that took place in 2008…. Over the years, [Chinese officials] have shifted from trying to gain the consent of the Tibetan people to basically riding roughshod.”
Following a year of Tibetans--mostly monks and nuns--setting themselves on fire, the western half of Sichuan, once part of the Himalayan kingdom, finds itself ringed with checkpoints.
Kyodo News via AP
Armed police patrol a Tibetan area in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Tuesday.
“The Chinese authorities have set up a massive security cordon in an attempt to prevent journalists from entering Tibetan areas in Western Sichuan Province where major unrest – including killings and self-immolations – has been reported,” said the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) in an emailed statement on Thursday.
The cordon, continued the FCCC statement, is “a clear violation of China’s regulations governing foreign reporters, which allow them to travel freely and to interview anyone prepared to be interviewed.”
Foreign camera crews have been harassed and their Chinese colleagues intimidated and threatened. Attempts to enter the region by car, taxi, or even on foot have been blocked; local authorities have used excuses such as “bad weather” or “dangerous conditions” to keep outsiders from proceeding.
Security is also tight in neighboring Qinghai Province, also once part of the Tibetan kingdom. Meanwhile, security forces the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) are on high alert, with troops fanning out across the capital Lhasa. There appears to be as much concern about preventing information about what’s happening inside the Tibetan areas from leaking out as there is about containing any opposition to Beijing.
“We have had pretty consistent reports of the gearing up of security measures that are taken there,” said Bequelin. “Lhasa is basically a garrison town now.”
A murky future
Reports of the crackdown have been cast against the backdrop of several upcoming events: the Tibetan New Year, the anniversary of the March 10, 2008, protests, and the Chinese Communist Party Congress. The party congress, which takes place every five years, is an especially sensitive event this time as it will usher in a massive leadership changeover.
But Beijing has also painted itself into a corner.
“The government has no room for compromise, because they insist on this depiction of the reality that is absurd,” said Bequelin. A reality, he continued, that claims that Tibet is a harmonious place populated by happy Tibetan people grateful for the economic growth Beijing has brought them.
Indeed, state-run media contend the unrest in Tibetan regions is due to a handful of bad foreign elements.
The Global Times ran an article today that quoted a local Tibetan policeman describing a recent outbreak of violence in Sichuan Province “as a result of a few separatists in and outside of China plotting riots and instigating the mostly non-political Tibetan residents to follow them.”
Like the security forces in the Tibetan areas, this narrative has remained constant, and according to many observers it risks preventing Beijing from understanding the real challenges they face.
Workers are seen inside a Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua in the southern Guangdong province, in 2010.
By Adrienne Mong
BEIJING—Last week, the New York Times published a report about working conditions at factories producing Apple products in China. Under the spotlight was Foxconn Technology, a key manufacturer for Apple and “China’s largest exporter and one of the nation’s biggest employers, with 1.2 million workers,” responsible for churning out tens of millions of iPhones and iPads sold around the world.
The article focused specifically on Foxconn’s Chengdu factory, where employees have complained about nonstop shifts, arduous overtime, crowded dormitories, mental health (nearly twenty workers at Foxconn have committed suicide over two years), and a hazardous working environment that's led to at least one explosion, in May 2011.
The New York Times report was also published in Chinese in the well-respected business and economic news weekly Caixin, where Chinese readers could post comments in response to the story.
Since it was released over the Lunar New Year festival, a week-long holiday which brings the country to a rare standstill, reaction seemed relatively muted. As we write this, there were 650 comments on Caixin’s Weibo page (a Twitter-like Chinese microblog)--compared to the 1,770 comments on the Times’ website.
A cynical reaction in China On Caixin’s Weibo site, some of the comments condemned Apple’s corporate practices, but many also criticized the Chinese government for failing to protect its own citizens.
“Labor protection and social security is not only the responsibility of corporations. If the government had regulations and supervised the corporations, then they cannot be that irresponsible,” wrote one person.
A significant number also captured a sentiment that was cynical but perhaps very pragmatic of many Chinese:
“If they don’t work for Apple, those workers don’t have anywhere to shed their sweat and blood.”
“Why not kick Apple out? Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs.“
“They are criticizing Apple only, because Apple is a huge target. The migrant workers hired by state-owned enterprises here can hardly be as good as Apple’s. Take care of your own workers before you pay attention to other people’s suppliers.”
All of which was bolstered by something this week that explains--in part--why the response in China might not be as outraged as those in the West might expect.
Workers want those jobs On Monday, tens of thousands of people lined up outside a job agency to apply for an estimated 100,000 new jobs Foxconn is seeking to fill at its factory in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan province.
Foxconn wants to double its current workforce of 130,000 at the Zhengzhou plant, which it opened last year. The facility already churns out 200,000 iPhones a day and is part of Foxconn’s grand plan to make Zhengzhou the world’s largest smartphone manufacturing base.
The basic starting salary advertised--according to a report posted on M.I.C. Gadget, a blogsite about tech and other related matters in China—is 1,650 yuan a month ($261), which includes dorm housing and food.
The pay is lower than comparable salaries Foxconn pays workers at its Shenzhen factory in southern China. But that may be a sacrifice Henan workers are willing to make initially.
With a population in excess of 100 million, Henan is China’s most populous province. A fifth of them are migrant workers who travel widely to find jobs in the country’s more prosperous regions like the south or coast.