' John Wilcock - The Column of Lasting Insignificance for 26 January, 2013
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the column of lasting insignificance: April 6, 2013
by John Wilcock

Beijing pollution monitoring station
Technicians inspect PM2.5 monitoring devices

ONE OF THE 35 AUTOMATIC air quality monitoring stations in Beijing which report on current pollution, and which can be tracked on mobile phones. The choking smog, a mixture of dust, sulphuric and nitric acid and hydrocarbon particles, is caused mostly by the 23 million tons of coal burned each year by the capital and which, in January, temporarily closed 103 companies and ordered a one-third reduction in the use of official cars. “We all contribute to the formation of haze” declares environment spokesman Zhao Yue. “Each acceleration of a car, every meal of delicious fried food, each piece of burning straw or a string of firecrackers produces PM2.5, giving birth to haze and smog”.

Stories from the Beijing newspapers

IT'S A FAMILIAR TALE, corrupt village officials selling out to real estate moguls, demolishing homes, evicting villagers and accepting luxury cars as their reward. But in this case it has been met with an unusual response from a maverick named He Jianguo who started Voice of the People, a four page newspaper to expose corrupt officials who had sold out village properties to real estate developers who were planning a huge apartment complex. This was in Nangaoying Vilage (pop: 10,000) in northeastern Hebei Province where the officials' three-year term had expired but they remained illegally in office after a fixed election and ordered demolition of buildings that stood in their way. Successful village businesses were closed down to be replaced by a real estate office with the workers forced into unemployment. The official government paper in the village, Gaoying Bao, accused

He Jianguo
Global Times

Jianguo's paper of lies and slander but even as all but 120 of the villagers moved out, the Voice of the People ran pictures of the luxury cars the village overlords had acquired and accused them of misappropriating village assets.
    Doing a story on the election was risky, said Jianguo, because the government was watching too closely, but the newspaper had become “a tool to spread the truth about the village committee and help people determined to say no and have another fair election”. This David vs Goliath tale got the attention of China's Forbidden News, the popular program broadcast by New-York based New Tang Dynasty television (NTD) whose satellite transmitted shows are estimated to have 100 million potential viewers in China and around the world. It claims to provide “a truthful, uncensored Chinese-language alternative to China's state-run media” and has survived all attempts by the Chinese government to block its signals. What seems surprising is that the saga was picked up not only by many papers in China but also the English-language tabloid Global Times which bears the look of a crowd-pleasing objective paper but that, like China Daily, is also published by the government.

puppyA TRUCKLOAD OF DOGS on the way to slaughter (and eventually restaurant menus) was stopped in Guangdong province, one of several such incidents already this year. “A truck overloaded with dogs driving at night (indicates) a problem” animal rights activist Peng Tao told China Daily reporting that the cargo numbered 907 dogs of varied breeds plus one sheep, all of which are being held in a school playground until authorities figure out what to do with them. Authorities caution that eating dogs from unknown sources could produce health risks if the animals had undergone injections.

SHOULD AN ARTIST get a pay-off when his work is resold, even if the sale takes place years later? This idea—known as droit de suite—has been kicking around for a long time and exists in 60 countries, but in the U.S. only California has enacted it into law. Now it's been included in the draft of a new copyright law being considered in China where artists or their heirs would receive a payment between one and five percent for any public resale. Opponents of the law point out that most of the payments end up going to established artists, for example, in France where 70% are claimed by heirs of Matisse, Braque and Picasso.

BEIJING IS DETERMINED to get rid of what it calls its “shanty towns” defined as areas with an abundance of old, high-density, single-story buildings with poor sanitation and where fire is an ever-present threat. Poorly constructed of simple bricks and wood-framed doors and windows, with leaking roofs and lacking ventilation, they are usually moisture laden and moldy. Relocation homes are being built in great numbers, with 43,000 households already moved by the end last year under the Shanty Town

Beijing Housing
credit: Li Changshan
Renovation Project. Helping this along, has been the occasional public-rental-house lottery which made 2,540 new homes available in January and offering rent—ten to 20 per cent lower than neighboring houses—ranging from about $246 monthly for a one-bedroom to $352 for two bedrooms.

NIKE PLANS TO OPEN dozens of discount outlets in China to clear its overstocked inventory, reports China News, and that means some prices will drop as much as 80%, listing $34 sweaters and $50 sports shoes. Adidas Group spokesman Colin Currie said the company would focus on the country's smaller cities where it expected most of its future growth. But the paper commented that meant “sportswear brands in China (were) feeling the heat” and could no longer expect to compete with international peers through price advantage.

ALLIED WITH a Chinese company, MGM Resorts International plans to build ten hotels in the Asian country says its president Bill Hornbuckle who announced that 70% of the company's revenue comes from the non-gaming sector. One of the new hotels, at Chengdu, will incorporate a style of architecture that matches the Qing Dynasty buildings, and another will go up near to the even older Mong Dynasty's (1368–1644) Lama Temple and the huge Confucian Temple built in 1302.

A GOVERNMENT STOOGE named Yi Duo wrote a lengthy diatribe about the so-called “political blackmail” by Tibetans who were setting fire to themselves to protest their lack of freedom from China's heavy-handed rule. In the story (reprinted in China Daily), the hapless Duo gave himself away by using the loaded phrase “the Dalai clique” 24 times in the story, several times twice in the same paragraph and twice three times. This, of course, refers to the accusation that the Dalai Lama is encouraging, indeed organizing, the suicides (which have now reached 100) and which he has denied. Some idea of the self-delusion suffered by Mr. Duo is explained by his barefaced lie that, “The Chinese government does not create conditions to encourage Tibetans to self-immolate. Hence it cannot be condemned”. Most of the world feels differently.

SUICIDES HAVE SOARED among the elderly with 200,000 deaths of people over 55 counted in a recent year according to report from a government research group. “The alarming statistics have made the issue of later-life suicide a major public health priority” commented China Daily, “especially because the elderly are the fastest-growing segment of the population”. By the end of this year, 200 million Chinese, 14.8% of the population, will be 65 or over.

GIVEN THE IMPRESSION that by marrying a US or Canadian citizen they could obtain foreign citizenship themselves, a score of Chinese women paid up to $1,000 to facilitate the match. Lin Xiaoping is accused of cheating 20 women via his match-making service which obtained pictures of available men from the Internet and absconding with the payments.

A POPULAR CHINESE FILM, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, is the latest inspiration for a new amusement park slated for Wuzhen, eastern China. The movie, by established director Stephen Chow, racked up a $1bn box office but analysts have warned that does not necessarily guarantee success for an amusement park of which there are already 200 in the country. Less than one-third of these have shown a profit. Walt Disney's first theme park on the Chinese mainland will open in Shanghai in 2015.

He Jianguo
The World of Chinese

THE MAN WHO INVENTED Hanyu Pinyin, the phonetic system that allows foreigners to read the Chinese alphabet, Zhou Youguang, was a pal of Albert Einstein in the years he worked on Wall Street. Last month he celebrated his 108th birthday, four years after his 30th book, Zhaowen Daoji, became a best seller. He has already published ten books since he hit his century mark, some of which have been banned in China for their outspoken views about the Communist Party and the need for democracy in China. They have made him a "sensitive person"—a euphemism for a political dissident. His most recent book, published last year, was about modern Confucianism.

EVEN BRIEFER. Fifty one percent of senior management positions in China are filled by women, according to a recent survey, and this is the highest proportion of any country in the world. The US, the UK and Japan are far down the list…. The one millionth passenger traveled on the 700-mie Beijing to Shanghai high speed rail line last month, part of what is now China's 6,000-mile high speed rail network—the world's longest…..Introduction to Philosophy lectures by Fudan University's professor Wang Defeng inaugurated Beijing's first inter-university online course….. A Supreme Court spokesman announced that almost 40% of those convicted of “corruption, bribery and dereliction” avoided jail, some by confessing and compensating their victims….Rampant littering by tourists has turned the moat around the Forbidden City into a river of trash, the press reported. Part of the Tongzi River, and it served as the last defense of Chinese emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644)….. A cyclist complained to China Daily that although Beijing had put 50,000 rental bicycles on the streets, cyclists were still considered “second-class citizens…cars obstruct the bike lanes and pedestrians love to walk in them. When will the police and authorities act to guarantee cyclists' interests?” he asked.….. Shanghai authorities are cracking down on local shop owners who have been smuggling small items such as handbags, cosmetics and wrist watches into the country after buying hem tax-free in South Korea. The widespread habit is fueled by China's excessive import taxes….. A women's federation in Guangdong province has called for more education for young girls about how to protect themselves from growing harassment, especially in rural areas where children are said to get less attention from their families….. Predicting that it will become the world's leading oil importer by late next year, China's daily oil imports (5.4m) in 2012 were one million barrels less than the U.S….. Shanghai has introduced regulations to stop the use and collection of what's known as “gutter oil”, or reprocessed oil that is illegally recycled and used in restaurants. More than 90% of the city's 35,000 restaurants have been equipped with machines that separate oil and grease from the 70 to 80 metric tons of waste cooking oil produced every day…..After meeting resistance to their genetically modified crops (GM) in Europe, big agribusinesses are finding a more sympathetic response in China where cotton, papayas, sweet peppers are among the millions of acres of GM crops that have been planted with scant opposition…..Irked by the number of his schoolmates who he watched as they are picked up by official cars, a teenage student has asked authorities to tag such vehicles with easily identifiable red license plates…..People's Daily claims that China's homicide rate, at 0.8 cases per 100,000 people is one of the world's lowest (Switzerland is 1.27, the US 4.6) and that 94.5% of murders are solved. Cynics on the Web suggest that China's conviction rate is so high because torture is used to extract confessions….“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.”—Confucius ( 551-479 BC)




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A Guide to Occult Britain

Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com.

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