China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

The Bell Tolls For Hutongs?

Hutongs, the classic dilapidated, though picturesque, alleyways with crowded living-spaces and poor sanitation, made the news section of USA Today on May 27th. An article by Calum MacLeod entitled “Beijing bulldozes its old neighborhoods” raised a few basic questions that lead to more complicated questions about Chinese sociology and politics. How do and how should hutongs interact with modern Chinese cities, and why does Beijing seem so ready to demolish these popular tourist locations. Below is a consideration of the issues and questions that they raise.

A Hutong Near the Bell Tower, 2006

1. Problems With Hutongs. Let’s get the negative things about hutongs in Beijing out of the way first. They are often dilapidated– and do not have indoor plumbing. Some have electrical issues and raise fire safety concerns. Bathrooms are established for an entire street. They also often have poor cobblestone roads and are prone to suffering flooding and muddy footpaths. The people who live in them are quite poor and they are often bothered by tourists who either walk or are carted around by pedicab drivers.

Hutongs also, as I discovered in some conversations with locals, are considered to be embarrassing– they demonstrate China’s poverty, something that the country hopes to leave behind as it becomes a world leader. If this view extends from common people up to China’s leadership, then perhaps plans to renovate Hutongs and make them plastic “show alleys” with new construction and clean walls, as was done in Qianmen District south of Tiananmen Square, will be the fate for most hutongs.

2. Good Things About Hutongs. Tourists love hutongs. Many travel on pedicabs north of the Forbidden City, around the Bell and Drum Tower, to Prince Gong’s Residence and even out to the back alleys beside Yonghegong Lama Temple in order to see a glimpse of what China once was. Hutongs, like Europe’s classic back alleys, are a picturesque stop and a treasure.

3. Beijing’s Compromise.

What Beijing appears to have attempted in order to retain the hutongs‘ tourist attracting potential, while improving sanitation, and removing poor people from the city center; is to remove thousands from their homes, widen some streets and to “refurbish” the hutongs— getting rid of much of the “living” street culture that made up the alleyways, and destroying the very flavor that draws people to experience them.


It is difficult to argue with claims that life in unremodeled hutongs is not a very good life choice. However,

A Remodeled Hutong Courtyard (Interior), 2008

some people have gentrified hutongs, improving the interior courtyards while retaining the beautiful reddish-brown exterior walls and cobblestone late 19th-century feel of the places. Perhaps a better solution to the Hutong problem is to keep them small and crowded and thus retaining Beijing’s distinctive character and remaining attractive to tourists but to gradually install upgraded plumbing, and to remodel the interiors to make them more livable. Either the hutongs could be increasingly gentrified as monied people buy property inside them (siheyuan, courtyard homes) in order to live close to the city center; or the city could subsidize the poor people to live there–maintaining their homes in traditional style as a cultural district that celebrates what China once was– a poor country that has gradually become much, much richer.

Is a compromise of this sort possible? Or are hutong’s only futures (1) to be plastered with 拆 (chai) signs, then demolished for necessary office buildings, or (2) to be turned into plastic, clean, and overly-sanitized tourist spots that are not to be lived in– or are to be lived in, but separated from the hustle and the bustle of the world?

29 May, 2010 Posted by | China Environment/Health, China General, Isn't That Odd? | , , | 2 Comments

Publishing in China

Have you ever wondered how a Chinese book gets published? Books in China are once again in the spotlight, due to Google Books’ scanning of Chinese copyright owners’ works without their permission, so I decided to comparatively examine the process of copyright and book publishing in China versus in the United States.

Book Identification Numbers

Anyone can publish a book and sell it in the United States and books are not reviewed by any state agency before publication. Despite the relative ease of publishing and self-distribution, selling a book to stores (and yes, even Amazon) is a bit more complicated. Retail outlets will only order books if they have something called an ISBN number. An ISBN number may only be purchased directly in blocs of 10 for $250 (Although larger bloc purchases of 100 or 1000 are possible) (Source). However, ISBNs can also be purchased individually from a company that previously purchased a bloc of ISBN numbers. These companies then sell ISBNs piecemeal to would-be self-published authors.

Until 2003, all Chinese publishing houses were owned by the state, but the state has gradually decoupled its ownership of publishers (Jing Bartz). The Chinese publishing industry has undergone three phases of changes since 2002. The first stage pre-2002 was government control over publication and oversight of book issuance. The second stage, after WTO entry, from 2003 to 2008 was a time when the state gradually divested both control over publication and oversight degraded. The third state, from 2009 until the present day is another time of tightening or shou of oversight, but loosening (fang) of control regarding publication. (See: Peterson Institute, page 3 for a description of China’s cycles of fang/shou, loosening and tightening, throughout reform periods.)

Books in China, unlike those in the United States, are not supposed to be published and distributed at all unless they have a state-issued identification number, a 书号 (shu hao) from the GAPP (General Administration of Press and Publishing). China today uses ISBN numbers, as can be seen from the back page of any recent-published book from China. These numbers may be purchased only from several state-designated publishing houses. Before 2009, the publishing houses made extra money by buying large numbers of book numbers and then selling them to third parties who were not directly associated with government approved (or run) print houses. (Jing).

A new system went into effect in 2009. The new system issues “book numbers on a per-title basis, eliminating the surplus ISBNs that could be sold off to unlicensed cultural companies.” (Martinsen, Danwei). Apparently, the new system will increase the Government’s influence on the book publishing industry. One Chinese newspaper expresses some fear that books may only be allowed to gain book numbers after being examined and approved by officials or those influenced by officials. (Martinsen, Danwei). Still, the 2003-2008 system has apparently continued in part due to the logistics of implementing the new system–the titles just may be more closely examined by officials than before: “[E]ven under the title-based application system, many publishers are still book number dealers: their books are actually produced by other cultural companies… . For books that have poor sales projections, authors use “self-financed publications” — actually, they buy book numbers from a publisher[,]” (Martinsen, Danwei) which in practice- despite murky legality in China, is similar to the path taken by some U.S. self-published authors.

A China Youth Daily article suggests that implementation of this new system is merely a tightening step enforcing existing laws before the publishing industry becomes more open three to five years (CYD, see second paragraph and phrase beginning “2010年年底…”) after the government decouples its remaining publishing units from their attached bureaus. Still, although these new publishing units may be more vibrant and nimble economically,  that does not necessarily mean the books will not  have to be approved. Under new policies, the censorship process merely shifts back a step as the Government retreats from ownership, but not from supervision.


Copyright in China of a book lasts for 50 years past the author’s death (Article 21). The United States used to limit copyright’s extension to such a limit, but the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act— the “Mickey Mouse” law, passed in 1998, changed the law to “protect” works for up to 70 years after an author’s death.

Book Sales

“China had [about] 544 book publishing houses in 2007, turning out 248,000 varieties of books, of which 136,000 varieties being published for the first time. [NOTE: The 136,000 number is the number commonly used to compare to Britain and the US’ numbers of books released.]” (Hu Dawai’s Comments at Frankfurt Book Fair). In 2003, Britain published 120,000 titles and the United States 175,000 titles. (Beijing Review). (172,000 in the US in 2005)

China’s publishing industry as a whole sold 55 billion RMB of books in 2008 [about 8.5 billion USD.] (Jing). $24.3 billion in books were sold in 2008 in the United States, down from $25 billion in 2007. (Jing).

Appendix and Links

* PRC Copyright Law (english version; bilingual)

* Richard Lea of The Guardian gives a general overview  of Chinese Literature

* Overview of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

* US Book Industry Statistics, 2008.

* Religious Book Publishing in China (Interesting).

* China Statistics on Books (2004).

* China Publishing Today (chinese)

* China Books Blog.

* And of course, Danwei.

22 January, 2010 Posted by | China Economy, China General | , , , | 5 Comments

Lucky 8

Instead of having a year end review in January when China Comment would compete against others’ reminiscences for your valuable consideration, China Comment waited for a more auspicious time.

So now, on the 2nd of February 2009, China Comment celebrates its first eight months of existence with an overview of the site’s most popular articles.

8 Most Popular Articles on China Comment

1) China’s Nuclear Power

An examination of China’s nuclear power industry. (June 26, 2008)

– The China Law Blog and What About Clients? linked to this post, bringing in a significant amount of traffic.

2) What is Happening With China’s Economy?

An analysis of economic numbers and articles dealing with China’s economic situation. (September 22, 2008)

– The China Law Blog, and others linked to this post.

3) China and Georgia

Repercussions of Russia’s invasion and China’s historical relationship with the Caucasus country. (September 4, 2008)

The Wall Street Journal’s China Journal, and others linked to this post.

4) A Weak China?

The positives and negatives of China’s economy, environment, and demographics. (July 30, 2008)

– The China Law Blog, and others linked to this post.

5) China and the American Election

A consideration of the American candidates and their possible future relationships with China. (September 1, 2008)

The China Economic Review, and others linked to this post.

6) Beijing Smog

An artful musing on and examination of Beijing’s pollution. (July 10, 2008)

7) Brazil’s Passage to China

The BRICs are getting Closer. (July 16, 2008)

The Wall Street Journal’s China Journal, and others linked to this post.

8) China’s Free Trade

China’s planned free-trade agreements. (September 8, 2008)

The Wall Street Journal’s China Journal, and others linked to this post.

4 Most Popular Links Out of China Comment, What China Thinks of ObamaElite Chinese Politics and Political Economy, The Candidates on US Policy Toward China.

Other Notable Articles

Refining a Relationship: Venezuela and China

China and Venezuelan oil and gas exports. (October 2, 2008)

Natural Gas – Development

China’s Natural Gas industry and its future. (July 14, 2008)

Xinjiang’s Energy Resources

A look at China’s wild, wild west. (August 27, 2008)

Olympic Pollution- Comparisons

A comparison of Beijing’s particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide levels pre-Olympics and during the Olympics. Additionally, pollution numbers for four other “Games” cities were compared. (August 25, 2008)

–  The Wall Street Journal’s China Journal, and others linked to this post.


Best Wishes for a Lucky “Niu” Year,

~ Francis.

16 February, 2009 Posted by | China General, Introduction | | Leave a comment

Protesters and the Olympics (Guest)

by: Danny J. (Guest Contributor)

There is one group who the Western media has generally not quite given much face-time, a group who could potentially cause even more embarrassment to Beijing than the Tibet and Darfur protesters. This group is China’s general population of ‘petitioners.’

Beijing is said to have been home to 10,000 petitioners before the Olympics. Many of these people came to Beijing to petition because they believe they have ‘been denied justice in their home provinces.’ These people could expose untold numbers of stories of local corruption, and at least some of the stories would be true.  Now, groups allege there has been a large crackdown that has swept petitioners, along with other undesirables such as ‘beggars and pickpockets’ out of the city. Also, to discourage undesirables (the poor, migrants, Uighurs, 等等) from residing in Beijing, the government ‘closed down thousands of cheap hotels and basement apartments where rooms could be rented for less than $1 a day’ and ‘demolished housing in entire neighborhoods where petitioners have lived.’

Anyone who has lived in Beijing is probably familiar with this sort of tactic, the clearing off the street of beggars before a big event – be it a Party Congress, or the Africa-China meeting. This time, however, the clearing is being done with an ‘unprecedented intensity.’

One common petitioner spot known as Kaiyang Bridge had somewhere around 10,000 petitioners before the crackdown. Now it only holds a few hundred. Such petitioners wish to have their problems heard, hopefully in front of a television camera. Gauging Beijing’s reaction so far, it is a bit unlikely that their problems will be heard before they are detained.

High profile protests have already begun. Pro-T^&(t activists unfurled some huge banners near the stadium, ‘others managed to screen a pro-T^&(t video, a U.S. swimmer unveiled an anti-fur advertisement and three U.S. Christian activists were able to enter T*(ananmen Square to protest briefly.’ No one was arrested, although it appears that all save the anti-fur swimmer were deported on the 9th, but all were quickly quieted and removed from their protest sites.

For something to look forward to, there are the ‘more than 40 athletes’ who signed an ‘open letter to china’s government to respect human rights and freedom of religion.’ Protests have also started and have been ongoing, to some extent, in many parts of the world.

What all this will lead to in the aftermath of both protests and the Olympic games, and whether or not the Chinese government can respond appropriately to unrest and dissent, might very well shape future Chinese domestic and foreign policy.

(ed: in the August 19, 2008 WSJ, page A10- Shai Oster noted in “China is Pitching a Protester Shutout” that 77 applications for protests from 149 people have been filed. 74 were withdrawn “because their problems ‘were [allegedly] properly addressed by relevant authorities…’ No protests have been approved. This could lead to simmering discontent among the people as Leslie Hook describes on page A15 in “The Chinese Want Property Rights Too.” In that article, Hook describes several petitioners’ struggles.)

Specifically of note (and for deeper analysis): Willy Lam of the Jamestown Foundation wrote a good article on the “Coming crackdown” post-Olympics games.

This piece does not necessarily reflect the views of chinacomment. However, it is interesting, so I hope you will find it enjoyable. Once again, I thank Danny very much for his contribution.

(Note: Chinacomment is currently on vacation and without constant access to computer until the beginning of September; however, updates will continue at the pace of 1-3 a week since Chinacomment does have a sizable backlog of relevant material to post.)

18 August, 2008 Posted by | China Future, China General, China Stability | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beijingers Love Their Games? (Guest)

by: Danny J. (Guest Contributor)

In a survey of Chinese natives, 93% believed that ‘the Olympics will help China’s image around the globe’ and 96% said that the games ‘will be successful.’

These numbers, while enlightening on exposing Chinese national thought, don’t hit on one key question: How are Chinese, and Beijingers in particular, satisfied with the preparations for the games and the new security regulations?

This quote seems to sum up at least some Beijingers’ feelings: ‘For years we couldn’t wait for the Olympics to start. Now we can’t wait for them to be over.’ To be fair, many are still excited for the event, they are just a bit tired of all the extra measures.

The quoted person presumably wants the Olympics to be over so everything can be ‘normal’ again, without all the new rules and restrictions imposed on Beijing to clean it up – environmentally, legally, and even in terms of fashion (Shirts and ties for taxi drivers) . (ed: One interesting dramatized story about local discontent with the Olympic games can be found in this “sci-fi” tale from China Digital Times, reposting from the SCI-FI Great Wall blog. The story discusses how poor local Beijingers are pushed aside in the lead-up to the Olympics, all for the sake of honored foreign guests.)

Rules have been drawn up to guard against fashion no-no’s. Here’s the abridged version: ‘white socks worn with black shoes are out, leather skirts are frowned upon, bright nail varnish is a no and woe betide anyone whose colours clash.’ What will actually happen to someone who violates these new guidelines, let alone what these rules will do to that Chinese 农民(nongmin) summertime tradition of rolling up shirts to mid-chest height, is unclear.

Maybe it’s not just the fashion police who are bothering Beijingers. It could be the new Taxi protocol requiring identity checks at random police stops. Or it could be that a good number of clubs ‘have been forced to go dark,’ and the ones that are still open have a mandated 2 a.m. closing time. Then, in a move to clean up pollution, most barbecue or 串儿 restaurants/stalls have been closed.

Checkpoints on the outskirts of the city have helped decrease the number of vegetables in Beijing, and partially due to that and inflation, foodstuff prices have increased by around ’20 percent.’ Compounded together, it’s easy to understand a Beijinger’s frustration.

There is some good news: Water will not be in short supply in Beijing. It has been diverted from Hebei, to ensure that the Olympians get enough water. Hebei, already a bit short of water, might have some problems. On top of sufficient water, rules have been put in place to ensure cabbies ‘go easy on their garlic consumption.’

One more humorous measure involved ‘a series of measures banning cigarettes in schools, railway stations, office buildings and other public places.’ Wen Jiabao ‘has declared that the Olympics will be smoke free.’ 100,000 inspectors are on the lookout to ticket smokers, but the ticket is a mere $1.40, which among the middle classes is unlikely to curb much smoking. To emphasize this, a general reaction to the rare non-smoking sign: “If I point to the no-smoking sign, the passenger will just laugh and keep smoking.”

Chinese may love their Olympic games, but with over 350 million Chinese smokers, 1/3rd of the world’s smoking population, many Chinese also love their cigarettes and their normal lives.

This piece does not necessarily reflect the views of chinacomment. However, it is interesting, so I hope you will find it enjoyable. Once again, I thank Danny very much for his contribution.

(Note: Chinacomment is currently on vacation and without constant access to computer until the beginning of September; however, updates will continue at the pace of 1-3 a week since Chinacomment does have a sizable backlog of relevant material to post.)

12 August, 2008 Posted by | China General, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maslow’s Hierarchy

The People’s Republic of China’s growth since 1949 mirrors development of not just the rise of great powers; but it also surprisingly reflects psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Developmental Hierarchy of Needs (Quotations from HERE).

1.) “Physiological Needs

These are biological needs…They are the strongest needs”

To sustain the country in the late 1950s, collectivization programs were instituted, farms were consolidated, and backyard furnaces smelted steel. Then, the Great Leap Forward bust, and a famine began that would cost the lives of millions. China recovered, eventually, but it embarked upon increasingly insular policies. (PBS) In Wild Swans, Jung Chan discusses the struggle for survival.

From 1966-1976, China suffered the Great Cultural Revolution, when students were sent into the countryside to labor alongside peasants, and intelligensia were humiliated (some were murdered). Even cadres suffered, but former “landlord-class”, “entrepreneurs”, and professionals like doctors, lawyers, and teachers suffered the most.  To increase crop yields and to raise the Socialist spirit, people were forced into collectivized farms.

The Mao Jacket (Photo) became a popular form of clothing, paens to the great Chairman were sung, and the loyalty dance was danced. Ritual was embraced, and individuality was considered putting the self above the collective, thereby damaging productivity (Xing Lu’s book has more on the Cultural Revolution).

The Cultural Revolution might be argued to have domestically fulfilled security needs to ensure Mao’s superiority more than physiological needs. Internationally, however, it was most definitely an example of physiological needs. Because the regime was so concerned about internally maintaining order, China recalled ambassadors from abroad (Xiaohong Liu’s excellent book describes this) and basically walled itself off from the outside world, helping justify the phrase, the “bamboo curtain.” Instead of reaching out, China criticised Moscow and embarked on an extended period of isolation. 

In essence, the 1960s saw China concerned with itself, and its survival as a revolutionary Communist state.

2.) “Safety Needs

When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviors, the needs for security can become active. ”

Post 1976, a new set of regimented order emerged. Out of the crumbling of the collective farms and state-owned enterprises during the 1980s-1990s, came a brief “Beijing Spring” and opening 改革开放 under the leadership of liberals such as Hu Yaobang, and Zhao Ziyang. This opening came to an end in 1989.

Arguably, need for security is still paramount even today, as is evident when Beijing cracks down on Tib#*#*tan protests, and internet censors monitor communications. (James Fallows of the Atlantic has a really interesting article on censorship  and concepts of security.)

In terms of international security; in 1979 Chinese troops crossed the border to punitively punish Vietnam for becoming involved in the unrest in Cambodia. After seizing a few objectives, the Chinese withdrew. Also of note is the 1995-1996 Taiwan Straits crisis.

3.) “Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness

When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging. ”

Look at the cute Olympic monsters, the fuwa, and consider China’s “Panda Diplomacy,” then consider how China coveted the Olympics because having them will demonstrate that China is a great country. The CS Monitor and other journalistic outlets have often repeated; “The Chinese government is treating the Games as a symbolic end to 150 years of humiliation by outside powers and a confirmation of its status as a global power to be reckoned with.” As a student said in response to Beijing’s reception of the Olympics; “I feel our motherland is already a great power in the East. Our nation has stood up.”

Nowadays, China wants the respect of its neighbors.  China emerged from the alienation of the 60s,70s, and post-1989. In 2001 it joined the WTO- acting as though it belongs in the company of great nations (Why China Wants to Join the WTO).

Thus, China is more susceptible to public opinion. In response to intense lobbying over the Darfur issue in Sudan, China sent more peacekeepers and has shown a greater willingness to cooperate with international bodies.

4.) “Needs for Esteem

When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others… When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless. ”

China needs to be respected by others. Thus, “Chinese rage has focused on the alleged “anti-China” bias of the Western press,” according to the Economist. When foreign media outlets misrepresented pictures of Nepalese mistreating Ti#$$$$ans as Chinese mistreating Ti%%%%etans, Chinese were outraged. Also, when Chinese saw Western press as feeling sorry for T^^^b#t, they demonstrate the Ti&&&etans in France horribly mistreated one disabled Olympic torch bearer.

Peter Hays Gries discusses China’s new assertive nationalism in detail in his book: China’s New Nationalism.

By winning in the Olympics and putting on a good show, China will feel validated and have its esteem needs satisfied.

Also, China has established Confucius Insitiutes around the world to spread Chinese language and culture.

5.) “Needs for Self-Actualization

When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.””

China has yet to reach this stage. When it does, it might explode onto the international scene, justifying territorial rights in claiming Taiwan, and settling oceanic disputes. At the self-actualization stage, China’s pursuit of these rights will be similar to its pursuit of rights during the security stage, but more sophisticated. China might press its demands through use of diplomatic isolation, economic pressures, or show of military force (not necessarily invasion). When China has become self-actualized, it will be confident in its strengths, capabilities and goals as a nation. Chinese military plans currently suppose the PRC will be a regional power by 2020.

Self-actualization comprises more than mere territorial claims. After China gains confidence to act on the world stage, it might try to remake the world in its image, much as the United States, the USSR, and Great Britain have done in past ages.

China will seek to set up its own international groupings and economic bodies. China already supports ASEAN and may be able to assume a leadership role in this USA-excluding trade body. The US’ group, a more expansive APEC, is confronting some problems due to its ambitious nature, and will confront more in coming years given America’s Democrats’ distaste for free trade.

When and if China will arrive at the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy is debatable. Much can happen that might hinder China’s full development, from socioeconomic unrest, to internal splittism, to a slowing of the economy. Any of those items might cause China to turn in on itself and become less a leader and more preoccupied with solipsistic concerns.

(Note: Minor edits enacted on July 15th)

9 July, 2008 Posted by | China General, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Need China Experts

It appears that once again, the Wall Street Journal needs more China experts, if not geography experts- either that or more photographers.

I was perusing page A6 of the Saturday/Sunday July 5-6, 2008 edition and saw an article titled “Political Unrest in Mongolia May Hinder Mining Investment.” (by: Patrick Barta and Jason Leow) I looked beneath the title and saw a photo identified as “A Chinese worker shovels coal in Baotou, nestled in the sand-sculpted ravines of Inner Mongolia, on Tuesday,” and wondered why a photograph of Inner Mongolia, which is part of China, is used to illustrate a point regarding Outer Mongolia, which is an independent country.

I read the article and could find no particular reason the WSJ used a photograph from Inner Mongolia, save that perhaps an editor became confused and thought Inner Mongolia referred to the country of “Mongolia.”

I wouldn’t be mentioning this trifle, save that back during the T%%betan rioting, the WSJ made a similar geographical mistake. In the March 15, 2008 article “Protesters’ Message Spread By Activists World-Wide,” by Alistair MacDonald, Suzanne Sataline, and Peter Sanders, a city- Xiahe, was described as being located in T%%%bet. Xiahe, actually, is in Gansu province. I wrote to the Journal and received an email commendation for correcting their faux-pas

Around three days later, a graphic clearly demonstrated Xiahe was located in Gansu province, a couple of hundred miles away from T$$$bet. A week and a half later, a correction was printed. Admittedly, Xiahe is located on the T***betan plateau, so I can understand how a mistake was made. Still, in a newspaper the caliber of the WSJ, a simple geographical mistake like that, or the current Mongolia faux-pas should not happen.

These mistakes, along with other press outlets’ embarassing mislabling of photographs detailing police oppression of T%%%betans in Nepal as police oppression of T$$$$betans in China, need to be avoided. The world needs to increase its China-literacy considering how economically important the country has become of late. [Of course police oppression happened in both countries, but mislabeling and misrepresenting photographs does much to damage the agenda of people seeking sympathy (Jim Yardley of the NYT mentions the mislabeling in a March 31st article on page 2 of this piece.)]

Oh well, here’s to hoping the WSJ looks a little closer at the geography next time they do a story on China. I love the WSJ and hope it can still continue as one of the world’s most respected newspapers.

6 July, 2008 Posted by | China General | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

China’s Prison Population

It is well known that the US leads the world in incarceration rates with 751 per 100,000 people in prison; but it is less well known how China’s incarceration rates compare. Interestingly, China, which is often portrayed as a police state, only has 119 prisoners per 100,000 people, according to December 2007 data posted at King’s College London. China ranks 113th on the list. But what does this say about China? Is it a safer place? If so, then why is it a safer place? Are criminals not getting arrested? Or, is all the data not being reported?


The data says a lot of things- for example, it tends to punish countries that better report true rates of incarceration (by ranking them higher in the list). Countries that have higher stability and greater rule of law will also tend to have higher incarceration rates. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which lacks order and stability ranks a relatively benign 183rd place with only 57 people incarcerated per 100,000. 

But the number of prisoners in a country doesn’t tell the full story about crime, so I compared data on year 2006 incarceration rates to data on crimes per 100,000. That data is from 1994-1997, so it’s a bit out of date, but it is relatively legitimate, from the UN. 

In China, there were 131 crimes per 100,000 people in 1997. (This was probably massively underreported; but when compared to rates of incarceration- at only 119 per 1,000 people as of 2006, it seems fairly legitimate.)

For comparison with other Asian countries that have Confucian histories; Taiwan had 256 (at 31st place), and South Korea had 97 (at 133rd). And Japan had 63 per 100,000 incarcerated, putting it at 177th place. This indicates China’s 113th place is average when compared to a cultural-group incarceration rate.

Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong all suffer higher crime rates than the Chinese. In Japan there were 1,507 crimes per 100,000 people in 1997. In S. Korea, there were 3,741 crimes per 100,000 people in 1997.  In Hong Kong, there were 1,070 crimes per 100,000 people in 1997.

Comparing China to other post-Soviet countries such as Cuba, Russia, and even the Soviet Bloc countries; it also ranks quite favorably: Cuba had 531 incarcerated per 100,000 (at 5th place), and Russia had 632 (at 2nd place) [With 1,627 crimes per 100,000 in 1997. (Which I would assume is underreported)], Georgia had 428 (10th place) [With 256 crimes per 100,000 in 1997- almost, but not quite as low as China’s numbers and strikingly strange considering its high amount of people currently incarcerated), Ukraine had 325 (29th place) [With 1,162 crimes per 100,000], and Latvia had 287 (35th place) [With 1,496 crimes per 100,000].

Among other developing countries, Brazil was 54th with 270, and India was in 203rd place with 52 people behind bars per 100,000 citizens [and a 1997 reported crime rate of 179 per 100,000 people].

Interestingly, France was in 140th place with only 91 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, but France was a leading country in the survey of reported crimes committed with over 6,754 crimes per 100,000 people in 1994.

Denmark, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Moldova (at 32,000+ crimes per 100,000 people in 1997) all suffered numbers in excess of 8,000 reported crimes committed per 100,000 people.

In the US, there were 5,375 crimes per 100,000 people in 1994.


The question then emerges, why would China have less criminals than are present in other societies? Assuming the majority of criminals are arrested, some would argue that Chinese Confucian values encourage people to respect the law.

Others would argue that close Chinese kinship ties ensure that “black sheep” are scolded by their family and kept in line. This belief would segue with social control/ social constraint criminological theory.

Also perhaps the supervision of “block captains” in charge of neighborhoods who function like a support group/neighborhood watch, resolve problems that in other societies would lead to conflict. Japan has a similar system in place, where policemen visit citizens in their district, going door to door and meeting with them several times a year.


A discussion on whether or not criminals are actually getting arrested in China would involve an in-depth report I cannot go into at this time. Anecdotally, China has a high proportion of private security guards; they can be seen everywhere. In major cities like Beijing or Shanghai, the gonganju, the police, and the chengguan can be often seen patrolling.

However, examining the data closer, “bad” data reporting on actual arrests might account for part of the relatively low alleged Chinese prison population.

A reevaluation of China’s prison population rate is necessary since “There are two types of administrative detention: according to Chinese government statistics there were more than 500,000 serving administrative detention in re-education-through-labour camps in 2005, and it is reported (U.S. State Department Human Rights Report 2005) that in 2004 there were 350,000 in a second type of administrative detention, which is for drug offenders and prostitutes. The number of pre-trial detainees is not known but has been estimated at about 100,000” (King’s College Data).

“If this is correct the total prison population in China is about 2,500,000.” As opposed to the official statistic used in evaluation, which was 1,565,771″ (King’s College Data).

“A total prison population of 2,500,000 would raise the prison population rate to 189 per 100,000 of the national population” (King’s College Data).

This would put China’s position in world incarceration rates at 65th place.

This would still imply China is a relatively safe society; having a few less offenders incarcerated than 59th place Mexico.


It would be interesting to examine a cross-section report examining how many people are in prison for political crimes, violent crimes, subversive crimes, property crimes, and other crime strata. Before a full declaration can be made on how “safe” China is in regards to other countries, much more work needs to be done.

Nevertheless, it is clear that based on the rate of criminals per 100,000 in the population and possible dubious statistics on crimes committed per 100,000; China is oddly enough one of the safest countries in the world.

For Those of You Who are Tourists for the upcoming Olympic games: The US Government has a 2008 China Crime and Safety Report. (It is not very rigorous, but at least it’s something.)

19 June, 2008 Posted by | China General | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

China Comment’s Philosophy

There are plenty of good articles being written about China; whether they be in blog, journal, or newspaper article format, including the ones you will find here. This blog intends to appeal to three levels of reader-strata.

* First, I intend to relate my unique perspective about China’s developing economic, political, environmental, and energy policies in a systematic format to help laymen understand what is going on “on the ground.”

* Second, I hope to posit thought-provoking new ideas of the sort found in Journals. Although the blog’s first appeal is to the mass market, the uninitiated, it also aspires to a more nuanced and “expert” calling of unique research.

* And third, I hope to initiate and participate in conversations with other China scholars and those interested in China. As one friend once told me, when speaking about China at times “anything can be true, even the opposite of any assertions that anyone makes.” This valid statement means that any discussion about China will certainly be nuanced, fraught with potential disagreement, but potentially filled with fulfilling ideas.

I promise to provide well researched opinion, to seek out the facts, and write a sourced blog that reads somewhere between the level of intellectual rigor expected of a journal and the mass-informed necessity required of newspaper writing.

I hope you enjoy the blog and take the time to consider my comments. Perhaps you might have a question or a “China Comment” of your own?

~Francis G.


2 June, 2008 Posted by | China General | , | 2 Comments