US-China resume military contacts, new export controls, and gaming curbs
+ HK court rejects bid to drop sedition charge against Jimmy Lai
Welcome back to What’s Happening in China, your weekly update on the latest news and developments from the country.
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This will be the last What’s Happening in China of 2023. As we close this chapter, marking the 49th edition this year (if I counted correctly), I want to express my gratitude. We've seen incredible growth this year, doubling our subscriber base and amplifying important stories. Though the total numbers may still be modest, it's an achievement worth celebrating. Thank you.
Before we dive in, I want to extend warm Christmas wishes to those celebrating and to all a happy New Year. May your holidays be filled with peace and joy.
Now, let's get started…
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
A Hangzhou police project tracks "Uyghur university students" to "predict and control" people "related to terrorism", automatically alerting police of any "abnormal behaviors".
Behaviors considered "abnormal" include certain types of purchases, VPN usage, online communications, and even gathering at unspecified religious centers.
POLITICS & SOCIETY
The death toll from China’s earthquake has risen to 134, with almost 1,000 people injured, as rescuers dig through rubble in below freezing conditions.
The magnitude-6.2 earthquake struck shortly before midnight on Monday, in Jishishan county near the border of Gansu and Qinghai provinces, destroying or damaging more than 150,000 homes, according to state media. The quake, which was followed by several strong aftershocks, caused mud and landslides, and damaged power lines and other local infrastructure “to varying degrees”.
The state broadcaster CCTV said at least 134 people were killed in north-western Gansu province and neighbouring Qinghai.
Amid a days-long cold wave sweeping across most of China, the high-altitude area in China’s north-west reported temperatures as low as -16C, hampering rescue efforts.
Amid widespread concerns for shrinking judicial transparency and defying leading legal scholars’ public advocacy, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) released a self-Q&A on Friday (Dec. 22, 2023) defending its significant restriction on the online publication of effective court judgments across the nation, claiming that China Judgments Online, a once ambitious judicial transparency project that the top court once prided on only a few years ago, has seen several issues that need to be addressed.
Jiang Ping, a prominent law scholar who helped build the legislative foundation for China’s market economy, died in Beijing on Tuesday. He was 93.
Jiang was also known to many as the “conscience” of the legal profession in China and for his advocacy for the rule of law.
Born in Ningbo, Zhejiang province in 1930, Jiang went to Beijing in 1948 to study journalism at Yenching University, whose motto was “Freedom through truth for service”.
Two years later, Jiang was among the first group of Chinese students sent to Moscow. He excelled at his studies, graduating from the University of Moscow’s law school a year early in 1956.
Jiang went on to teach and research civil and commercial law at the Beijing College of Political Science and Law.
But in 1957, events in China again took over and Jiang was caught up in Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Campaign.
For nearly 20 years, Jiang could only teach Russian because of the political turmoil in China. It was only when the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976 that he was allowed to teach law again.
The college became the China University of Political Science and Law, and in 1984 Jiang was named its vice-president and four years later its president.
But he was sacked in 1990 because of his sympathy for the student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.
Jiang was, however, allowed to stay on as a professor at the university. He went on to help draft key legislation – including corporate, trust, contract and property laws – as the country pushed forward with market reforms.
He had also played a pivotal role in drafting China’s Civil Code in 1986, and the Administrative Procedure Law in 1989.
Jiang was an advocate for the rule of law, and raised issues including the unequal protection given to state property versus private property.
He supported the Communist Party’s rule, yet he also expressed concerns over its interference in judicial affairs.
Pan Helin, an economics researcher at Zhejiang University’s International Business School, told domestic media outlet Beijing Business Daily that many younger residents have left Beijing due to the high cost of living, moving instead to smaller cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in a trend of “reverse urbanization.”
According to the latest official data, those aged 60 and over accounted for 19.8% of China’s total population at the end of 2022, meeting the United Nations’ standard of an aging society.
The municipal government has introduced reforms targeted at the elderly in response, including several measures in October to build more barrier-free environments and elderly care facilities.
Yang Yanhua, 61, is one of the estimated 300,000 retirees living alone in Shanghai. She may be alone, but she is not lonely. In a sense, she is a role model for older people who are determined to find fulfillment on their own.
“What I fear the most is sitting at home doing nothing,” she tells Sixth Tone. “I don’t find retirement scary as long as I have my own hobbies.”
Yang has no shortage of “hobbies.” She is the captain of the local dance team and gives dancing lessons to senior citizens. She often goes to a nearby swimming pool in the afternoons, does landscape painting twice a week in a studio, and works part time in a downtown bookstore on weekends.
Shanghai leads Chinese cities in terms of an aging population. By the end of 2022, Shanghai had over 5.5 million residents aged 60 years or older, comprising about 37% of the registered population. The municipal government is addressing the needs of the older demographic with policies such as home services for the elderly who need special care and the establishment of community facilities for seniors.
Since China’s government cracked down on disaffected students in Tiananmen Square in 1989, most young people, who came of age in an era of rapid economic growth and rising affluence, have done what they are supposed to do—and been rewarded for it.
They studied diligently to get into prestigious universities, clocked grueling hours at fast-growing companies and followed traditional expectations of career and family, riding China’s boom to material success.
Many are still doing that. But a growing number of middle-class urbanites in their 20s and 30s in China have begun to question that trajectory, if not reject it entirely, as prospects of upward mobility fade.
Demographers in China have called for grandparents who help raise children to be rewarded, and for content that promotes being unmarried and childless to be banned, as part of the latest proposals to reduce the impact of declining births.
Grandparents who share childcare responsibilities with their adult children should be commended, according to an article published in the latest issue of Population and Health magazine.
Li Shuxia and Lei Juan, who work for the Chongqing Population and Family Development Research Centre, also said local governments should promote images of affectionate couples, happy families and quality parent-child moments at densely populated areas, including large commercial districts, industrial estates and wholesale markets.
The latest pronatalist proposals, which came as births in China could hit a new low this year to further undermine the economic recovery, also included a suggestion to address other practical challenges preventing couples from having children.
“Any content advocating being unmarried and childless, or sensationalising gender opposition and fertility anxiety, needs to be strictly prohibited,” Li and Lei said in the article.
Feminist labor rights activist Li Qiaochu's secret trial for "incitement to subvert state power" has been suspended after the authorities fired her defense team, according to a rights group and a fellow activist's wife.
Li was detained in 2021 after posting to social media the details of torture allegations by her partner, the jailed rights activist Xu Zhiyong, and by fellow jailed rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi.
She stood trial at the Linyi Economic and Technological Development Zone People's Court on Dec. 19, the wife of a fellow activist told Radio Free Asia.
"The trial was held behind closed doors," said Luo Shengchun, Ding’s wife. "Neither family members nor outsiders were allowed inside."
"Her father stood outside the building waiting for the verdict, but none was announced at the trial," Luo said.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang was among the top Chinese leaders who paid tribute at a memorial on Tuesday to Tang Xiao’ou, a leading expert on facial recognition, and the mastermind behind the US-sanctioned artificial intelligence giant SenseTime.
Tributes were also paid by retired policymakers, including China’s former vice-premier Liu He, who was Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top economic aide until he retired in March, as well as Li Lanqing, who served from 1993 to 2003 as vice-premier and then executive vice-premier, and Yu Zhengsheng, China’s top political adviser from 2013 to 2018.
Tang, a professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), co-founded SenseTime, which has been under US sanctions since 2021 for allegedly aiding human rights violations in China’s far west Xinjiang region.
The extent of the high-level tributes for Tang signalled the importance that Beijing places on its drive for top talent and self-reliance as it seeks to counter Washington’s moves to block it from developing cutting-edge technologies amid an intensifying tech rivalry.
In March, Tang had joined the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body, which includes officials, business leaders, scholars and other social elites among its more than 2,200 members.
Washington has alleged that SenseTime’s technology played a part in human rights abuses against Uygurs in China’s Xinjiang region, and has banned American investment in the company. SenseTime has repeatedly denied the allegations.
The company was added to a blacklist in 2019, which has restricted SenseTime’s access to key technologies originating from the US.
Zhu Ling, the victim of an unsolved thallium poisoning case in 1994 which left her permanently disabled, passed away on Friday.
Tsinghua University said on its Weibo post today that Zhu Ling, its alumna from the class of 1992, passed away on December 22 in Beijing after struggling with her illness for years.
The city's weather bureau said it expects the minimum temperature at one downtown reading station to remain below zero for five straight days until Dec. 25, a run of cold in the month of December that hasn't occurred in 40 years.
"This year is not normal," said a 68-year-old Shanghai resident surnamed Li. "This year is super cold and it was not this cold last year."
The unusually frigid weather ushered in by a powerful wave of cold air from Siberia has spread across China since the middle of last week, with many northern provinces rewriting December records as the mercury sank as low as minus 30 C in some cities.
With China’s delivery workers navigating icy roads and braving the extreme cold, an online debate has erupted over the dilemma of ordering food and supplies in such frigid conditions.
And with riders themselves stressing the necessity of work despite the conditions, major delivery companies have announced new measures to support their riders, including waiving penalties for late deliveries, offering weather subsidies, and distributing essential cold weather gear.
For thousands of delivery workers across China, the pressure to deliver orders on time is intense, as their earnings are significantly impacted by customer reviews and penalties for late deliveries. This often compels riders to speed through their routes, sometimes even putting themselves at risk.
Power Banks: How Businesses Are Leading the Charge – Sixth Tone
For those who rely on a mobile phone for daily life, few experiences are as scary as seeing their battery edge towards 0% while they’re out and about. Fortunately, shared power banks — available for rent for a few yuan an hour — have become ubiquitous in China, available in all manner of businesses.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Shanghai’s Wukang Road, one of the most popular places in the city for tourists and online influencers.
Smaller businesses understand they need to diversify to survive, so are usually more receptive to installing docking stations.
According to Shanghai Survey, a government-run social media account, the cost per hour of renting a power bank in the city ranges from 3 yuan to as much as 7 yuan in popular scenic spots and business districts.
Businesses usually make a few hundred yuan a month from hosting power bank docking stations. However, the boss of a store selling auto parts and tires at the intersection of two high-traffic roads, Anfu Road and Wukang Road, says he’s been earning up to 4,000 yuan a month.
The pet market in urban China has seen significant growth in recent years. In 2022, the number of pets reached 116.55 million, with the consumer market size surging to 270 billion yuan ($38 billion), an 8.7% increase from the previous year.
The pet clothing market has expanded as well, exceeding 3.5 billion yuan in 2020. With more Chinese families owning pets and an increasing demand for personalized and customized pet clothing, industry analysts expect continued growth in both market size and rate.
This surge in the pet market reflects changing lifestyle preferences. Young Chinese increasingly prefer living independently, opting for pets over traditional milestones like marriage or having children.
Similarly, many older adults are turning to pets for companionship after their children move out. Lu sees this demographic shift as a key driver for the growing demand for pet products and services.
Beijing had a difficult 2023, from COVID-19 fallout to unexpected political purges.
The world’s first theme park attraction based on the 2016 animated movie officially opened at the Shanghai Disney Resort on Wednesday. Produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, the movie is a comedy-adventure set in the fictional mammal metropolis of Zootopia.