Sunday 27 March 2011

China's tsunami preparations

The tsunami which hit eastern Japan was barely noticed on the Chinese seaboard, but the earthquake nevertheless set in train the disaster plans laid out by the Chinese authorities. 
The National Marine Environment Forecasting Centre 国家海洋预报台 in Beijing is one of two dozen administrative agencies subordinate to the State Oceanic Administration 国家海洋局, which itself is subordinate to the Ministry of Land and Resources 国土资源部. Under the SOA’s comprehensively-named “Storm Surge, Wave, Tsunami and Sea-Ice Disaster Contingency Plan”, a level 4 blue alert was issued for the Chinese coast. It was quickly calculated that a wave up to 60cm high would reach the coast of Zhejiang and Fujian around 10pm, with a wave of 30cm expected to reach Jiangsu and Shanghai at around 2am the following morning. In fact, the wave was much smaller when it did hit.
The SOA’s Disaster Contingency Plan ranks the danger from tsunamis on a scale of 1 to 4 (extremely serious, serious, quite serious, and moderate), with colours to go with each (red, orange, yellow, blue). A red alert is issued if there is expected to be a wave of 3m above the normal tidal range, causing serious damage and a threat to life and property over 300km or more of coastline. The orange alert is sounded if the wave is 2-3m high; the yellow if it’s 1-2m high with damage expected to buildings and shipping; while the blue alert is for waves less than 1m high with minor damage expected. 
Could a tsunami cause the same kind of devastation in China as it did in Japan? Good question. One thing that Zhejiang and Jiangsu have going for them is that the East China Sea is hundreds of miles broad and quite shallow (most is barely 200m deep), so tsunamis tend to dissipate their energy before they hit land. Another tick in the “good news” column is that the seabed off Jiangsu and Zhejiang is not particularly earthquake prone, and with a quake of magnitude 7 generally needed to trigger a dangerous tsunami it’s unlikely that either province will be hit any time soon. The tendency for homes to be built largely from wood, as they are in Japan, isn’t as common nowadays in China as it once was, and one would expect to see more houses survive (notwithstanding the possibility that concrete houses, if jerry-built, might collapse nonetheless).
On the down side, coastal Jiangsu is very heavily populated and as flat as a pancake, so a tsunami like Japan’s would travel many miles inland and affect hundreds of thousands or even millions. Shanghai, too, is at sea level, and a tsunami would happily submerge Chongming Island and the exposed districts of Pudong even if it didn’t propagate up the Huangpu to swamp the city itself. The Qiantang River, famous for the tidal bore created by its bottleneck, would concentrate and magnify a tsunami and aim it directly at Hangzhou, while the nuclear power station at Qinshan on the estuary would be right in the firing line. 
Further south, Fujian and Canton are hilly, with coastal communities concentrated in bays and inlets which would be vulnerable to tsunamis. Also, the relative proximity of the coast to the deep water of the South China Sea and the earthquake zones around Taiwan places these provinces at a higher tsunami risk (a large quake in 1771 caused a tsunami that devastated the nearby Ryukyu Islands, though records on how it affected mainland China are absent). There are two nuclear power stations on the Canton coast, at Daya Bay and Ling’ao, both of them at risk of tsunami damage if there is ever a large quake in the Taiwan strait. If they did ever meet the same fate as Fukushima, Hong Kong and Shenzhen are only a stone’s throw away...

Friday 25 March 2011

Wangyou seriously misjudge Libya

Publishing a book on the confused state of the law regulating royal marriages has taken up most of my time recently, but I’ve had an ear to the ground over events in Libya, keeping an eye on how Chinese wangyou are reacting. 
Unsurprisingly, the mood and views are often terrifyingly partisan and ill-informed. A predictably bileful poster managed the darkly emotionless “go grab a few Libyans and add them to the pile in Japan”. Some have been scathing about “that clown Sarkozy” - “If France’s performance in World War Two’s anything to go by, I’m not worried for Gaddafi” - while others concede that France has made a shrewd move in supporting the interim government.
There’s much chatter about the role of oil in sparking the crisis, a factor which has been almost completely absent from UK news commentary. The average Chinese wangyou, to make sweeping generalisations, can border on an irrational obsession with how foreign governments’ agendas are rooted in global economics and nothing more, most likely as a result of their own government’s obsession with macroeconomics over anything else: there’s little hint in Chinese chatrooms that ideas of individual liberty and democracy are appreciated as being a driver of Western policy.
Wangyou are full of grand ideas on what China’s strategy in Libya should be, but only a few seem to realise that all their political theoretising will amount to Jack when China is cold-shouldered for its refusal to support military action against Gaddafi.
“Gaddafi knows China needs oil,” writes one, “and China has spent a real lot on getting oil, with huge construction projects in Libya, which puts him over a barrel, as it were... Yet Gaddafi doesn’t think China amounts to anything, and when these criminals go around destroying and looting Chinese companies’ property, or even killing Chinese people, he’s totally unconcerned, so we’ll have to withdraw all the Chinese currently in Libya and abandon all the infrastructure. Once he’s back in control of the situation, that infrastructure will be to Libya’s benefit, and if China wants to go back it’ll have to renegotiate from scratch, and Gaddafi will be able to name his price - this is his dream scenario. This is why China has sold out on Gaddafi. Of course, if the rebels win, no good will come China’s way, and it’ll be hard whether or not China gets back in to Libya, if this lot have a deep Western worldview.”
Hopefully, the Chinese government will have more sense than to do what one wangyou has proposed...
“China’s best outcome would be, if Gaddafi loses, to arm and aid the groups opposed to the rebels, including Gaddafi’s tribe, and then let Libya become a quagmire for other countries to send troops into, so that after the mess gets too much they just eventually wash their hands of it and pull out, which would let China and Russia position themselves as international moral saviours. The British and French with their military and economic power won’t want to get stuck in that quagmire, and everybody’s there for oil, so why spoil the moneymaking? At that point, countries like France and Britain who are first in and have most to make will need to sit down with China and Russia to talk shop. On no account will anyone want to end the mess - everyone will be making money, won’t they? Sinopec or whoever will be able to divvy up the Italians’ territory in Libya, and as for the British and French, well, we can think more about them, but those slow-witted Italians have always been our bitches...”
There’s no need to point out that any assessment of the situation that paints China and Russia as moral saviours is seriously out of touch with reality. Even more so, another Chinese wangyou had this to say about Libya under Gaddafi. Only in a country like China, where healthcare is prohibitively expensive and corruption and exploitation ubiquitous could Gaddafi’s regime be portrayed as a veritable paradise. Promise not to laugh.
“In power, Gaddafi took 50% of Libya’s oil revenue and distributed it to every household before using the rest on the state budget. Education and healthcare are all free, and conditions that can’t be treated in Libya are sent abroad for treatment, free of charge. Exploitation isn’t permitted. Shops aren’t allowed to employ staff, only partners who hold a share in the business. Wherever the state has provided large-scale water projects, the herdsmen can become farmers, and farms, homes and tractors are all provided for free.”
What hope for China, if citizens can look with envy at the few measly cents that have trickled down from the oil wealth of the brutal regime of a murderous psychopath?

Tuesday 15 March 2011

China watches the unfolding disaster

Plenty of comparisons continue to be made between the Japanese earthquake and the Wenchuan disaster. The Canton Daily reported that Chinese students studying in Japan had seen skyscrapers “dancing” in the quake, but that when the shaking subsided there’d been scarcely a crack to be seen, or even broken glass. It’s not escaped people’s attention that in Wenchuan the buildings collapsed at the first sign of a tremor (as the Chinese phrase goes, they were made of soybean dregs 豆腐渣). Why? Because after six decades of corruption the builders were able to buy off the officials who were meant to be guaranteeing the build-quality in Wenchuan, as everywhere else in China; in Japan, so the Chinese appear to be acknowledging with a grudging and envious air, the rule of law is respected and people take civic responsibility seriously, not just mouthing the words. Whereas China is the triumph of form over substance, Japanese society comes up with the goods when it really matters. My apologies for the number of cliches in that sentence.
Another thing that’s been pointed out in Chinese articles and blogs is people’s lack of faith in the messages aimed at them from above: Japanese schoolchildren are drilled in earthquake safety from a very early age, and they heed and trust what’s told to them; in China, people grow up sensing that messages emanating from above are the Party’s self-serving propaganda and not necessarily in their own best interest, meaning that any worthwhile messages get ignored with the rest. You could call it a deficit of public faith. Wangyou seem to agree that they'd rather be caught in an earthquake in Japan than in China.
My previous post translated a couple of typically virulent anti-Japanese tirades, gloating about the destruction and praying for more Japanese deaths. Other internet users in China have pointed out that Japan’s role after the Wenchuan quake has been pretty much ignored. Tokyo sent a reported 530,000,000 yen in aid, along with specialist rescue teams, but how many Chinese are even aware? “How do our fellow countrymen respond to the Japanese quake?” asks one blogger. “With pure schadenfreude.” After Wenchuan, he notes, there wasn’t a whisper of such sentiment on Japanese blogs. The Chinese government is, thankfully, sending aid to the disaster zone, though I can’t help feeling that this is not unlike a neighbour who’s kind to your face but then slags you off behind your back. The Chinese Communist Party, after all, is wholly responsible for perpetuating China’s seemingly endless anti-Japanese feeling.
On a possibly more positive note, the two posts I translated the other day seem not to have been followed up by the same wangyou with subsequent venom. Perhaps they’ve had time to reflect on quite how nasty they look, now that the death toll’s risen to at least five figures, when they were baying for as many Japanese dead as possible; or perhaps they’ve continued to post under other names. They were 学飞の雀雀 and zhynusan if anybody would like to see what they’re up to.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Predictable Chinese internet reactions to the quake

The news from Japan has highlighted the best and worst of how the Chinese feel about their neighbour and their place in the modern world. Here are a few extracts from posts in the hours after the quake struck.
‘zhynusan’ was ‘Happy, because all you Japanese dwarves have got what you deserved today... Sad, because the Japanese islands haven’t been totally submerged. How come so few of those f*ckers died? ... I hope that tomorrow I’ll be able to fetch a map of the world and say to my son “There used to be a country here, that produced stuff like Sora Aoi and Ran Asakawa [famous porn models], but it’s gone. And it won’t be coming back. Go tell your ma to kill that old chicken, ’cos we’re gonna have a feast to celebrate!”’
‘Fledgling bird’ posted ‘Quake on! Best if it quakes them all out of here! Tens of thousands of those Japanese dwarves are dead - better than winning the lottery! The filth, let’s all us Chinese cheer! Got off work and onto the net, and saw there’d been a tsunami, ho ho, felt really happy, if only it could’ve been bigger... I bet there’ll be people all over China having a wry laugh, ho ho. Serves them right. I don’t think China should be going to their aid... One thing that’s not so good is that there’s no word of a high death toll, but I think there’ll be more to come! A little tsunami like that won’t teach the Japs a proper lesson, let alone be a decent apology to us Chinese. I don’t know what the damage will cost, but it must be in the hundreds of billions in any currency. Looking at all those masses of cars, boats and houses, it’s a magnificent sight. I really want to go and take a look in person, perhaps offer the dwarves a tissue. We’re a civilised country, far better than their pissy little island nation. ... Let’s do them a half-second’s silence as a tribute, ho ho. Now it looks like there’s over 40 dead! Not enough - we need a few more, or it won’t be worth it. Come on, it was a massive 9 on the scale! May god bring another quake, amen! I pray that all the gods in the heavens bring storms to make it all the more ferocious!’
But another anonymous poster took quite a different angle:
‘The news of a big quake at sea a few days ago, with no injuries, had lots of you stamping your feet in anger. Looks as if nature heard your cries, cos today it struck Japan with a vengeance. Some of you are still asking “why at sea again? why only 20 or 30 dead? why not flatten Tokyo? can’t a tsunami wipe out Japan?” You haven’t exhibited a trace of sympathy, because Japan once invaded us and did such harm, and for that reason I hate Japan too. I’ve never called them “Japanese”, only “devils”. But in the face of nature we’re all equal. When others are in peril you can pretend not to notice, stand by and do nothing, but please don’t sneer and make fun, or get some kind of schadenfreude kick from their suffering. Some of you are saying too few died. What if one day we had a big quake, like the one in Yunnan the other day, and the Japanese said too few had died, how would you feel? ... Do we have to go on with all the same resentments and preferences of our elders’ generations? The best way to get revenge isn’t to bang on like you lot about “destroy Japan!” or “I’ll give my life to smash the Japanese”, or do you really want the flames of war to reach us again? No - we should strive for knowledge, whether in the humanities, sciences or arts, so that our technology, civilization and culture can conquer the opposition, and I think the Japanese would have no choice but to respect us. 

[The buddhist monk] Foyin once said, “if you see people as shit, then your heart contains just shit, but if you see people as the buddha, then your heart contains the buddha”. I can’t forget the 300,000 murdered in Nanjing, of course. People can have things they hate, but mustn’t lack conscience. We could make a massive counter attack in revenge for Japan’s provocations, we can boycott Japanese goods, have an embargo on imports, but when we see lives being snuffed out by nature can we sneer and joke? If the invasion of China is the reason for your schadenfreude, well, have you forgotten the disastrous Great Leap Forward or the decade of chaos in the Cultural Revolution? That was your own countrymen doing the damage then, even more recently than the Japanese, and we Chinese killed more than the Japanese ever managed. Have you all forgotten? By your logic, when it comes to [the disasters in] Wenchuan, Yushu and Yunnan should we all just grab a drink and have a laugh, raise a toast to congratulate each other? perhaps let off a few firecrackers?
And another thing - all those people killed when those crappy buildings collapsed in Wenchuan, how are they going to get redress? Did the builders get their punishment? Aren’t you lot on a bit of a subjective mission? ... Before you sneer at others, you need to know that it’s harder to overcome yourself than it is to overcome others. Remember what Bai Yansong [CCTV news anchor for the Sichuan earthquake in 2008] said: why does China have so few friends internationally? It’s because China has no concept of the worth of common humanity. When 9.11 happened, the rest of the world’s press led with the story, and here the front pages carried stories about our leaders making official visits!
Compared to nature, we’re tiny; faced with disasters, there’s only people and people, not nation and nation, and we should have pity and sympathy, not narrow nationalistic feelings. To be a person you need generosity, and a nation even more so. If foreigners could see what you’ve been writing about the Japanese on the net, what would they think?’
Well, some of the foreigners at least have seen what they’ve been writing...

Friday 11 March 2011

The tsunami threatens China's coast

After today’s enormous earthquake off the north-east coast of Japan, the expected tsunami warnings were flashed around the Pacific Rim. The coastal parts of Jiangsu province and Shanghai City are some 1,400 miles as the (very weary) crow flies, and fortunately they’re sheltered from the direct line of any waves by the Japanese islands themselves. 
That said, QQ was buzzing with reports from Jiangsu that the quake had been felt a long way inland. The seismology bureaux along the Jiangsu coast have been predicting a possible tsunami effect, expected to hit places such as Lianyungang 连云港, Yancheng 盐城, Nantong 南通 and Qidong 启东 in the early hours of Saturday 12th. Qidong especially is exposed to any movement in the Pacific, sticking far out into the ocean at its easternmost point and being, like all the coast of Jiangsu, very low lying and densely populated farmland.
As of 10pm local time, there were reports in coastal Jiangsu of fishing fleets and ships at anchor being told to set out for the open sea, where an approaching tsunami would not cause them any damage, rather than risk them being tossed against their moorings.
Shanghai’s Chongming Island 崇明岛, too, is as flat as a pancake, as is Nanhui 南汇. The buzz on the net has been anxious glances at world maps to see whether Shanghai’s closer than Taiwan, to try to calculate when people can stop holding their breath. As one blogger observed, a tsunami this big hitting Shanghai and it’d be all over.

Friday 4 March 2011

Lei Feng resurfaces on the Shanghai metro...

Signs and posters reminding commuters it’s “Learn from Lei Feng Day” on March 5th have started to appear on the Shanghai metro. I’m presuming that you’ve all decided what you’re going to do by way of celebration? Bake a cake in the shape of the self-sacrificing soldier, then give it away to a needy peasant without a second thought, just as the Fengster would have done? Thought not.

I recall first reading about Lei Feng as an undergraduate of Mandarin, and feeling an utter lack of empathy with a young man who died at what was almost exactly my own age at the time. (The fact that we appeared to share a birthday made it easy to remember at least one detail of what was a semi-fictionalized life-story.)
Dictatorial regimes need pseudo-moral examples like Lei Feng to spur people to altruism, since they are intrinsically not worth any individual’s self-sacrifice and all inevitably wither and die as the individuals who live within them calculate that their own best strategy is self-interest. I’m sure the Chinese Communist Party would object (though this in my opinion makes it an even better argument) but Lei Feng has always struck me as a Chinese equivalent of the dim workhorse Boxer in Animal Farm. I can just imagine him paraphrasing that credulous equine, a muscular apologist for Napoleon the pig: “If Chairman Mao says it, it must be right...”

Lei Feng might have begun to lean toward 1960s kitsch for China’s urban youth, but consider for a moment his cultural equivalent of exactly three decades earlier - Herbert Norkus of the Hitler Youth, who was supposedly killed by Communists in 1932. I don’t see any Germans still pretending that the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young Nazi is an example to imitate or even to joke about, and I wish China would quietly, but finally, bury this anachronistic apologist for the evils of authoritarianism.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Chinese-made clothing stands the test of time

Always one to be fascinated by the unearthing of ancient artefacts, I was drawn to a story this morning in Xinhua about the discovery of three Ming-dynasty (1368-1644) coffins on a building site in the city of Taizhou 泰州, Jiangsu province, just half an hour’s bus-ride from my beloved Grand Canal of China.

All three coffins were “occupied”, as it were, but one in particular contained the body of a 50 or 60-year-old woman in an extraordinary state of preservation. This part of China is flat and wet, and being buried more than two metres down the sealed coffin had slowly filled with water which seems to have preserved the tiniest details of the corpse and its grave goods. Photos of the contents show clothing and shrouds that could have been fished out of a Chinese laundry this very morning, while the woman’s skin, hair and even eyelashes are no less flawless than a body that Inspector Morse might have dragged fresh out of the Cherwell. 
She’s wearing a cap, has thick-soled cotton boots on, and is laid on a cotton quilt. Her head was rested on a wooden pillow (the Chinese traditionally used wooden or even stone pillows rather than the West’s rather effete goose-down ones), and she had been provided with pottery vessels for the afterlife. There were no written texts in the coffin, such as incantations for the protection or guidance of the soul, which might be expected of people of high-status, and it’s guessed that this was just an average Ming-dynasty laobaixing woman, quite unlike the empresses whose bodies were preserved in the imperial tombs north of Beijing. All the more interesting for that, in my opinion.

Tuesday 1 March 2011


安徽省安庆市岳西县头陀镇有一个村落叫大垄。大垄那里拴有一只狗。狗上留着几根毛?不知道吗?当然不知道。至于全宇宙的事实,谁连万亿份之一的万亿份之一都不知道。说“肯定没有上帝”太愚昧了,但 “肯定没有上帝”就是马克思主义最基本的概念。
中共在老百姓继续否认上帝的存在有既得利益 -- 马克思主义的权利在于断然否认上帝存在的可能性。中共所提倡的中国特色社会主义基本上只是一种消费主义。“先富起来”的“富”不是靠唯物主义的“物”吗?。拒绝以消费物品作为人生的主要目的等于阻止中国的发展。事实上,“以物为主”就是浪费上帝所给人的珍贵的生命。