Tag Archives: Beijing

China: Along the Tea Horse Road (PHOTOS)

In Yunnan province, visitors can still step back into the Ming dynasty.

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On the dashboard of our van, a solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheel spins continuously as we make our way through the bumpy roads linking Lijiang, Dali and Tengchong.

Continue reading China: Along the Tea Horse Road (PHOTOS)

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We can’t stop watching this guy destroy a $1 million vase by Ai Weiwei

Coloured Vases (2009) | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Maximo Caminero, a well-known painter based in Miami, is facing felony criminal mischief charges after deliberately dropping a vase painted by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei in a local museum on Sunday. Looking at the colorful object, Caminero said, he figured it was “a common clay pot like you would find at Home Depot.”

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Underneath, however, it was a genuine ancient artifact from the Han dynasty—with an estimated value of $1 million (according to the responding police officer, that is).

Now, by way of some amateur footage, you too can experience the shock of standing in the Pérez Art Museum Miami when someone criticizes the gallery’s international focus by smashing a work of foreign provenance.

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“It was a spontaneous protest,” Caminero told the Miami New Times. “I was at PAMM and saw Ai Weiwei’s photos behind the vases where he drops an ancient Chinese vase and breaks it. And I saw it as a provocation by Weiwei to join him in an act of performance protest.”

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“I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here,” Caminero said of his attack on Ai’s According to What? installation—and some colleagues have happily praised him for it. “They have spent so many millions now on international artists. It’s the same political situation over and over again. I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s always the same.”

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In comments to the BBC, Ai was clear on the difference between his acts of destruction and Caminero’s: “I never tried to destroy a museum piece—those vases belong to me. He can drop whatever he likes to drop, but not other people’s property.” I could almost swear I’ve heard that line of reasoning before?

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Ai also laid claim the moral high ground of creative martyrdom: “I still don’t have a chance to show my work in China or Beijing. I never even think of going to a museum in Beijing to protest—if I [did], I would be punished.” Caminero will suffer his own unpleasant consequences, of course, but you can’t say he wasn’t warned not to touch.

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Recycled steel bars form modular café interior by penda

recycled steel bars form modular café interior by penda

in beijing, architecture and design studio penda has completed the interior of a local café using recycled steel bars to serve as modular dividers.

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

commissioned by property developers hongkun, the scheme introduces an area of greenery within the city’s heavily polluted atmosphere

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

intended to serve as a precedent that will encourage other chinese cities to implement similarly green proposals.

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

the primary design feature is the repetition of upcycled steel bars, painted black and constructed as a grid.

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

this modular system allows the café to be readily reconfigured.

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

the latticed structure allows a variety of different elements to be inserted, with plant boxes, books, and lights occupying the design.

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

many of the scheme’s wooden pots are filled with air purifying and easy-to-grow vegetation such as spider plants, sword fern and marble queen.

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

over time, the plantation will grow across the structural framework, covering the steel with a natural green blanket.

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

penda home cafes beijing china designboom

The Wall Street Journal suggests Snowden gave China an incredibly powerful cyberweapon

Snowden

The Wall Street Journal thinks Edward Snowden may have provided China with a new, powerful cyberweapon.

China is known for its so-called Great Firewall, a nationwide system of web blocks and filters that the government uses to maintain strict online censorship in mainland China.

Now it reportedly has a complementary offensive tool — dubbed the Great Cannon — to go after sites it doesn’t like. And Snowden, the NSA-contractor-turned-whistleblower, may be to blame.

“The Great Cannon is not simply an extension of the Great Firewall,” experts at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said, “but a distinct attack tool that hijacks traffic to (or presumably from) individual IP addresses and can arbitrarily replace unencrypted content as a man-in-the-middle.”

China can now reroute innocent traffic coming to Chinese websites and use it for a malicious distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to overload the servers of another website. It may also be able to inject malicious code into target computers.

China's "Great Cannon"
CitizensLabThis diagram shows how China’s “Great Cannon” works with its “Great Firewall” to hijack traffic and attack websites.

Citizen’s Lab notes that the only other “known instances of governments tampering with unencrypted internet traffic to control information or launch attacks” involve the use of a program called Quantum that was developed by the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

Snowden revealed the existence of Quantum through slides given to American journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong after he arrived on May 20, 2013. The Journal is now wondering whether the former NSA contractor provided the source code to Beijing before flying to Moscow on June 23.

“Did Snowden give the Chinese the code for the Great Cannon?” the editorial asks. “He denies sharing anything with foreign governments. But then he’s an admitted liar, and we don’t know what the Chinese and Russian spy services have been able to copy from what he stole.”

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REUTERS/Bobby YipA monitor at a shopping mall in Hong Kong in 2013 broadcasting news on the charges against Snowden.

The Journal’s evidence regarding Snowden and the Great Cannon is scant and circumstantial and is based mainly on suspicion of Snowden, the similarities between the Great Cannon and Quantum, and timing.

“A South China Morning Post report that the Great Cannon has been under development for about a year is suggestive,” The Journal asserts. “This means China’s hacking bureaucracy geared up to produce this new product soon after the Snowden leaks.”

In any case, China now has a powerful new cyberweapon to enforce its status as the world’s vastest internet censorship regime.

“The operational deployment of the Great Cannon represents a significant escalation in state-level information control: the normalization of widespread use of an attack tool to enforce censorship by weaponizing users,” CitizenLab notes.

Waldorf Astoria sale to Chinese on hold over security fears

Welcome, new owners! (Image courtesy Hilton Worldwide)

The State Department said it is reviewing the sale of the hotel to Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group, and that it may stop leasing space for the U.S. ambassador to the UN or the General Assembly.

Anbang is reportedly linked to China’s Communist Party, which has overseen a massive effort to use cyberspying to steal U.S. trade and military secrets.

The sale of the Waldorf Astoria to a Chinese insurance giant is really bugging the State Department.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Grand plans by Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group “to restore the property to its historic grandeur” has some Washington diplomatic and security insiders wondering if the Chinese will be adding more than a view to kill for.

Officials said Monday they are reviewing the sale — and implied the glittering renovation scheme for the iconic Park Ave. hotel may mask a nefarious purpose: espionage.

“We are currently in the process of reviewing the details of the sale and the company’s long-term plans for the facility,” said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

The State Department said it may end a 50-year practice of leasing a residence at the hotel for the U.S. ambassador to the UN.

Also at stake is the department’s rental of two floors of the Waldorf during the annual UN General Assembly.

The White House declined to say if President Obama will continue staying at the hotel’s presidential suite during trips to New York. Every commander-in-chief since Herbert Hoover has stayed there.

Cooper said security, along with cost, would determine if the State Department maintains its relationship with the hotel in the wake of the $1.95 billion sale, announced last week.

“The State Department takes seriously the security of its personnel, their work spaces and official residences,” Cooper said. “We are constantly evaluating our security protocols and standard operating procedures to ensure the safety and security of our information and personnel.”

Anbang, which bought the Waldorf from Hilton Worldwide, is reportedly linked to China’s Communist Party, which has overseen a massive effort to use cyberspying to steal U.S. trade and military secrets.

After all, the U.S. knows the game — we’ve done our own cloak-and-dagger work involving diplomatic representatives of allies and foes alike.

The National Security Agency’s eavesdropping efforts include bugging the Manhattan headquarters of the UN itself, according to documents provided to the German magazine Der Spiegel last year by ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The State Department regularly reminds U.S. diplomats who go to China that they are likely to face surveillance and tells American citizens who travel to China that someone might be listening in their hotel rooms.

“Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge,” according to the department’s latest travel advice for China.

Smartphones – The Xiaomi shock

China’s booming smartphone market has spawned a genuine innovator

“FROM the beginning, Xiaomi has considered the mobile phone to be a converged gadget of software, internet services and hardware, not just a simple device.” So declared Lei Jun, the charismatic founder of Xiaomi, a Chinese smartphone-maker with global aspirations, during a recent meeting at his firm’s headquarters in Beijing with Choi Yang-hee, South Korea’s telecoms minister.

Bland as Mr Lei’s comments may sound, the meeting revealed something important about Xiaomi. That a South Korean minister would deign to visit a Chinese tech firm which until recently was barely known outside its home country, let alone sit through such a lecture, is telling. Such has been the Korean hubris over the prowess of its chaebol—most notably Samsung, the world’s leading mobile-phone firm—that the scene would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. It shows how worried Samsung is of being upended by what another South Korean minister has called the “Xiaomi shock”.

To see what he means, consider what the firm has accomplished since its first phone was launched four years ago. Its worldwide sales were 61m handsets last year, a rise of 227% on the year earlier, making it the sixth-biggest mobile-phone firm in the world. In China, Xiaomi had leapt ahead of all its rivals, foreign and local, by the final quarter of last year, to become the top-selling brand of smartphones (see charts). This year Mr Lei wants to sell 100m units worldwide.

The company has already started a big push towards achieving this. Last year it began selling phones in a few South-East Asian markets, including Singapore. It also struck a deal with Flipkart, India’s leading e-commerce firm, to sell handsets in that market. Earlier this month it unveiled plans to sell headphones and other accessories (though not yet phones) in America.

Conquering the world will be harder than dominating the home market. Google and its Android app store are unavailable in China, making it easier for Xiaomi’s flavour of the Android operating system, and its app store, to flourish there. Few consumers in other emerging markets are as plugged into e-commerce as the Chinese are. Entering such markets may require Xiaomi, which has thus far relied mostly on internet sales and word-of-mouth buzz, to make expensive investments in advertising and in bricks-and-mortar retailing.

Profitability is also a big concern. Xiaomi, still private, releases few details of its finances. But Mark Li of Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm, suspects that its handsets do not make the sort of double-digit margins earned by Apple. Even the firm admits it has enjoyed higher margins from selling millions of fluffy promotional toys—in the form of a bunny called “Mitu”—than it has from handsets.

Another snag is its lack of intellectual property. Smartphone companies are highly litigious. Unlike its more experienced local rivals, Lenovo (which has bought Motorola’s smartphone division from Google) and Huawei, Xiaomi does not have a huge patent portfolio. Lin Bin, its president, says it has been filing thousands of patents in preparation for a legal onslaught: “This is something we expect to happen.” Indeed, an Indian court is investigating claims that Xiaomi has disobeyed its order to halt sales of some of its phones in the country, over a patent dispute.

Given these obstacles, why is Samsung still worried? One reason is that Xiaomi has positioned itself perfectly to be a disrupter of firms offering overpriced, over-elaborate devices. Its best handsets are not quite as good as Apple’s or Samsung’s best, but they are far better than those from other, cut-rate rivals—and they cost half what an unsubsidised new iPhone does.

Consider again the sweeping assertion made by Mr Lei to the Korean minister. From the start he has understood the awesome power of the connected mobile device. That has led to a business model that blends Apple’s walled garden, which encourages users to stay loyal to its “ecosystem” of apps, with Amazon’s use of the Kindle as a loss-leader to sell lucrative content, software and services. Xiaomi started off peddling handsets without profit, but it is creating a bunch of apps, “smart home” gadgetry, online video and peripheral devices to make a return on its investment.

The other reason incumbents should worry about Xiaomi is its financial firepower. Some 29 banks tripped over themselves to offer it a $1 billion loan in October. In December several respected venture capitalists including GIC, Singapore’s sovereign-wealth fund, and DST of Russia, an early investor in Facebook, provided another $1.1 billion. Some reckon that this latest investment, which values it at $45 billion, makes the Chinese upstart the world’s most valuable startup. Xiaomi’s shock-and-awe campaign rolls on.

Ukrainian Brides May Solve China’s Gender Gap, Chinese Media Claims

Ukrainian Brides May Solve China’s Gender Gap, Chinese Media Claims

The 33 million extra men pose serious social risks, but some just see a matchmaking bonanza.

Their economy is depressed but beautiful women are running rampant,” the state-run Beijing News reported Jan. 22 in a story suggesting that Ukrainian women could be the solution to China’s woman shortage.

The piece, illustrated with charts, bubbles, and cartoon illustrations of lonely Chinese men, was a breezy attempt to make light of China’s missing women and the severe gender imbalance caused by couples aborting female fetuses in favor of boys.

So widespread is the practice that it has badly skewed the country’s sex ratio: The global average is around 105 boys born for every 100 girls; but in China last year, just over 115 boys wereborn for every 100 girls.

The problem has been brewing since sonogram technology was introduced to China in the 1980s, allowing families to determine a baby’s gender during the first few months of pregnancy.

Combined with the country’s restrictive family planning policies — until recently, most urban families were only allowed a single child in order to curtail population growth — and a traditional preference for sons, the newfound ability to practice sex-selective abortion has resulted in one of the world’s highest gender imbalances.

The topic flared anew in the public mind after the National Bureau of Statistics announced the latest population figures on Jan. 20, noting that at the end of 2014 China had 700 million men and 667 women, a shortfall of more than 33 million women.

The bureau didn’t provide a breakdown, but previous research shows that most of China’s missing women are among those born since 1985.

To address the problem, China has resorted to propaganda campaigns extolling the virtues of daughters and offering cash incentives for couples that have them.

These measures have spurred more female births, but not enough — China’s gender imbalance is still “the most serious in the world, and has lasted for the longest time and affected the largest number of people,” China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) said in a Jan. 21 statement.

Rather than dwelling on the fact that sex-selective abortions continue despite a government ban,

Chinese media interpreted the sex ratio as a threat to men, not women.

Chinese media interpreted the sex ratio as a threat to men, not women. On Jan. 21, web giant Sina’s arm in Henan, China’s most populous province, wondered aloud on social media platform Weibo whether the news was “heart-stopping” and exhorted bachelors to “start making an effort!”

Meanwhile, a Beijing statistician sharing the latest figures to his Weibo account wrote, “Tomorrow I am going to get my son to hurry up and find a girlfriend at his elementary school.” The Beijing News even suggested that Ukrainian women could be a solution to China’s problem.

The story kicked off with a question: “Just how hard is it for a diaosi,” slang for young bachelors of modest means, “to find a wife?” After explaining the severe imbalance that the ratio represents, it added that Chinese brides are a popular “export” to many countries such as Japan, South Korea, and the United States, a trend it said had depleted China’s supply of eligible women still further. It offered a chart of the best destinations around the globe for Chinese men to find spouses.

Japan and South Korea were particularly promising, the paper said, claiming that 26 percent of South Korean women who took foreign spouses in 2012 chose Chinese men. The trend was bound to grow, the argument went, since popular Korean television actress Park Chae Rim married her Chinese actor beau, Gao Ziqi, in Sept. 2014.

Light-hearted joking filled the comments section, with most ignoring the underlying factors leading to bachelor over-supply. Some netizensviewed the gender imbalance as a boon for the gay community, others as a useful pressure valve for who weren’t interested in marriage anyway. There were, in other words, plenty of fish in the sea, at least outside of China.

Therese Hesketh, a professor of global health at the University College London, told Foreign Policy via email from eastern China’s Zhejiang province that many ordinary Chinese feel that “aborting a girl is simply a choice made by a couple — and they are entitled to this.”

Hesketh said that when she lectures in China, many audience members “seem to just accept selective abortions,” and she has students who admit they would abort female fetuses in favor of a boy. She added that many of students attribute this stance to parental pressure.

China is not alone in these cultural predilections. Indian social scientist Ravinder Kuar wrote in an August 2013 paper that “the common response” in both China and India “when the connection between sex selection and bride shortage is pointed out is that rather than allow daughters to be born, they would resort to importing brides.”

Kuar also wrote that bride shortages in China and India can lead to “kidnap marriages” that include “deception and enticement” and “luring women for marriage into high sex ratio areas.”

For its part, the Chinese government is still campaigning against sex selective abortions. Following the release of the latest statistics, the NHFPC revealed details of its latest initiative to curb sex-selective abortion: harsher penalties for agencies and individuals who send blood samples from expectant mothers abroad for testing to determine the gender of the woman’s fetus.

Clinics and hospitals in China can perform sonograms on expectant mothers, but are barred from revealing the gender of the baby, a restriction that has given rise to black market sonogram testing (including providers who perform the exam in the back seat of a woman’s car).

Chinese agencies that offer to come to a woman’s home will draw blood, pack it in dry ice, then mail or carry the sample across the border to Hong Kong or elsewhere for testing at hospitals.

The commission has promised severe punishments for anyone caught in the act. But that hardly seems like enough to solve the underlying problem, any more than Ukrainian brides.

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