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March 29, 2006

Chinese Consulate

The Chinese Democratic Party protesting across from the Chinese Consulate in New York City, March 28, 2006.

I returned to the Chinese consulate in New York today to pick up my visa. Somehow - during the hour or so that I was waiting inside the building - the hordes of FG protesters across the street disappeared, only to be replaced by hordes of Chinese Democratic Party (CDP) protesters. Not the kind of thing I'll be seeing much of in China, eh?

Who even knew that the CDP existed? (By the way, does anyone know what that red, blue, and yellow flag stands for?) There must be some sort of sign-in sheet or agreed-upon rotation determining when each anti-China group gets to use the prime piece of sidewalk across from the consulate. Otherwise, you'd have FGers coming to fisticuffs with CDPers, and everyone would look bad.

In other news, I've purchased my ticket back to China. I'll be flying Continental Airlines' non-stop service from Newark to Beijing on Easter Day, which falls on April 16th this year.

Baozi, here I come!


posted March 29, 2006 at 02:13 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (40)

March 27, 2006

Karakoram Improvements

The Karakoram Highway runs from China to Pakistan through the Khunjerab Pass.

A recently signed agreement between China and Pakistan should put to rest any lingering rumors that last year's earthquake in Kashmir might limit cross-border traffic on the Karakoram Highway. The two countries have just agreed to open four new road links through the Khunjerab Pass, bringing the total number of China-Pakistan roads links to eight.

Of course, any time that China gets something right, it's time for India to worry about it's runner-up status in the race for Asian Super-Mega Power of the Century. There's an interesting editorial in the Indian Express about the Sino-Pak road agreement, pointing out how China is converting many of it's geo-political strategic assets (i.e. military border roads) into economic links:

China has always had better sense than India of the link between geography and strategy. The contrast is striking. After independence, India allowed its existing border infrastructure to degrade and consciously chose not to develop additional connectivity on its northern borders. Beijing, on the other hand, was determined to build first class strategic transport links between its eastern seaboard and the remote regions of western China, including Tibet and Xinjiang....

The rationale behind China's emphasis on building the Kodari Highway into Nepal and the Karakoram Highway into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir was simple enough - strategic access to politically sensitive areas. China is now converting those strategic assets into economic opportunities. China's trans-border highways are no longer merely conveniences for the People's Liberation Army but instruments for the expansion of Chinese economic influence into the Subcontinent.

You can read the full text below.

27 March 2006
Asia Pulse

ISLAMABAD, March 27 Asia Pulse - China and Pakistan would open four new passenger and cargo road links in the first half of the year, Chinese State media reported on March 23. Two of the four roads are for cargo transportation and the other two are for passengers and they will be opened on May 1 and June 1 respectively, according to an agreement signed between the senior officials of the two countries in Urumqi, capital of northwestern China's Xinjiang Uigur autonomous region.

The two cargo routes run from Kashi in southern Xinjiang to Pakistan's ports of Karachi, Qasim and Gwadar.

The passenger lines run from Kashi and Taxkorgan, also in southern Xinjiang, to Pakistan's Northern Gilgit and Sost Pass respectively.

Officials of the two sides agreed to have two regular meetings each year, one in Pakistan and the other in China, to exchange information.

The number of road links between Pakistan and China would rise to eight.


Indian Express: Diplomacy takes a high road.
26 March 2006
Indian Express

India might be pleased with the success of its bus diplomacy in Punjab - but China, as always, is a couple of steps ahead when it comes to promoting trans-border connectivity as part of its grand strategy towards the Subcontinent. Barely a couple of days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged off the bus service between Amritsar and Nankana Sahib, China and Pakistan announced the launch of a new transport link between Kashgar in Xinjiang and Gilgit in the Northern Areas of Jammu and Kashmir. According to a formal protocol signed by the two countries earlier this month in Urumqui, the capital of Xinjiang, the first ever bus service between the two regions would be launched on June 1. One bus will be operated from each side on a daily basis that will travel between Sust and Tashkorgan, on the border between J&K and Xinjiang. Each side will launch another bus service thrice a week between Kashgar and Gilgit via the Kunjerab pass.

The two sides have also agreed to promote good trade between Kashmir and the neighouring Xinjiang province. About 3000 permits would be issued by each side to registered transporters. Each permit would be valid for one round trip. As demand increases the number of permits would go up.

Before Gilgit, Kathmandu
Developing better connectivity and promoting cross border trade between China and its neighbouring regions in the Subcontinent has now become a major priority for Beijing. Last year, China launched a bus service between Lhasa and Kathmandu, through the Kodari highway that was built in the 1960s. Earlier this month, the Chinese State Councillor and former foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, was in Nepal seeking to promote trade and communication between the two countries. In a major move, Tang announced duty free access to Nepali goods into the markets of western China. While the list of items that would be eligible to duty free concessions remains to be finalised, the symbolism of free trade between Nepal and Tibet, one hopes, is not lost in New Delhi.

China is also planning to build many new highways into Nepal, to supplement the existing Kodari Highway. Beijing and Lhasa hope that eventually these highways would open up access to the north Indian plains. If trilateral arrangements are finalised between the three countries, Nepal could emerge as an important region of transit between North India and western China.

Meanwhile, officials in Lhasa have also announced that the new railroad between mainland China and Tibet would soon be extended from Lhasa to Shigatse, which is hardly any distance from the Sino-Indian border in Tibet. If China's rail network comes this far, would not be outlandish to imagine that it could eventually be linked up to the Indian rail roads. Paranoids in Delhi's security establishment might lose sleep over it. Smarter ones in South Block should actually be planning for such an eventuality.

It's geography
China has always had better sense than India of the link between geography and strategy. The contrast is striking. After Independence, India allowed its existing border infrastructure to degrade and consciously chose not to develop additional connectivity on its northern borders. Beijing, on the other hand, was determined to build first class strategic transport links between its eastern seaboard and the remote regions of western China, including Tibet and Xinjiang. Having consolidated its internal access, China sought to extend it to the border regions near Kashmir in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east with Nepal in the middle.

The rationale behind China's emphasis on building the Kodari Highway into Nepal and the Karakoram Highway into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir was simple enough - strategic access to politically sensitive areas. China is now converting those strategic assets into economic opportunities. China's trans-border highways are no longer merey conveniences for the People's Liberation Army but instruments for the expansion of Chinese economic influence into the Subcontinent.

Kashmir's China openings
The obsession with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir often makes New Delhi impervious to the fact that China looms large over the state. China holds the territory passed on to it by Pakistan in the northwestern parts of undivided J&K, but Beijing is also in control of Aksai Chin in the east. The Kashgar-Gilgit bus service is only one part of growing Chinese economic presence in the Northern Areas.

Media reports from Pakistan say Beijing is investing in a range of infrastructure projects in different parts of the Northern Areas. These include the construction and maintenance of the Karakoram Highway, small hydro-power projects, construction of a dry port at Sust, water-diversion channels, bridges, and telecommunication facilities.

Rather than worry about Beijing's rising profile in the Northern Areas, India should find ways to leverage the current positive ties with China to develop greater connectivity between Kashmir on the one hand and Tibet and Xinjiang on the other. Such a creative approach - which might involve developing bus services between Demchok in Ladakh and Manasarovar as well as the revival of old trade routes between Leh and Tibet - would transform the fortunes of J&K and bring peace and prosperity to the Himalayan region that has suffered so much because of territorial disputes involving India, China and Pakistan.

If you are bold enough you could conceive a seamless network of roads connecting the regions of undivided J&K under the control of India, China and Pakistan. Manmohan Singh's idea that free flow of goods and people along the new highways of Kashmir would make the borders in that state "just lines on the map" should naturally apply to our frontiers with China in J&K as well.


posted March 27, 2006 at 12:55 PM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (48)

March 24, 2006

Rabbis in China

Rabbis are getting rich in China.I was out driving earlier today when when an oddball story on NPR grabbed my attention. Marketplace, one of the best shows on the radio, featured a segment on the surging demand for rabbis in China. Yes, I said rabbis. Of course, you're now asking yourself: why does China need so many people trained in Jewish law? Well, as the market for kosher food grows in the U.S. (vegetarians and Muslims also buy kosher), products are increasingly coming from factories in China. The need for people who can certify food as kosher is so great that rabbis are making more money in China than they ever could imagine back in Brooklyn. What kind of mishegass is that?

You can hear the entire amusing report by visiting the Marketplace website or by clicking here for the streaming audio.


posted March 24, 2006 at 11:31 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (24)

March 23, 2006

Taxes up, yachts down.

As if things weren't bad enough with the rising price of noodles, the Chinese government has decided to increase taxes on SUVs, yachts, expensive watches, golf clubs, golf balls, and... chopsticks. Something about saving the environment, blah, blah, blah.

Not that any of this matters to me. In China, I'm far too rich to care about the price of chopsticks and far too poor to care about the price of a yacht. The environment? Everyone knows that the only way to get rich is to abuse nature's resources exactly like we've done in the U.S.

Buried underneath all of the bad news for China's bling-loving upper class was a nugget of good news for the nation's millions of humble motorcyclists:

China will also lower its tax on motorcycles with engines under 250 cubic centimeters to 3 percent from 10 percent.

Of course, I never paid any taxes on my bike (or even had a license). But someday I just might do things properly. You can read more below.

China Raises Taxes to Curb Use of Energy and Timber
The New York Times
March 23, 2006

HONG KONG, Thursday, March 23 — The Chinese government announced plans on Wednesday to increase existing taxes and impose new ones on April 1 for everything from gas-guzzling vehicles to chopsticks in a move to rein in rising use of energy and timber and the widening gap between rich and poor.

New or higher taxes will fall on vehicles with engines larger than two liters, disposable wooden chopsticks, planks for wood floors, luxury watches, golf clubs, golf balls and certain oil products.

China's finance ministry disclosed the higher taxes Tuesday night in a statement that was reported Wednesday morning by the official New China News Agency. The statement offered another sign that some senior Chinese officials may be having second thoughts about the rapid growth of privately owned family vehicles, whose sales rose to 3.1 million last year from just 640,000 in 2000.

"In recent years, car ownership in China has grown rapidly and fuel consumption has risen considerably, and this highlights the conflict between supply and demand of oil resources," the statement said. "At the same time, pollution caused by motor cars has become the main source of pollution in big and medium-size cities."

The finance ministry is imposing a 5 percent tax on chopsticks and floor planks, citing a need to conserve timber. Environmentalists around the world have been warning that China's voracious demand for wood was contributing to the clear-cutting of many forests, especially in Southeast Asia.

The production of disposable wooden chopsticks consumes two million cubic meters (70.6 million cubic feet) of timber each year, the ministry said. Plastic chopsticks, which can be washed and reused, will not be subject to the new tax.

A new tax of 10 percent on yachts, golf clubs and golf balls, and a 20 percent tax on luxury watches, is squarely aimed at China's emerging elite of wealthy industrialists and well-connected Communist officials.

China's yacht market is still in its infancy, as military restrictions on ocean traffic and commercial restrictions on river traffic have limited yachts to lakes — although a few entrepreneurs have been able to get around the rules to cruise on the Yangtze River near Shanghai.

Chinese officials have periodically assailed golf, especially when villages and farms are demolished with little compensation to make way for new golf courses.

The biggest commercial effect of the new taxes is likely to fall on sport utility vehicles and luxury sedans. China is reducing its tax on vehicles with engines of 1 to 1.5 liters to 3 percent from 5 percent, while leaving the rate unchanged for slightly more powerful engines. The tax rate will rise to 20 percent, from 8 percent now, for vehicles with engines larger than four liters.

The taxes are likely to affect foreign automakers, especially American manufacturers, more than Chinese companies, which tend to make models with smaller engines.

The big question for automakers is how much of the tax to pass on to consumers, since the tax is collected from the manufacturers. With a week and a half remaining until the new tax takes effect, marketing executives scrambled on Wednesday to assess the impact and no automaker immediately raised prices.

"We are doing the calculations and assessing the impact, and on the other hand watching the actions of our competitors," said Kenneth Hsu, a spokesman for the China operations of Ford Motor, which sell everything from compact cars with 1.6-liter engines to Lincoln Navigator full-size S.U.V.'s with 5.4-liter engines.

Trevor Hale, a DaimlerChrysler spokesman, said the company offered fuel-efficient engines; many Mercedes sedans sold in China have considerably smaller engines than models sold in the United States.

Chinese officials considered and rejected a tax system based on gas mileage instead of engine displacement. That approach would have benefited foreign automakers who possess better technology that permits them to squeeze more power out of the same size engine than purely Chinese manufacturers can.

General Motors China welcomed the new taxes on Thursday but voiced a reservation: "While we believe the new measure will be more environmentally friendly and help lower energy consumption in China, we think it would be more reasonable to base the tax rate on the actual fuel consumption of a vehicle instead of the size of its engine displacement, which is a widely accepted practice worldwide."

Yale Zhang, an analyst in the Shanghai office of CSM Worldwide, a big automotive consulting firm based in the Detroit suburbs, said that Chinese automakers had growing influence in policy debates and that the new rules might lead to a proliferation of vehicles with engines a hundredth of a liter below the thresholds for higher taxes.

Chinese regulators have already imposed stringent fuel-economy regulations that take effect for all vehicles sold after July 1, and have said that they are considering a separate gas-guzzler tax for models that do not comply. The finance ministry's statement on the tax increases on April 1 made no mention of such a gas-guzzler tax, however, and finance ministry officials could not be reached for elaboration.

The finance ministry also announced a modest new tax of a penny (0.1 yuan) a liter for aviation fuel and 2 cents (0.2 yuan) a liter for naptha, solvents and lubricants, but said it would not collect the new aviation fuel tax for now and would collect only 30 percent of the new tax on naptha, solvents and lubricants.

Applying taxes on oil products but not collecting them while prices are high could set a precedent for how China handles taxes on gasoline and diesel. Chinese officials have said repeatedly that they would like to raise fuel taxes to encourage conservation, but do not want to act while world oil prices are close to record levels.

On April 1, China will also lower its tax on motorcycles with engines under 250 cubic centimeters to 3 percent from 10 percent, while leaving the tax unchanged at 10 percent for motorcycles with larger engines.

Western manufacturers like Harley-Davidson are trying to break into the Chinese market with powerful bikes, while Chinese manufacturers like Lifan mainly produce less powerful models.


posted March 23, 2006 at 10:59 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (28)

March 22, 2006

Hooray for Beer!

Yanjing Beer. Mmmmm... cold and delicious.Are you sitting down, Psymeg? I've got big news for you. 100,000 tonnes of news. Yanjing, China's #2 beer maker, is going to be opening up a brewery in Xinjiang! The new plant is expected to start production later this year, and if things go well the capacity may raise to 200,000 tonnes. (Not if Psymeg can get to it first!) Some of the pijiu may even be exported to Central Asia.

Ah, memories... there's nothing like an ice cold bottle of beer on a 110ºF/45ºC summer afternoon in Xinjiang. And now that we're on the topic, an article in Industry Updates (whatever that is) points out that Yanjing is now one of the world's top ten brewers... it's also China's only large beer producer to have not already paired up with a foreign partner.

"Quite a few have proposed," jokes the chairman and general manager of Beijing Yanjing Beer Group Corp. "But Yanjing just doesn't want to tie the knot right now."

You can read both articles below. Oh, and apologies to Psymeg... but you do love your beer.

China Yanjing To Invest $24.9 Mln in Building Brewery in Shihezi
21 March 2006
China News Digest

China's largest beer maker Beijing Yanjing Brewery will invest 200 mln Chinese yuan ($24.9 mln/20.5 mln euro) in 2006 in building a brewery in Shihezi, Xinjiang region, western China.

The new brewery will be located in the Shihezi Economic and Technological Development Zone and will initially have an annual production capacity of 100,000 tonnes of beer. The agreement for the investment project was signed between Yanjing and the zone on March 17, 2006.

Construction of the new brewery is expected to begin in early April 2006. The facility is planned to start production at the end of October 2006 and to generate sales of about 200 mln yuan ($24.9 mln/20.5 mln euro) annually.

Yanjing's Shihezi subsidiary will be the company's 22nd in China. With the investment, the company plans to strengthen its position in Xinjiang in the short term and to start exporting to Central Asia afterwards.

The Shihezi brewery is planned to be expanded to an annual production capacity of 200,000 tonnes in the future.


Source: Xinjiang News (GI/AM/RD)


Yanjing Beer aims for world's top 8 brewers
21 March 2006
Industry Updates

Call him a hopeless romantic, but Li Fucheng likes to describe his enterprise as a fair lady being aggressively courted by dashing foreign suitors.

"Quite a few have proposed," jokes the chairman and general manager of Beijing Yanjing Beer Group Corp. "But Yanjing just doesn't want to tie the knot right now."

Yanjing sold 3.11 million tons of beer last year to become one of the world's top 10 brewers and the second largest in China, but it is now the only large domestic beer producer that hasn't been invested in by a foreign party. Over the past two years, all of the other big Chinese breweries have either been acquired by foreign enterprises or have forged partnerships with beer companies such as Anheuser-Busch (AB), SAB Miller and InBev.

This is why the media, foreign investors and even Li's domestic colleagues have been repeatedly asking the same question: When, how and with whom Yanjing will get married?

"My answer is that we don't have an urgent need to partner with anybody now," Li says. "But my strategy is to tell them that Yanjing won't be single forever."

This approach offers greater flexibility if the company actually falls into financial trouble, Li adds. But capital is not a problem at the moment, which is why Li has kept Yanjing to himself so far. Relatively high liquidity and diversified fund-raising channels have helped justify Li's decision to keep Yanjing beyond the reach of foreign investors.

Yanjing's liability/assets ratio currently stands at 31 percent, much lower than the average 58.3 percent in China's manufacturing sectors, according to the first national economic census conducted last year.

It has enough channels to pool funds from the capital market, too. Yanjing is under the umbrella of Hong Kong-listed Beijing Enterprises Holdings. Its A-shares are also traded on the Shenzhen stock market, and it holds a 52 percent stake in Shanghai-listed Huiquan Beer.

Many domestic firms claim they introduced foreign partners for more than just the money. They say they are also interested in acquiring advanced management, technology and sales skills.

But Li believes that strong management methods and marketing skills can be achieved through means other than equity co-operation.

"I don't think the management systems in purely State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are necessarily bad," Li says. "Who says SOEs can't adopt advanced management similar to foreign companies and private firms? Who says SOEs don't have reasonable payment systems? Besides, we can hire foreign brains if we need them."

In 2002, Yanjing acquired Liquan Beer, a brewery based in Guilin, in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, for example. After the acquisition, Liquan adopted a new management system that offered incentives to managers. The effects have been visible, according to Li. Production at Liquan grew from 56 million tons in 2002 to 173 million last year.

"That made managers more responsible for the performance of the company and they actively responded," Li says.

Yanjing's key financial indicators, including market share, prices of high-end products and investment return ratios, are not any lower than foreign-funded breweries. A 2005 interim report by Beijing Yanjing Beer Co Ltd - the listing arm of Yanjing Group shows that its gross profit rate stood at 39.19 percent, compared with Tsingtao Beer's 30.4 percent. AB, one of the world's biggest beer producer, holds a 27 percent stake in Tsingtao.

Although Yanjing Co Ltd's 2005 annual report has not yet been released, Li was pleased with the group company's performance last year. It achieved 8.1 billion yuan (US$1 billion) in sales revenue last year, and took 11 percent of the domestic market and 85 percent of the Beijing market. Its pre-tax profits amounted to nearly 1.7 billion yuan (US$211 million) last year.

National expansion

Li says he is not ignoring the threat posed by foreign competitors, however.

"The domestic market has been internationalized," he says. "All the world's major brands are swarming into China, especially the Beijing market."

A major strategy of foreign companies has been to edge into the Chinese market by acquiring local brands or buying stakes in big name domestic producers.

The acquisition wave has swept most of the major Chinese breweries since 2004. US-based AB acquired a 99.66 percent share in listed Harbin Beer, Belgium's InBev grabbed 70 percent of Zhejiang Shiliang Beer, Denmark's Carlsberg took over Dali Beer, the biggest producer in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, and Dutch brewer Heineken bought a 21 percent stake in Guangdong Yuehai Beer Group.

Li responded by moving beyond Beijing and turning the company into a national beer producer, rather than a local Beijing company. Yanjing has already taken over 25 smaller breweries throughout the country, and has established five production bases in Guangxi, Central China's Hubei Province, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, East China's Fujian Province, and Beijing.

The company also recently constructed a plant in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, and is planning to build new facilities in North China's Hebei Province and Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

"With all these production facilities, Yanjing has basically finished its layout across the country," Li says. "The next step we will focus on is to consolidate these facilities."

Yanjing's acquisitions and consolidations have been low profile but effective, according to an analyst with HK Macao Information, an investment consulting firm.

"Its performance is in the top industrial rank. It has successfully controlled its liability/assets ratio."

Now about two-thirds of its production comes from outside Beijing, contributing 200 million yuan (US$24.9 million) in profits to the group last year.

By 2010, Li hopes Yanjing will become one of the world's top eight brewers, with sales of 5 million tons of beer a year.

"Competition in the beer industry is just like running a marathon," he says. "You always have to stay in first group to win."


posted March 22, 2006 at 11:07 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (46)

Snakes on a Plane

There are SNAKES on the motherfucking plane!
UPDATE: Holy smokes! I can now stream the video down below. Hope it works for you. Enjoy.

This ones a bit off-topic and a bit behind the curve, but I couldn't resist. Have you heard about Snakes on a Plane, in a theater near you this summer? Intrigued by the name? Well, get this: it stars Samuel L. Jackson as some sort of snake ass-kicking, tazer-wielding law enforcement agent. Apparently, the movie's producers tried to change the title, but Samuel L. insisted on Snakes on a Plane. Kenan Thompson's there too, along with lots and lots of snakes. On a plane!

You can watch a preview (well, actually its a pre-preview with unfinished CG effects) by clicking here. The preview has already given us one decent Samuel L. Jackson quote:

"Enough is enough! I've had it with these snakes."

Thanks to Chris Holcomb for telling me about this exciting film. Cultural phenomena sometimes slip by unnoticed when a person is out of the country for a while.

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posted March 22, 2006 at 05:17 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (20)

March 20, 2006

Another Taklamakan Highway

Motorcycle in a sandstorm. Taklimakan Desert, Xinjiang, China. May 2005.Progress marches on in Xinjiang...

News today via Xinhua that another highway across the Taklamakan Desert will be opening by the end of 2007. The new road will link Aral (south of Aksu) with Hotan (on the southwestern Silk Road). When completed, the second cross-desert highway will reduce the driving distance between Aksu and Hotan by 400km. I guess I'll have to buy another motorcycle.

New highway traversing Taklimakan Desert to be completed ahead of schedule
19 March 2006
Xinhua News Agency

URUMQI, March 19 (Xinhua) -- The highway being constructed to span the Taklimakan Desert, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, will be completed and put into use half a year ahead of schedule.

An official with the project section of the China Railways No.15 Bureau, the builder, said the workers had so far completed 285 km of the road bed which is now ready for asphalt. The 424-km-long highway is designed to link Aral on the northwestern fringe of the desert and Hotan in the south.

Construction of the highway, the second of its kind in the desert, began on June 1 last year. Most of the investment in the highway construction, estimated at 834 million yuan (103 million U.S. dollars), is borne by the state.

In accordance with an original construction schedule, the highway will be finished by December 2007. Upon its completion in June next year, the highway will help shorten the journey from the north of Taklimakan to its southern fringe by 400 km, and will be brought into a trunk transport network together with two other national highways No. 314 and No. 315.

Xinjiang's first desert highway, which is east to the highway being constructed, has a length of 522 kilometers. The first desert highway, also a north-south road from Lunnan to Minfeng, was opened to traffic in 1995. It is the world's longest desert highway.


posted March 20, 2006 at 10:48 PM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (24)

March 19, 2006

Restoring the Tarim River

Diversifolious Poplar trees along the Tarim River in Yuli County, Xinjiang.
Xinhua ran a piece earlier this week about government efforts to preserve one of Xinjiang's natural treasures, the Tarim River. Not only is the Tarim River the birthplace of Uyghur civilization, but in better days it flowed east all the way to Lop Nur, where it fed a huge lake and gave rise to the kingdom of Loulan. (Because of increased water use, Lop Nur had completely dried-up by 1972. The Tarim River now terminates some 300km west of the "lake".)

To stop the the Tarim's level from falling further, authorities are resettling more than 700 families who currently live on land reclaimed using water from the river. Many are being moved to farmland near Yuli County, about an hour south of Korla by taxi. (The photo above was taken near Yuli County.) Their new homes even have tap water and telephones! Now... you might expect the Uyghurs in question to be upset about having to uproot their lives, but the local man quoted in this article seems to be taking everything quite well:

"When our ancestors came to Karqega, the river bestowed everything on them. Now it is time for her to recuperate."

You can read the full article below.

Inhabitants make way for ecological restoration of China's top inland river
13 March 2006
Xinhua's China Economic Information Service

KARQEGA, Xinjiang, March 13 (CEIS) -- Having packed up pots and pans and other belongings, 55-year-old Omar Neyaz is ready to leave the hometown where his family has been living for generations.

Neyaz and his fellow village folks are going to move to a place about 100 kilometers away, to make way for the ecological restoration of the middle reaches of the Tarim River, the "mother river" of local ethnic people in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The 1321-km-long Tarim River, China's longest inland river in southern Xinjiang, used to end at Lop Nur Lake, once the largest saltwater lake in China that has now dried up due to environmental deterioration.

However, over the past half century, large-scale land reclamation along the river has consumed large amounts of water for irrigation to make up for the paucity of rainfall in the region, causing 320 kms of the river in its lower reaches to run dry in early 1970s.

"Before the 1970s, this part of the river boasted plenty of trees, water and fish," said Neyaz, who lives in Karqega, a town along the middle reaches of the Tarim River.

"But now, though our life is better, the environment is worse. There is no fish or water in this part anymore," Neyaz said, still remembering the stories about his ancestors who made a living by fishing in the river.

The population of Karqega was only 1,000 in the late 1980s, but now it has almost quadrupled, according to an official from the town.

To curb the ecological degradation of the river, China in 2001 launched a comprehensive ecological restoration program with an input of about 10.7 billion yuan (1.3 billion U.S. dollars), including projects such as water infusion from the Bosten Lake north of the river, waterway harnessing and underground water development.

As part of the program, the 722 households in the town will be relocated in a farm 20 km away from the county of Yuli, and cultivation will be banned in their 1,500 hectares of farmland.

So far, 76 households have already been resettled in the Fengyuan Farm, where the local government has constructed houses and distributed farmlands to them.

Rahman Omar, who moved to his new house five days ago, is still excited about the new environment.

"We have tap water and a telephone now," he said. His hometown Karqega had no telephones.

By 2008, more than 6,000 households along the river will have been resettled, and the developed lands where cultivation will be forbidden will save 60 million cubic meters of water for restoring the natural ecology, an official with the Tarim River Valley Administration said.

"When our ancestors came to Karqega, the river bestowed everything on them. Now it is time for her to recuperate," Omar said.


posted March 19, 2006 at 12:02 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (23)

March 16, 2006

More Uyghur Pop

Mominjan Ablekim, Xinjiang's prince of Uyghur pop.A lot of you seemed to enjoy the music video I posted yesterday, so here's another one. This time I'm presenting Mominjan Ablekim, the prince of Uyghur pop. I was told repeatedly by my Uyghur friends back in Xinjiang that Mominjan is Abdullah Abdurehim's "little brother", but I think what they really meant was "cousin". (That relationship often gets confused when speaking Chinese.) Abdullah is the king of Uyghur pop, and I saw him together with Mominjan when they came to Korla for a concert last August.

The video below features glimpses of daily life in Xinjiang (trying to flag down a bus on the side of the road, for example) as well as the oft-used "boy and girl frolicking in a field of flowers" shot. This is a ballad of young love, Uyghur style. (Music starts about 10 seconds into the video.)


posted March 16, 2006 at 10:52 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (82)

March 15, 2006

Uyghur Pop

Three fine Uyghur babes from Uzbekistan.I've wanted to bring you examples of Xinjiang's pop culture for some time, but never got around to setting it up. That's all in the past, though, now that I'm signed up for Google Video. So... ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, let me introduce to you the group that's been bringing down the house in Uyghur discos all over Xinjiang, all the way from Uzbekistan, the beautiful girls of [Insert Band Name Here].

OK, so I don't know what to call 'em (or what they're singing about), but it doesn't change the fact that this song and video are top-notch. Hopefully, it'll give you a feel for what's popular out in Xinjiang. (You'll also see some of the trademark moves of female Uyhgur dancing... all of those little head-fakes and arm-twirls.) If this whole streaming video thing works out, I'll try to feature more multimedia content in the future. The quality of the video is a bit crap, but you should crank up the volume anyway!


posted March 15, 2006 at 10:25 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (274)

March 13, 2006

Korla in the News

My beloved Xinjiang hometown of Korla has made it into the spotlight again, this time in a Xinjiang travel piece by Jeff Kingston for The Japan Times (supposedly "Japan's leading English-language daily newspaper"). As I found Kingston's article on the website of journalist Howard French, who visited Korla for the New York Times late last year, I figure the pair must have been travelling through Xinjiang together. (That's right, I am some sort of detective.) Both men, at least, have fond memories of Korla's Russian dancing girls.

Kingston's article managed to bring back some vivid memories of the magical world that is Korla. (Speaking of pictures, French's photo gallery has some great shots from all over Xinjiang.)

The fake palm trees with flashing neon fronds lining the main drag are the first sign that my guidebook is out of date. A skyline of shiny new office buildings, cranes and construction sites heralds an instant oil-opolis.

Could anyone possibly disagree that modern China's most charming urban phenomenon is the proliferation of neon palm trees? I don't think so.

But where do the oil-men squander their wealth at night? Most hotels provide a menu of services for lonely men, and bars and nightclubs with names such as Yes, Shooting Star, Bar 1,2,3 and Happy are equally obliging watering holes, where you can cringe at the unfortunate mix of too much alcohol and loud karaoke.

Congratulations to the 1-2-3 Bar ! You've made it into the international press. And thank you, Jeff Kingston and Howard French, for visiting the Chinese city with a special place in my heart.


posted March 13, 2006 at 11:25 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (23)

March 12, 2006

Trading with Xinjiang

The International Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China.As China becomes the world's most important economy, Xinjiang is turning into the place to trade goods in Central and Southern Asia. (So says the Associated Press article you'll find below.) The connection goes something like this: China is where the cheap goods are located and Xinjiang is the closest part of China, especially if you're looking north from India or east from the 'Stans. Thus, we get the modern skyline of Urumqi, a smack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere tribute to crappy Chinese cities everywhere.

I do have an objection to one assertion made in the article:

Urumqi's once grimy, rundown city center, meanwhile, boasts new 50-story office blocks, gaudy department stores and night clubs such as the "One Way" where the doorman wears a plaid kilt and white knee-high boots. For sheer glitz and opportunity, there isn't a metropolis to rival it within 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles).

I don't know about that last statement. Almaty is a pretty glamorous city and it's gotta be less than 2,000 km from Urumqi. In fact, this handy-dandy distance calculator tells me that the distance between the two cities is only 860 km (535 mi). Don't worry, Kazakhstan, I still got your back.

In Urumqi, a snapshot of new China-centered trading dynamic in Central and Southern Asia
Associated Press Writer
11 March 2006

URUMQI, China (AP) - Above the echoing shouts of jostling Afghan and Pakistani traders, a voice booms through the frigid terminal, speaking in heavily accented Chinese.

"You've got 20,000 meters of cloth?" a bearded, heavyset trader thunders into a mobile phone. "Great, but don't bother waking the boss. I'll call when I land."

It's early Sunday morning at Urumqi airport's cramped international terminal, and the merchants of Lahore, Karachi and Kabul are struggling to get their purchases aboard a Pakistan Airlines flight to Islamabad.

Businessmen in skull caps and traditional shalwar kameez outfits heave massive plastic-wrapped bundles to the check-in counter. Off to one side, their partners guard stacks of radio controlled planes, stuffed animals and talking dolls -- carryon baggage for a flight that is strictly business.

Traders from across South and Central Asia flock to once-isolated Urumqi, now a city of 4 million people, in China's northwest corner, 1,450 miles (2,300 kilometers) west of Beijing and 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) north of New Delhi.

They're part of a modern revival of an age-old trading route, one that is fast expanding China's growing regional influence with countries like Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan -- potentially at the expense of longtime rival India.

"The next 10 years will be critical to determining what sort of mutual spheres of influence emerge between China and India," said Anupam Srivastava, executive director of the India Initiative at the University of Georgia in the United States.

China's commerce with neighbors such as Kazakhstan and Pakistan is just a tiny component of its overall foreign trade. But that commerce is growing fast as the country resurrects a modern-day Silk Road powered by mobile telephones and air travel.

Pakistan, a close Chinese ally, reported trade with China grew 26 percent to a record high of US$3 billion (euro2.47 billion) in 2004, the last year for which figures were available. It was projected to grow by another US$2 billion (euro1.65 billion) last year.

China's diplomatic ties with India are cooler, but trade between the two has soared in recent years, from a mere US$1 billion in 1991 to $13.6 billion (euro11.43 billion) in 2005.

The growth in trade can be traced in part to a government-funded program to lift incomes in China's underdeveloped western regions, expand transportation links and boost infrastructure such as power plants.

The predominantly Muslim Xinjiang region, of which Urumqi is the capital, has seen its economy boom over the last half-decade: The region's total trade, split roughly evenly between imports and exports, more than tripled between 2000 and 2004 to US$6 billion (euro5 billion).

Businessmen and traders come to Urumqi seeking everything from bulk textiles and machinery to cheap toys, electronics and rice cookers. Some goods are made in Xinjiang, but most are shipped from China's industrialized east coast.

Trade is conducted in a variety of languages, including English and the region's native Uighur tongue. An increasing number of traders, however, have mastered China's main dialect of Mandarin well enough to put many a Western language student to shame.

Urumqi's once grimy, rundown city center, meanwhile, boasts new 50-story office blocks, gaudy department stores and night clubs such as the "One Way" where the doorman wears a plaid kilt and white knee-high boots.

For sheer glitz and opportunity, there isn't a metropolis to rival it within 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles).

Traders say there's still plenty of room for growth, particularly if the sides take up proposals for free-trade zones and other measures to simplify commerce.

"Good Pakistan-China relations make it easier for us in business," said China-based shoe manufacturer Kasheef Gulzar, one of the few passengers on the Islamabad flight sporting a clean shave and Western clothing.

Yet, like many watching the country's explosive growth, he worries that China's massive exports will overwhelm businesses in South Asia, including Pakistan's once-vaunted leather industry.

"It's hard to match their design and quality," Gulzar said. "They're becoming a kind of center of gravity for regional trade."


posted March 12, 2006 at 11:34 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (22)

More on Gitmo Uyghurs

Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay, Cub.You may remember a previous entry on this site concerning a group of Uyghurs stuck in detention at Guantanamo Bay. Well, the U.S. military released a list of detainees last week along with a large stack of documents offering details on individual prisoners. Among those detailed in the documents are two Uyghurs from Xinjiang, Abu Bakkar Qassim and Adel Abdu Hakim.

An article in today's South China Morning Post (which you can read below) features details on Qassim's journey from Xinjiang to Gitmo via Kyrgyztan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Both men make it clear that they're extremely frustrated with their unclear legal status, no longer wanted by the U.S. but unable to be returned to China. I'll let the article speak for itself, as it gives a pretty good idea of how a Uyghur could end up with the Taliban. One hardcore quote from Qassim:

"I never trained at the camp to fight the US or coalition... we Uygurs have more than 1 billion enemies, that is enough for us."

Ouch! No wonder they can't go back to China. There's also a disturbing soft allegation in the article that the American military has allowed Chinese officials to access Uyghur prisoners at Guantanamo:

Disturbingly, said Mr Willett [the detainees' lawyer], the US allowed a delegation from the Chinese government access to interrogate the men in late 2002 or early 2003. "They called us bastards and all this stuff," the transcripts quote an unidentified Uygur as saying. Mr Willett said: "I think there was a period when the US needed Chinese support for the Iraq adventure and this was part of the deal. Isn't it interesting? The military won't permit media to go and talk to our guys but they allow representatives of the PRC [People's Republic of China] to come in and yell at them."

Hrmmm. You can read the full article below.

The unluckiest of the unlucky
They were caught up in the war on terror. Now five Uygurs are trapped between fears of reprisal in China and US stonewalling, writes Jacqui Goddard.
12 March 2006
South China Morning Post

Abu Bakkar Qassim and his friends are given bottled water to drink at Camp Iguana, but the brand name could not be more inappropriate, given the circumstances. It is called Freedom Springs.

Hemmed in by military guards and razor-wire fences, freedom is frustratingly elusive for Qassim and the four other Uygur men detained with him. Ironically, it was a quest for liberty and independence that caused them to flee their Chinese homeland in the first place, but after more than four years on US territory they still have neither.

"We heard a lot of good things about the US in the past, about democracy and human rights. Now they treat us differently and I don't understand that," Qassim told his US military interrogators, according to newly released Pentagon transcripts.

Captured by bounty hunters in Pakistan in 2001 and sold to US forces as alleged associates of al-Qaeda or the Taleban, they ended up at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, on the southern tip of Cuba, with more than 500 other alleged "enemy combatants".

They were held in a facility described by Amnesty International as "the gulag of our times", denied the protections of the Geneva Convention and held without formal charge or trial. Government officials branded them "bad guys"; US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld described them as "the worst of the worst".

Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University Law School, New Jersey, who has studied their plight, has a different description: "The unluckiest of the unlucky."

Despite the Bush administration's subsequent admission in 2004 that it got it wrong and that the men are no threat to national security, the Uygurs remain trapped at Guantanamo with nowhere to go.

Washington has acknowledged that China cannot be trusted to handle them humanely if they return there. "The US has made it clear that it does not expel, return or extradite individuals to other countries where it believes that it is 'more likely than not' that they will be tortured or subject to persecution," says the Pentagon.

But it has refused to transfer them to the US mainland, where they could apply for asylum, and blames the delay in releasing them on other countries' failure to give them status instead.

"The Uygurs really are in the ultimate Catch-22," said Jumana Musa, an advocacy director with Amnesty USA.

"The US went on a rant about them being the 'worst of the worst {hellip} the most vicious on the face of the earth' then they say to other countries 'Oh whoops, they're not bad after all - so here, you take them.' But is it really other countries' responsibility to clear up America's mess?"

For Qassim, the saga began early in 2000, when he left his home in Xinjiang province to sell leather goods at a market in Kyrgyzstan and learn the Koran. "If people try to teach the Koran [in China], they are executed by the Chinese government," he told his interrogators.

Still struggling to make ends meet after 18 months there, he heard about a Uygur-run leather factory in Turkey and, keen for more lucrative work, decided to head there. He went first to Pakistan to apply for a Turkish visa, but could not afford to stay while the paperwork was processed.

So he journeyed to Afghanistan where he had been told there was a Uygur-run "training camp" where he would get free bed and board and lessons on the Koran. In a development that proved key to his downfall, the camp also provided weapons training, with the Uygurs' separatist struggle in mind.

"I never trained at the camp to fight the US or coalition ... we Uygurs have more than 1 billion enemies, that is enough for us," said Qassim. "I trained against the Chinese government. I want to be free because 100,000 people are being used like slaves {hellip} in prison in my country."

He added: "Is it a crime to want to save people from torture? Over the last 50 years, we've been suffering at Chinese hands like animals."

Adel Abdu Hakim, another of the Uygurs, said: "We didn't want to go right back to China after training to fight them. I was trying to go to Turkey to do my business. If something were to happen, then I would go back with other young Uygur men to fight the Chinese government {hellip} but I'm hoping that my country will be liberated peacefully. That would be great."

When the US bombed Afghanistan after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Qassim, Hakim and 16 other Uygurs fled through snow and fog to the border region with Pakistan. They were given sanctuary by local tribespeople, but not for long.

"Get wealth and power beyond your dreams. You can receive millions of dollars for helping the anti-Taleban force catch al-Qaeda and Taleban murderers," read the leaflets that rained on the region from US aircraft, printed to look like bank notes worth around US$4,200. "This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life, pay for livestock and doctors and schoolbooks and housing for all your people," the flyers urged.

The Uygurs were turned over to US forces in exchange for wads of cash and arrived at Guantanamo in January 2002, where they have remained ever since.

In a study of US Department of Defence records relating to 517 detainees there, Professor Denbeaux has established that just 5 per cent were actually captured by US forces. Only 8 per cent have been characterised in the US records as al-Qaeda fighters. Fifty-five per cent are deemed not to have committed any hostile act against the US or its allies.

Some were seized on the basis that they owned a Kalashnikov - as most people in Afghanistan did at the time, Professor Denbeaux's report found - or because they stayed at guesthouses, sported Casio watches or wore drab olive clothing - deemed by the US to be potential hallmarks of Taleban or al-Qaeda affiliation.

When Sabin Willett, a Boston-based lawyer who is acting pro bono for Qassim and Hakim, first met his clients at Guantanamo, they were in chains held down by a heavy iron bolt on the floor. Now they are at Camp Iguana, a separate part of the Guantanamo complex, where they live together in a wooden hut.

The Department of Defence says they are free to roam the area and have access to an "exercise/recreation yard, their own bunk house, activity room {hellip}. television set with VCR and DVD capability, a stereo system, recreational items [such as soccer, volleyball, table tennis], unlimited access to a shower facility, air-conditioning {hellip} special food items and library materials."

Disturbingly, said Mr Willett, the US allowed a delegation from the Chinese government access to interrogate the men in late 2002 or early 2003. "They called us bastards and all this stuff," the transcripts quote an unidentified Uygur as saying.

Mr Willett said: "I think there was a period when the US needed Chinese support for the Iraq adventure and this was part of the deal. Isn't it interesting? The military won't permit media to go and talk to our guys but they allow representatives of the PRC [People's Republic of China] to come in and yell at them."

The US will not explain why it is unwilling to give the men asylum, though reports have suggested that it does not wish to provoke Beijing and the fact that the men admitted they took weapons training does not sit comfortably with Washington's anti-terrorist agenda.

"Every once in a while someone pops up and gets some press for saying, 'Oh, let's close Guantanamo Bay.' Well, if someone has a better idea, I'd like to hear it," Donald Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington last month.

"We've released people from Guantanamo on a continuing basis, and we've made mistakes. Fifteen of them have gone back to the battlefield and tried to kill Americans. The idea that you could just open the gates and say, 'Gee, fellows, you're all just wonderful' is not realistic."

Nury Turkel, president of the Uygur Association of America, said: "It's very frustrating, it's very confusing. We are still hoping that some country will open up their doors to provide humanitarian assistance, but we know there's not much progress being made.

"I hate to use this term, but they will be turned into organ donors if they are sent home, that's how bad the situation is. Their fate will be unspeakable."


posted March 12, 2006 at 10:29 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (33)

March 10, 2006

Political Stability

Got my hands on an interesting document today: the Economist Intelligence Unit's analysis of political stability risks in China. Possible doomsday scenarios:

● Mishandling of protests in Hong Kong destabilises the Chinese leadership (Low Risk)
● Local protests broaden into a wider movement (Moderate Risk)
● The continuing political transition results in a struggle for power or policy paralysis (Low Risk)
● Further disease outbreaks occur, creating public anger and leadership disunity (Moderate Risk)

Steady as she goes.The only one of these possibilities that the EIU really thinks could result in political upheaval is the growth of protests resulting from tensions between China's haves and have-nots. Of course, we're talking about a division of The Economist here, so I assume they're quite pleased with the status quo as far as the Chinese government is concerned. People are getting rich, so things must be good, yes? That is, they'll be getting rich until the bird flu or SARS starts killing the workers we need to assemble our iPods and GAP t-shirts:

Public health systems in some rural areas are still weak, hindering effective response.... Companies should consider establishing contingency plans to cope with a potential health crisis that could render a large proportion of employees ill or disrupt logistics systems.

What are they so worried about? Haven't they heard that there's like, more than a billion Chinese people? Someone'll sew my shirts!

Workers of the world, unite, and so on and so forth, etc!

China risk: Political stability risk
8 March 2006
Economist Intelligence Unit - Risk Briefing


Overall assessment
Current Rating: C, Current Score: 47
Political stability risk
Current Rating: D, Current Score: 65
Note: E=most risky; 100=most risky.


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will remain in power for the foreseeable future, with officials continuing to stamp out all forms of organised opposition. However, the next five years will be a difficult period for the CCP. Popular discontent has been on the rise in recent years, fuelled by low rural incomes, high urban unemployment, land seizures and widespread corruption. Nevertheless, fourth-generation leaders are gaining in authority following their assumption of key positions in the party and the state in 2002-04. China's president, Hu Jintao, is comfortably in control of the government, working closely with the premier, Wen Jiabao, but factional divisions within the ruling party will emerge from time to time. Mr Hu will attempt to promote key allies during the CCP's 17th Party Congress due in 2007.


Mishandling of protests in Hong Kong destabilises the Chinese leadership (Low Risk)

The Chinese government accepted the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, in March 2005. Mr Tung’s unsuccessful attempts to force through unpopular national security legislation in 2003 had prompted demonstrations attended by several hundred thousand. The appointment of a new chief executive, Donald Tsang, previously a leading civil servant, eased tensions, and pro-government parties did well in September 2004 elections for the Legislative Council (Legco). However, Mr Tsang’s plans for electoral reform were voted down in December 2005 by pro-democracy parties, who wished to see a faster move towards universal suffrage. The Chinese government has ruled out early moves towards full democracy, and there are fears that clashes between China and Hong Kong politicians over democracy in the territory could have repercussions for political stability in China as China’s leadership struggles to reassert its authority. Nevertheless, Mr Tsang’s position is much stronger than Mr Tung’s, and the relationship between the government and democracy advocates in Legco is likely to be less confrontational than under the former chief executive, despite the differences of opinion.

Local protests broaden into a wider movement (Moderate Risk)

Local protests will continue to be sparked by a number of issues including lay-offs, failure to pay workers, environmental pollution, corruption and illegal seizures of land. The local government's failure to properly compensate peasants for seized land was, for example, the cause of recent protests in Shanwei, in Guangdong province, in which several demonstrators were shot dead by police. To date the government has faced down such protests by addressing some of the complaints raised and arresting most of the leaders, but this tactic may not be so successful in the future. The size and number of protests appears to be growing, and the spread of mobile phones has made organisation of demonstrations easier. Moreover, although the government works hard to ensure that the media do not give publicity to any protests that do occur, the CCP is not omnipresent as it once was, and news of large protests tends to spread. This could encourage unrest elsewhere. The development of a large regional or even nationwide protest movement would clearly present officials with a major challenge. Foreigners would not be the targets of such a movement, although they might become involved if, as has repeatedly happened in Chinese history, the regime were to choose to divert popular anger, giving it an anti-foreign direction. Alternatively, foreign companies in China seeking to lay off large numbers of workers, for example, from a recently acquired local unit, may arouse the anger of organised labour. More serious risks could emerge if a sharp crackdown on protestors prompted international criticism or sanctions, as in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

The continuing political transition results in a struggle for power or policy paralysis (Low Risk)

At the November 2002 national CCP congress the third-generation leadership, headed by Jiang Zemin, began to retire in favour of a fourth-generation group led by Hu Jintao. But although Mr Hu became general secretary of the CCP in 2002 and state president the following March, he did not inherit Mr Jiang's third position, chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission (CMC), until September 2004. Mr Jiang’s final position, as chairman of the state CMC, was surrendered to Mr Hu in March 2005. Since then, Mr Hu has moved quickly to reshuffle the provincial bureaucracy and appears to be widely accepted as China’s leader. The Chinese leadership sees its interest in presenting a united front to the Chinese public, but jostling within the leadership will continue during the forecast period. Major shifts in the balance of power are unlikely, and would only occur in the context of a specific controversy (for example, the mishandling of a major health crisis or a collapse in growth could prompt a realignment of power). While most factions within the CCP seem to support the current policy stance, businesses should be aware that the emphasis of policy could change if such a shift occurred.

Further disease outbreaks occur, creating public anger and leadership disunity (Moderate Risk)

The growing risk posed by bird flu has been recognised as one of the key threats to China’s strong economic growth rates. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has noted that bird flu appears to be widespread among the country’s poultry population, and outbreaks have occurred in numerous provinces in 2004-05, both among wild birds and among birds raised domestically and commercially. If these outbreaks spread they could devastate the country’s poultry and egg industries, which are among the largest in the world. Human cases of bird flu have caused even more concern, especially given the devastating impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China in early 2003. A total of eight people had died of bird flu as of February 24th 2005. Bird flu is only the latest in a series of disease outbreaks that has been linked to close contact between humans and animals in the villages of southern China, and further viral outbreaks of a similar nature may occur in the years ahead. In addition to bird flu, a pig disease killed around 40 humans in Sichuan province in 2005, though its spread was limited by a strong and swift government response. Official efforts to counter disease epidemics have improved following the SARS crisis, but concerns remain over the government’s willingness (particularly at the local level) to disclose all facts relating to outbreaks. In addition, co-operation between ministries can be poor, and public health systems in some rural areas are still weak, hindering effective response. This category of risk is also increased by the partisan nature of the press, which can be relied upon to suppress facts deemed unhelpful to the party leadership. Companies should consider establishing contingency plans to cope with a potential health crisis that could render a large proportion of employees ill or disrupt logistics systems.


posted March 10, 2006 at 11:58 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (42)

March 09, 2006

Human Rights Slapback

You torture worse that I torture!"What!?! Are you trying to tell me about human rights? You, with your New Orleanses and your Abu Ghraibs are trying to tell me to get my act together? No way. Let me tell you something."

And on and on goes China's retort to the US State Department's 2005 Report on Human Rights Practices in China. OK, I'm just kidding about the quote above. But these dueling reports do bring up the very important question of who will take home the trophy at this year's HRVL (Human Right Violation League) Championship. Let's see what they've got to say for themselves:

Former detainees credibly reported that officials used electric shocks, prolonged periods of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, beatings, shackles, and other forms of abuse.... Beatings with fists, sticks, and electric batons were the most common tortures. Cigarette burns, guard-instructed beatings by fellow inmates, and submersion in water or sewage were also reported.

Hrmm. Alright, America. You've taken the first shot. What have you got to say for yourself, China?

To extract information, the U.S. forces in Iraq employed various kinds of torture in their interrogations. They abused the Iraqi detainees systematically, including sleep deprivation, tying them to the wall, hitting them with baseball bats, denying their access to water and food, forcing them to listen to extremely loud music in completely dark places for days running, unleashing dogs to bite them for amusement and even scaring them by putting them in the same cage with lions.

Did you say lions? That's hardcore. Well, so far I'm gonna have to call it a tie. America?

The [Chinese] government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses.

Is that all you can come up with? What about you, China?

For years, the U.S. government has ignored and deliberately concealed serious violations of human rights in its own country for fear of criticism. Yet it has issued annual reports making unwarranted charges on human rights practices of other countries, an act that fully exposes its hypocrisy and double standard on human rights issues.

Oh, damn! I can't believe he said that right to your face, America. Don't start to cry... aw, look what you've done China. You two are going to have to apologize and make up.


posted March 09, 2006 at 08:04 PM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (11)

Why is China's Web Wild?

Is censorship really that scary?I'll tell you why. Because those who write and enforce the Internet censorship laws in China are the same people who buy drugs, look at porn, and download CPC term papers from the comfort of their home computers. That is, at least according to The New York Times.

The paper published an article yesterday, the basic point of which was... sure, searching on Google.CN for "Tiananmen Square" may give you a censored list of results, but outside of politics the available information is almost limitless. (The article also bizarrely asserts that forbidden searches can crash your computer. I'll have to leave that alone.)

Terms like "hot sex" or "illegal drugs" take users to dozens of links to Web sites allowing them to download sex videos, gain entry to online sports gambling dens or even make purchases of heroin.... Even the official New China News Agency seems to have gotten into the act. While the top of its news pages carries dispatches like "China Aims to Achieve Balance of Payments in 2006," some at the bottom feature links to soft-porn photographs of Chinese movie stars.

Then, in an article published today about the CPC's massive member education campaign known as "Bao Xian", it's mentioned that the phrase "was listed as one of the most searched phrases on the Chinese Internet last year." Why? Well, much of the "traffic appears to be driven by cadres downloading essays from the Internet to meet homework obligations."

In a posting last year, a prominent Chinese blogger, Keso, said Web sites and bloggers were using the ideological campaign as a money-making opportunity by offering essays customized to a person's party rank. The head of a street committee, for example, can find a fake self-criticism essay tailored to that job and then tinker with it to make it seem original. In a posting last year, Keso wrote: "The Web sites cheat party members, the party members cheat their leaders and the leaders cheat their leaders. So in the end we all cheat the party. This is the comedy of our time."

Now I'm not saying that I support buying heroin online, but if official websites are featuring soft-porn and party bad boys are downloading their homework, then at least some residue of the Internet's freedom is rubbing off onto the people who run things in China. That can't be a bad thing, can it?

You can read both articles below.

The Wild Web of China: Sex and Drugs, Not Reform
March 8, 2006
The New York Times

SHANGHAI, March 7 — By some estimates, there are more than 30,000 people patrolling the Web in China, helping to form one of the world's far-reaching Internet filtering systems.

But while China's huge Internet police force is busy deleting annoying phrases like "free speech" and "human rights" from online bulletin boards, specialists say that Wild West capitalism has moved from the real economy in China to the virtual one.

Indeed, the unchecked freedoms that exist on the Web, analysts say, are perhaps unwittingly ushering in an age of startling social change. The Web in China is a thriving marketplace for everyone, including scam artists, snake oil salesmen and hard-core criminals who are only too eager to turn consumers into victims.

Chinese entrepreneurs who started out brazenly selling downloadable pirated music and movies from online storefronts have extended their product lines — peddling drugs and sex, stolen cars, firearms and even organs for transplanting.

Much of this is happening because Internet use has grown so fast, with 110 million Web surfers in China, second only to the United States. Last year, online revenue — which the government defines more broadly than it is in the United States — was valued at $69 billion, up around 58 percent from the year before, according to a survey by the China Internet Development Research Center.

By 2010, Wall Street analysts say China could have the world's leading online commerce, with revenue coming from advertising, e-commerce and subscription fees, as well as illicit services.

The authorities have vowed to crack down on illegal Web sites and say that more than 2,000 sex and gambling sites have been shut down in recent years. But new sites are eluding them every day.

"It's a wild place," Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the graduate journalism school of the University of California, Berkeley, said of China's Web. "Outside of politics, China is as free as anywhere. You can find porn just about anywhere on the Internet."

On any of China's leading search engines, enter sensitive political terms like "Tiananmen Square" or "Falun Gong," and the computer is likely to crash or simply offer a list of censored Web sites. But terms like "hot sex" or "illegal drugs" take users to dozens of links to Web sites allowing them to download sex videos, gain entry to online sports gambling dens or even make purchases of heroin. The scams are flourishing.

A small sampling recently turned up these sites:

● Look-alike Web site pretending to be part of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China asks visitors to enter their account passwords.

● Web site that calls itself Honest Company specializes in deception — selling bugging devices, machines to produce fake credit cards and tools that rig casino slot machines.

● Pornographic Web site asks people to pay $2 a month to download sex videos and chat with other online customers in the nude.

● Web site advertises the sale of gamma hydroxybutyrate, a drug that acts as a relaxant and is thought to reduce inhibitions. Sometimes called a "date rape" drug, it is sold on the Web in China with instructions about how to use it to assault women.

Even the official New China News Agency seems to have gotten into the act. While the top of its news pages carries dispatches like "China Aims to Achieve Balance of Payments in 2006," some at the bottom feature links to soft-porn photographs of Chinese movie stars like Gong Li and Zhou Xun.

"The Internet is a reflection of the real world," says Lu Weigang, an analyst at the China Internet Network Information Center in Beijing. "Everything you have in the real world appears on the Internet."

Countless Web sites peddle police weapons, pepper spray and even machines to siphon electricity from power lines. Earlier this week, an eBay user in China offered to put up for auction his or her kidney and liver for $100,000. Reached on Monday, eBay said that selling human organs was forbidden on its site and deleted the entry.

And a Web site called the Patriotic Hacker asserts that an instructor "led and initiated attacks on Japanese Web sites more than 10 times." It says he even managed to shut down the official Web site for the Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan's World War II military heroes.

There are also Web sites here that sell "miracle drugs" promising to cure cancer or AIDS, sites that say they will create fake government ID cards; some that even promise to break into the national education database to change official records.

Most of the sites are forbidden by law. On paper, the government's Internet regulations forbid the display of any information that damages state security, harms the dignity of the state, promotes pornography and gambling, or "spreads evil cults" and "feudal superstitions."

How does all this get by the Internet patrols in a country where violators risk 3 to 10 years in prison, or in some cases even the death penalty? Analysts say that the growth in the Internet has simply created too many sites to patrol. In contrast, there are too few incentives to close down sites, particularly when government-owned Internet service providers, telecommunications companies and even state-run Web sites are making big profits from them.

"The Chinese government launches campaigns on the Internet to crack down on pornography or the sale of illegal goods once or twice a year, but this is not an efficient way," Mr. Lu at the China Internet Network Information Center said.

What is successful is online entertainment. Baidu.com, a Google-like search engine, has a daily poll of the top 10 most beautiful women. Sina.com publishes a popular celebrity blog by the actress and director Xu Jinglei.

A social networking Web site, 51.com, opened last August, and months later its owner, a Shanghai-based private company, said the site had more than three million registered users, mostly 15 to 25, who create personalized Web pages and meet online. "Most Internet services are about entertainment," said Pang Shengdong, 29, who founded 51.com. "What do people do every day other than make money? They entertain themselves."

Richard Ji, an Internet analyst at Morgan Stanley, said traffic in this country was dominated by young singles, many of them searching for games, dates, entertainment and community. A recent survey found that nearly 38 percent of the nation's Internet users search for entertainment on the Web. The growing enthusiasm for the Internet in China is one reason some of the biggest Internet and technology companies, like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, are eager to have a presence here, even if it means submitting to China's stringent censorship rules.

In the view of Dali L. Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago: "It's truly remarkable. This is fundamentally a social revolution."

Mr. Yang says that the social dynamics taking place on the Web might once have been considered political, and certainly marks of a bourgeois lifestyle.

"But now," he said, "the Communist Party realizes that in a market economy and a globalized economy, they don't have the manpower to cover it all. It may be political, but it's not high politics."


China Attacks Its Woes With an Old Party Ritual
March 9, 2006
The New York Times

BEIJING, March 8 — Like a giant company concerned with organizational disarray and a sinking public image, the Chinese Communist Party is trying to remake itself into an efficient, modern machine. But to do so, it has chosen one of its oldest political tools — a Maoist-style ideological campaign, complete with required study groups.

For 14 months and counting, the party's 70 million rank-and-file members have been ordered to read speeches by Mao and Deng Xiaoping, as well as the numbing treatise of 17,000-plus words that is the party constitution. Mandatory meetings include sessions where cadres must offer self-criticisms and also criticize everyone else.

"It is an effort to cope with the declining reputation of the party and the distrust of the people toward party officials," said Wenran Jiang, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.

But many are distinctly uninspired. Jokes have been circulating mocking the study campaign and many party members privately grumble that it is a pointless waste of time. Web sites offer fake essays that cadres can download to meet homework requirements.

On the surface, the campaign, known as "bao xian," or "preserving the progressiveness," would seem an unlikely modern-day remedy. But in China it is partly a byproduct of a closed political system that ensures Communist Party rule but is without any national elections to force the party to whip itself into shape.

President Hu Jintao, who is also general secretary of the party, has insisted that every party member complete the program.

Some analysts say the campaign's primary purpose, besides addressing corruption, is to rebuild grass-roots party organizations that have been falling apart. "The party is not in great shape," said Cheng Li, a specialist in Chinese politics at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. "Loyalty is deteriorating. And the grass-roots organizations are very weak."

As for the bao xian campaign, Professor Li said, "For Hu Jintao this is better than nothing."

Requests to attend bao xian meetings were turned down by three different provinces. But conversations with several party members found apathy and annoyance. A Beijing graduate student said he was required to attend four meetings a week from September through December. He said that the self-criticism sessions were awkward, and that most people refrained from making harsh attacks against others. Most people opposed the "rigid form" of the meetings, he said, but added that the sessions provided useful opportunities "for people who are so busy to get together and talk."

At one meeting, the graduate student said everyone watched a movie about the collapse of the Soviet Union "to show us the 'grave consequences' of losing Communism." The student, fearing reprisals, would only allow his English name, Ben, to be used.

At a recent news conference about bao xian, Ouyang Song, a vice minister overseeing the campaign, acknowledged that party organizations had atrophied in villages and small towns in recent years, noting that the exodus of migrant workers had diminished the pool of young candidates for party work.

But Mr. Ouyang said the movement had already resulted in 54,000 new "grass roots" party organizations, while 80,000 cadres had been promoted to leadership positions.

Asked by a Chinese reporter about complaints over the campaign, Mr. Ouyang said the public had seen the campaign's benefits through the response of party members. As an example, he described a 75-year-old party member who, on completing the study sessions, volunteered to scrub public toilets.

Not everyone has been so enthusiastic since the campaign began in January of last year. The program has flowed down the party's hierarchy, led by central government ministries and major state-owned enterprises. The third, and final, phase is now under way at village party branches and is to end in June.

Businessmen have complained of having to reschedule appointments to make time for bao xian meetings. Mr. Jiang, the University of Alberta scholar, said he had led a delegation of Canadian oil and gas executives to an energy conference last year in Beijing. But Chinese energy officials, citing scheduling conflicts with the party study sessions, unexpectedly canceled meetings in which the two sides had planned to talk business.

"The executives were asking me if this political movement will affect China's way of doing business," Mr. Jiang said. "The Chinese immediately reassured us that it wouldn't."

Campaigns of this sort are a legacy of the Chinese Communist Party. When he was president, Jiang Zemin initiated study campaigns, including one for his signature "political thought," the Three Represents. More famously, Mao introduced as many as 200 campaigns, from the angry purges that predated the Cultural Revolution era to mass mobilization efforts to exterminate rodents.

The old-style aspects of the bao xian campaign, like the criticism sessions, have raised concerns by some party members that individuals could be persecuted. Some participants say the campaign has allowed ambitious members to show off in front of their superiors with angry, bombastic displays.

But others say the meetings have a pro forma quality and focus on decidedly nonideological issues. Ben, the graduate student, said members of his party committee had complained about the food at the school cafeteria. An older party member in Henan Province, Mao Yinduan, said one of the topics discussed during bao xian meetings held by his party branch was lunchtime boozing.

"He used to like drinking," Mr. Mao said during an interview last year, nodding toward an embarrassed colleague. "But other party members mentioned this in a meeting. Now he has stopped drinking." Then Mr. Mao added: "I used to like drinking, too. People raised that with me and I've stopped."

Behind the meetings looms the issue of corruption. In February the party's Central Discipline Inspection Commission announced that it disciplined 115,000 party members for corruption in 2005.

Wang Yicheng, a political scientist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said corruption and other social problems had shaken public confidence — and the confidence of some party cadres — about whether the party was capable of managing an increasingly chaotic country. He said the sessions were a method of reinforcing the goal of the party.

"The goal is to raise the quality of party members and strengthen the party organizations to better serve the people," Mr. Wang said. "If these problems inside the party cannot be solved, the ruling position of the party could also be challenged."

Bao xian has received the praise one might expect from the state media and was listed as one of the most searched phrases on the Chinese Internet last year. But much of that traffic appears to be driven by cadres downloading essays from the Internet to meet homework obligations.

In a posting last year, a prominent Chinese blogger, Keso, said Web sites and bloggers were using the ideological campaign as a money-making opportunity by offering essays customized to a person's party rank. The head of a street committee, for example, can find a fake self-criticism essay tailored to that job and then tinker with it to make it seem original.

In a posting last year, Keso wrote: "The Web sites cheat party members, the party members cheat their leaders and the leaders cheat their leaders. So in the end we all cheat the party. This is the comedy of our time." Such cynicism underscores why many experts say efforts like bao xian will have little meaningful impact. In fact, some political analysts speculate that Mr. Hu is using the movement partly as a gesture to ingratiate himself to the older generation of former leaders who remain influential behind the scenes.

Others contend that the only effective way to improve government efficiency is for the party to embrace political reform to introduce checks and balances in the system rather than depend on periodic mobilization campaigns.

Ben, the graduate student, said one topic that rarely came up at the meetings was politics and the future of the Communist Party. "It was a difficult topic," he said, "because people have different ideas. The teacher brought it up once. He said he thought the party was facing a grave challenge.

"I agree with him."


posted March 09, 2006 at 11:45 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (19)

March 07, 2006

Back to Xinjiang

Fodor's Travel GuidesIt looks like I'll be back in Xinjiang sooner than I'd expected. I've landed an assignment updating the Northwest China section of next year's Fodor's Travel Guide to China! {Applause} I'll probably be returning to China towards the second half of April, heading out to Xinjiang around June. I can taste the kaorou already...


posted March 07, 2006 at 10:53 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (22)

March 05, 2006

A Letter from Daniel

Daniel Peacock isn't dead.

I didn't want to blog this while the situation was still developing... but now that everything's turned out OK, I'm happy to be able to share the good news. For those of you who don't know him, Daniel Peacock - my good friend and former roomate in China - had a brain hemorrhage while we were living in Xinjiang last September. As a result, he returned to England to await some very risky brain surgery. He went under the knife about six weeks ago, and thankfully it seems that everything went fairly well. There have been a few small problems... but I'll let you hear it straight from the horse's mouth:

Hi Michael,

I'm not dead. I got out of hopsital last week after 4 weeks. They cut the thing out but my body, but I had a shock in recovery and my left side was paralyzed. But, by some miracle it's getting better. I still can't walk properly and I'm so stupid... I can't remember so much of what people say I've done. My eyes are broken - I have very bad double vision which they say won't fix, so I have to wear a patch. Also, I forgot to say that my right hand doesn't work properly. It's rubbish.

I am in a good position really. Despite everything, I'm alive. I am super happy. Not depressed at all. What they did to me is amazing and now I have a future, which feels good. Please stay in contact.


You can email Daniel by clicking here.


posted March 05, 2006 at 06:30 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (11)

March 04, 2006

Noodle Fix

Extra! Extra! Noodles prices in Lanzhou rise $0.04!

I really should be writing for the New York Times, as it seems they'll accept just about any colorful China piece these days. Not that I wasn't interested in hearing about the battle brewing over a noodle price-hike in Xinjiang's neighboring province of Gansu, but is it really a riveting tale of social injustice? (Of course, no one better even think about raising the price of my noodles.)

It turns out that a few of Lanzhou's noodle shop owners actually got together and formed a cartel, threatening shops that didn't go along with the price hike. Now I don't want my friends over in Gansu to get offended when I say this... but that kind of behavior just wouldn't fly over in Xinjiang. If I only learned one thing while living there, it's that you don't mess with a Uyghur's noodles. Consider this fair warning, noodle gangster punks!

You can read the whole article below.

March 4, 2006
Noodle Prices Rise, Along With Chinese Tempers
The New York Times

LANZHOU, China — One difference between China's remote west and the rest of the country is what people choose to put in their stomachs. Noodles, not rice, are the favorite dish, none more so than the steaming bowl of beef noodles named after this decaying provincial capital on the Yellow River.

So in February, as noodle patrons across the city arrived for their morning fix, an unexpected notice awaited them: The price of a bowl of Lanzhou pulled beef noodles was going up. A large bowl, once only 27 cents, would now cost almost 31 cents.

"Beef Noodle Price Hike Touches Off Nerves Everywhere!" declared The Western Economic Daily, a feisty local paper.

And so it did. A full-blown noodle controversy arose, with price fixing by a noodle cartel being alleged. Polls gauged public opinion (Answer: not pleased). Even People's Daily, chief mouthpiece of the Communist Party, registered its indignation. Local officials promised to investigate.

But on the streets of the city's Anning District, where more than 70 noodle shops are crowded into several square blocks, the noodle contretemps was also a reminder of the millions of Chinese who still live on margins so slender that a bump of 4 cents for a bowl of noodles constitutes real money.

"There is nothing I can do about it," said Yu Songling, 50, a manager at an outdoor market in Anning. The neighborhood, in the midst of being rebuilt, is like a carcass left over from the old socialist economy: decrepit state-owned factories, many of them now closed, and vast numbers of laid-off workers, many scraping by on minimal welfare benefits.

"There are a lot of wolves," said Mr. Yu of the struggle faced by many people in the neighborhood, "and not enough meat."

There have always been enough noodles, though. Noodles served in a scorching, spicy broth in the winter or al dente in the summer, tasty, warm, filling and cheap. Lanzhou beef noodles call for chives, red peppers, beef bouillon and noodles, a recipe that to the unschooled seems mundane but one that many locals consider a subtle art.

"There is a big difference between noodle shops," said Wang Xiaoxia, 29, a taxi driver. "The taste, the color, the aroma. On days I drive, I always eat noodles. It makes me feel good."

For people in Anning, the Black Sunday of the noodle controversy was Feb. 12. Posters suddenly appeared in noodle shops announcing a price increase of 3 mao, or about 4 cents. Higher costs, wage increases, taxes — even China's embrace of market economics — were blamed. A day later, the price rose.

Inside one of the biggest shops in the neighborhood, the Gazhang Halal Beef Noodle Shop, the poster with the price increase hung beside a small table where the manager sold boiled eggs and tickets for noodles. In the small kitchen, a cook in a blue smock pulled noodles into long strands, twisting them in his hands like yarn before tossing them into a cauldron of boiling water that filled the room with steam.

Kitchens like this one can be a first step out of rural poverty for some migrant workers. At the Gazhang shop, all the workers are from the owner's home village, a typical arrangement. An owner gets cheap, reliable help; a migrant worker gets a trade and a start. But where last year a trained cook made $60 a month, the rate is $90 or higher this year because of increased competition for low-wage workers. At the same time, the price of flour also has risen.

"All the expenses are going up," said Zhang Yuxiao, 31, the owner of the Gazhang shop. "We're just following the market."

But was it really just the market? The number of noodle shops in the city has risen, increasing supply. In early February, price increases in other districts of the city had already attracted attention.

Then a day after the increase in Anning, The Western Economic Daily broke a major scandal: "The Beef Noodle Price Hike, a Price-Fixing Scheme." The paper documented a coordinated pricing scheme, led by a small group of noodle shop owners, who had made threats against any owners who resisted.

One owner, Ma Ali, taking a break from his kitchen after the scandal had become public, confirmed the pressure tactics. "They came over and handed this to me," said Mr. Ma, showing a two-page agreement that called for every shop owner to raise prices. "They said, 'If you don't raise your prices, we're going to tear down your shop sign.' "

But, Mr. Ma added, noodle shops face a problem of too much supply and too little labor: "Of course, what they are saying is true. We are not making a lot of money. And it is hard work."

It also made a good story. The Western Economic Daily, a private newspaper, wrote editorials, commissioned a poll and continued a barrage of headlines like "Ruthless Competition Leads to a Vicious Cycle" and "Beef Noodles: Price Collusion Is Illegal." Finally, the city price bureau opened an investigation.

None of the ringleaders are confessing to any wrongdoing. (Mr. Zhang, owner of the Gazhang shop, is one of the owners listed as an author of the two-page agreement calling for the higher prices. Asked about price fixing and the newspaper stories, he replied, "Journalists have nothing else to do.")

So far, nearly all of the noodle shops in much of the city are still charging the higher price. An exception is Master Zhang's Beef Noodle, a dingy storefront in the Anning District that opened in late December. The owner, Zhang Wei, 41, has struggled to make a living since losing a factory job more than a decade ago. He thought noodles might work.

He, too, got a visit from the noodle cartel, and his wife even signed an oath with a thumbprint, pledging to raise prices. But after Mr. Zhang saw the newspaper coverage, he returned his prices to the lower rate. "I had a lot fewer customers after I raised the prices," he said.

And he has other worries. A new shop just opened around the corner. "And they are giving away eggs," he said. "People here are really poor. They don't make any money, so they go there because they give away the free egg. If I start giving away eggs, I start losing money."

So, like owners of every other Lanzhou noodle shop, Mr. Zhang hopes to succeed by giving Lanzhou residents what they most seem to want — good noodles.

"It's all going to depend on the taste of the noodles," he said. "If people like the taste, they will slowly start coming."


posted March 04, 2006 at 12:42 PM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (24)

March 01, 2006

The American Tour

(Note: the new photos can be found here.)

Katz's Delicatessen in New York has the world's finest pastrami sandwich.Taiwan unification council, schmunification council!

I can't worry about what's happening on the other side of the globe while I'm stuck all the way over in chilly New Jersey. (It got down to 15°F/-10°C here yesterday. Brrr.) Let other blogs talk about timely Sino-topics of international import. I want to talk about me.

Speaking of me, does that guy ever get tired of travelling? I mean, he spends a year bouncing all over the remote corners of China, and then when he comes back to the States for a little R&R he never seems to stick around in the same place for more than a week. Oh, me... oh, my.

OK, enough of that. What I really want to write about is what I've been up to since getting back to America. It's been more than a month since I returned, and aside from the New York metropolitan area I've made it to Massachussetts (to visit my brother, Aaron, and my friend, David), Florida (to see my aging paternal grandparents), and California (to see my father, grandmother, cousin, and some old friends).

I really had a great time in all of those places, but San Francisco deserves a special mention. How can I begin to extol the virtues of San Francisco? You are so beautiful, so colorful, so full of character and delicious burritos. You nutured me when I was young, and now I'd like to return the favor. The only problem is that I'm broke, and you've no jobs to support me. Oh, San Francisco, I yearn to return to your loving embrace, but another also calls to my heart... the seductress, China.

OK, well, this entry is getting out of hand. I'll just cut things off right here by telling you to check out the awesome new gallery of photos from my 2006 American Tour. God bless the USA!

Me and Dominic Gagnon, New York City, February 2006.P.S. Dominic Gagnon, the Quebecois seperatist terrorist (just kidding) I lived with in Xinjiang, has made it back to Canada after travelling west via Eurasia. He passed through New York last weekend and we got together at my old apartment. Vive le Québec libre!


posted March 01, 2006 at 03:45 AM unofficial Xinjiang time | Comments (22)