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The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan

On a balmy, moonlit evening in the autumn of 2010, I took my son out to Yuanmingyuan to wander among the ruins. The 150th anniversary of the destruction of “The Garden of Perfect Brightness”—often called the Old Summer Palace—was approaching and I wanted him to see what remained.

We savored the wind in the willows, bought spun sugar in animal shapes from a vendor near the entrance, gaped at the gargantuan lily pads that carpeted the lakes, and gawked at a black swan floating in their midst.

When we heard music, we followed it to an outdoor stage where “The Legend of Yuanmingyuan” was being performed. Billed as “patriotic education” for children, it consisted of shadow puppeteers and costumed dwarfs reenacting the looting and burning of the palace complex in 1860.

Foreigners—played by dwarfs in curly yellow wool wigs—were portrayed as so stupid they couldn’t speak their own languages. Chinese villagers were uniformly brave, defending the Emperor unto death and shouting, “Kill the Foreign Devils! Kill the Foreign Devils!” The dwarfs were not professional actors, but were evidently there to lure an audience that might prefer a freak show to a history book, and the whole event struck me as sordid, sad—and, yet, somehow, unsurprising.

Because, a century and a half after its wanton destruction, Yuanmingyuan remains a festering wound in the history of modern China. It was covered over with scar tissue for much of the twentieth century but reopened in the 1980s as the divisiveness of class struggle was rejected in favor of a new sense of unified nationalism. But, even as it has become an icon of patriotic education and a symbol of China’s “humiliation” at the hands of foreign imperialists, it remains a topic of unending controversy.

Some argue that the ruins should be either fully or partially restored to demonstrate the glory that was; others counter that such a suggestion borders on sacrilege—only in its ruined state can Yuanmingyuan serve as an appropriate reminder of China’s past humiliation and, by contrast, its resurgence under the Communist Party. Proponents of these opposing sides find common ground when it comes to criticizing the cash-strapped management of the park for allowing such things as the puppet show, the carnival rides, the blaring loudspeakers, the sellers of sausages and trinkets, and the “Imperial Ice and Snow Festival” to which part of Yuanmingyuan is converted each winter.

They also come together every few years—as does the general public—when one of the bronze animal heads looted from the water clock in the fountain outside the Hall of Calm Seas is auctioned by Christie’s or Sotheby’s. However, in 2009, even the auctions became a subject of disagreement when Fujian businessman Cai Mingchao bid on the rat and rabbit heads offered by the estate of Yves Saint-Laurent, won them for $19 million each, and then refused to pay—leading some to hail his “patriotic spirit” and others to oppose his maverick action.

The artist Ai Weiwei jumped into the fray, creating “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” an artwork now circling the globe that, with its hugely oversized reproductions of the bronze heads, seems to suggest that perhaps too much fuss has been made of these sculptures—which, as Ai pointed out in a 2010 interview, are in fact, faucets designed by an Italian, Father Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining) and a Frenchman, Father Michel Benoist (Jiang Youren), and—in Ai’s view—something “only Westerners would make” and not “national treasures” at all. (In March 2012, Ai’s sculpture was named “Best Project in a Public Space” by the United States International Association of Art Critics.)

Gone missing in all this patriotic symbolism, politicized controversy, and rote terminology, is the soul of Yuanmingyuan itself—and the true horror of its desecration. Once upon a time, we all had an excuse for not understanding much about Yuanmingyuan—it was hard to find first-person descriptions of the palace or accounts of its destruction.

But nowadays, thanks to websites such as Google Books, such information is easy to access. In doing so, one realizes that one of the many tragic ironies of Yuanmingyuan is that most such descriptions come from foreigners; though the emperors who called it home wrote thousands of poems about it, neither they nor those who served them saw a need to methodically describe it. Accounts of both its glory and defilement thus rely largely on the foreign priests who designed the Western-style palaces that are its most recognizable remains; European diplomats who were received there; the British and French forces who plundered it in an orgy of revenge and greed; and the British soldiers who burnt it to the ground on the orders of Lord Elgin. (James Bruce, the eighth Earl, son of the seventh Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, who brought the Parthenon Marbles to Britain.)

Delving into several such accounts made me realize, first and foremost, what a disservice the English label “Old Summer Palace” does Yuanmingyuan. Hardly a summer getaway, Yuanmingyuan was the primary residence of five Qing emperors, including Qianlong. Likewise, it was not a mere “palace,” but hundreds of palaces covering an area roughly five times the size of the Forbidden City. Its grounds harbored temples, theaters, libraries, pavilions, gazebos and galleries filled with priceless antiquities, art collections, books, religious objects, and personal belongings. It contained an archipelago of islands, lakes, and mountains—largely manmade—and its beauty was such that nearly every European who saw it was left searching for words.

Count D’Herisson, secretary and interpreter to General Montauban, the head of the French army, wrote:

To depict all the splendors before our astonished eyes, I should need to dissolve specimens of all known precious stones in liquid gold for ink, and to dip into it a diamond pen tipped with the fantasies of an oriental poet…

And Robert McGhee, chaplain to the British forces:

A man must be a poet, a painter, a historian, a virtuoso, a Chinese scholar, and I don’t know how many other things besides, to give you even an idea of it, and I am not an approach to any one of them. But whenever I think of beauty and taste, of skill and antiquity, while I live, I shall see before my mind’s eye some scene from those grounds, those palaces.

The never-ending improvements to Yuanmingyuan were overseen by several generations of the Lei Family, and incorporated scenic sites from around China; if the Emperor was smitten by a particular lake, waterfall, library, pagoda, rockery, or—what the heck—mountain while touring his nation, he simply had a copy made at Yuanmingyuan. When Qianlong took his mother on a visit to Hangzhou, for example, she admired the famous vista “three pools mirroring the moon” (which is currently on the back of a one yuan note) so he had it replicated for her at Yuanmingyuan.

When his troops conquered Xinjiang and brought back the wife of a defeated prince—a renowned beauty known to history as the Fragrant Concubine—Qianlong had scenes from a Central Asian town built at Yuanmingyuan in the hope of alleviating her homesickness. Yuanmingyuan even supposedly contained a replica of a Chinese town, replete with wall, four gates, streets, squares, houses and a port. At festivals, eunuchs would dress up as merchants, vendors and townspeople—including constables and pickpockets—and the Emperor and his ladies would shop, visit tea and wine houses, and even fend off aggressive vendors of candied haw or caramelized sugar animals of the sort I bought my son.

In reading about the glories of “the garden of gardens,” a second, perhaps inevitable thought is the odd juxtaposition of Yuanmingyuan’s historic role as the Emperor’s private paradise and current status as a site of “patriotic education” in a socialist nation. No ordinary person could enter Yuanmingyuan unless he was there to serve the emperor—although plenty were employed in that role, including more than 2000 kitchen workers so specialized in their skills that some were responsible only for salting the dishes cooked by others!

The Jesuit painter Jean Denis Attiret (Wang Zhicheng), who worked at Yuanmingyuan, wrote, “Here there is only one man, he is the Emperor. All the pleasures are made for him alone. This superb pleasance is never seen except by him, his women and eunuchs; it is rare that any of the princes and grandees go beyond the main audience halls.”

The state funds lavished (in another context, one might say squandered) on Yuanmingyuan seemed to have no limit; a good example is the Western-style palaces, which came about when Castiglione showed Qianlong an album of scenes from Europe. The Emperor became fascinated by the fountains and resolved to have his own, giving Castiglione and Benoist (who had studied hydraulics) carte blanche. One thing led to another, and over a period of twelve years they built a number of increasingly fantastical fountains with the European style palaces constructed largely as backdrops. (Some of the Western-style buildings, including the Hall of Calm Seas, were just shells to hold hydraulics and reservoirs.) Father Benoist described the costly process:

I am again occupied in making hydraulic machines for the Emperor… All that is made in Europe of lead or iron or even wood is here made of copper. That which costs in France but ten pistoles, costs the Emperor ten thousand pounds. You can judge the expense, but because of the too hasty execution of the work, one cannot guarantee its solidity.

But the primary impression these books left me is of the incomprehensible hubris and self-righteousness of the men who destroyed Yuanmingyuan. The events leading up to its ruin are complex—the British and French were invading China and some of their men, taken prisoner, died in captivity; they assumed their soldiers had been tortured to death, but in fact it seems the men were simply accorded the same (atrocious) treatment given Chinese prisoners. In any case, the decision was made to take Yuanmingyuan as punishment and revenge. To ensure neither side profited more than the other, British and French “prize agents” were appointed to oversee an orderly looting process—which greed soon overrode. In D’Herisson’s words,

…French infantry, Englishmen, unmounted cavalry, artillery men, Queens dragoons, Sikhs, Arabs, Chinese coolies… this ant-heap of men of every color, of every race, this entanglement of individuals from every nation on the earth, swarm[ed] on this mound of riches, hurrahing in all the languages of the globe, hurrying, struggling, stumbling, falling, picking themselves up, swearing, cursing, exclaiming, while each carried off something.

The British were said to be better looters then the French, working together and systematically selecting valuables that they auctioned off right outside the palace gates (and which British auction houses auction off to this day). The French looted individually, favoring the mechanical clocks and toys spread throughout the palace (of little value in Europe, where most were made). Both D’Herisson and McGhee defend the pillaging as “lawful” in wartime, even as they rue the destruction. As D’Herisson put it,

The only error committed was one of detail; we did not simply pillage; we wasted and squandered… my heart bled on seeing, for instance, the space which separated the palace from our camp covered with silks and precious fabrics trampled in the mud—goods worth twenty millions; on seeing a soldier light his pipe or heat his pot with a vellum of beautiful and unique manuscript; on seeing, at our departure, magnificent timepieces, masterpieces of the watchmaker’s art, engraved ivories, thrown into the trodden paths over which rolled the wheels of wagons and of caissons…

Lord Elgin then decided—apparently over the objections of his French counterpart—that (in his words),

As almost all the valuables had already been taken from the palace, the army would go there, not to pillage, but to mark by a solemn act of retribution the horror and indignation with which we were inspired by the perpetration of a great crime. The punishment was one which would fall, not on the people, who may be comparatively innocent, but exclusively on the Emperor…

The Chinese government was informed, signs were posted on the city walls, and on October 18th 1860 an infantry division of nearly 4500 men (including four British regiments and the 15th Punjabis) burned Yuanmingyuan to the ground. Flames devoured gilded beams and yellow porcelain rooftops; ash filled the lakes and snowed down on Beijing, where the sky grew so dark it seemed like an eclipse. When the thirty-year-old Xianfeng Emperor heard the news, he vomited blood; less than a year later he was dead.

“It was a sacrifice of all that was most ancient and most beautiful,” wrote McGhee, the chaplain. “It is gone, but I do not know how to tear myself from it.”

Neither, it seems, does China. But after reading these accounts, it’s a lot easier to understand why.

Caixin Media Company Limited is a media group dedicated to providing high-quality and authoritative financial and business news and information through periodicals, online content, mobile apps,...

By Sheila Melvin

Read More

A series of essays on the history of Yuanmingyuan, by historian Lilian Li, as well an extensive collection of images of the palace complex, is available on MIT's Visualizing Cultures website under "The Garden of Perfect Brightness." For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

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Caixin Media

11.23.12

Asset Transparency Urged to Fight Government Graft

CAIXIN

Calls for government officials to disclose personal and family assets are growing louder in China, mainly in reaction to the rising number of corruption cases affecting officialdom.And some officials are listening. A local Communist Party official in Hunan province, for example,...

Caixin Media

11.17.12

Political Reform: The Way to Go

CAIXIN

Sections of the 18th National Party Congress report that have justifiably generated the most attention are references to political reform.Anyone who did not harbor unrealistic hopes about the congress and its outcome can read the report and find indications of progress in the...

Caixin Media

11.17.12

As 18th Congress Ends, a Peek into the Process

CAIXIN

Over the past twenty years, economist Zhang Zhuoyuan has witnessed and actively participated in building the nation’s economic policy.He participated in the drafting of reports at each of the Communist Party’s three previous national congresses, setting broad policy and...

Caixin Media

11.12.12

Weighing Risks Amid a Wealth Management Boom

CAIXIN

Is China’s wealth management business a booming profit volcano for investors, or just another smoke-and-mirrors pyramid scheme?It’s a question dividing the nation’s bankers and banking regulators as investors of all kinds pour cash into bank-sponsored wealth management...

Caixin Media

11.05.12

Scenes from a Leadership Transition

CAIXIN

Jiang Zemin’s Lyrical MemoryCompiled by Caixin(Beijing)—A glance at off-hours correspondence between two veteran leaders has added a lighter dimension to the recent public appearances of former Politburo members in the run-up to the party’s 18th National Congress.Li Lanqing...

Caixin Media

11.05.12

Thanks, But No Thanks

CAIXIN

On the last day of Zhao Xiang’s short life, her request to donate every organ possible to save the lives of others was brushed off by the president of Shenzhen Liulian Hospital.Zhao, her parents, and transplant specialists from the Shenzhen branch of the Red Cross Society of...

Caixin Media

11.02.12

18 Reforms for the Party’s 18th Congress

CAIXIN

China’s leadership handover comes at a critical moment for society and the economy, and changes are in order.The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party this month comes at a critical time described by economist Wu Jinglian as “a tipping point for China’s economic...

Caixin Media

10.26.12

Below-Belt Blows in Kungfu Restaurant Battle

CAIXIN

The crestfallen former chairman of fast-food restaurant giant Kungfu Catering Management Co. Ltd. is awaiting a verdict after a trial on corporate embezzlement charges apparently instigated by his former business partner’s wife.If Cai Dabiao is found guilty in Guangzhou’s...

Caixin Media

10.19.12

Flying Splinters

CAIXIN

Liu Futang expressed a sense of foreboding just before his recent arrest by posting a microblog entry that began, “If one day I’m invited out for tea, please don’t worry about me.”“Drink tea” is a euphemism in China for an unwanted interrogation by government...

Caixin Media

09.28.12

Bo Xilai Ousted from Communist Party

CAIXIN

The Communist Party has expelled Bo Xilai, the former party chief of Chongqing, who’s been embroiled in corruption allegations since early this year.The Politburo made the decision on September 28, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Bo will next face criminal charges.On...

Caixin Media

09.28.12

Living on Dangerous Ground

CAIXIN

Fractures had long plagued the rocky mountainside next to Huang Daihong’s home. When an earthquake jolted Luozehe County in Yunnan province, Huang watched a large black boulder release a shower of stones that instantly killed her neighbor.The September 7 quake that struck the...

Caixin Media

09.20.12

Hit TV Show Sings Song of Media Model Success

CAIXIN

A reality-talent TV songfest popular in more than forty countries around the world has become an instant hit in China, underpinning enthusiasm for an experimental business model linked to media sector reform.The Voice of China’s debut show in July immediately won high audience...

Caixin Media

09.17.12

How a Protest in Beijing Stuck to the Script

CAIXIN

On the afternoon of September 16, rows of policemen and security personnel in black T-shirts lined Beijing’s Liangmaqiao Road near the Japanese embassy during protests over the Diaoyu Islands controversy. Security guards were visible everywhere, both in the middle of the road...

Caixin Media

09.14.12

Why War is Not a Possibility

CAIXIN

There won’t be a war in East Asia.The United States has five military alliances in the western Pacific. Its allies are South Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore. And American battleships are busy patrolling the seas.Without a go-ahead from Washington, there...

Caixin Media

09.14.12

Moneyless Pensions Yield No Gold for the Old

CAIXIN

SHENYANG—Morning breezes turn chilly in late August, signaling fall’s approach in the Tiexi factory district.For the unemployed men and women standing on sidewalks between a labor bureau office and a park every day at 6 a.m., the change of seasons is a reminder that searching...

Caixin Media

09.07.12

Despite Regulations, Bus Travel Still Risky

CAIXIN

Thirty-six people died recently on a Shaanxi province highway when a double-decker bus slammed into a fuel tanker.The crash underscored ongoing demands for beefing up traffic law enforcement and improving the design of these often-crowded overnight buses, which transport nearly...

Caixin Media

09.07.12

Long Ride for Justice

CAIXIN

Lea Cao had his first inkling that something was wrong when he got a long-distance phone call from relatives in southeastern China.His family members in Fuzhou phoned Cao in New York to say that his parents and brother had failed to arrive at the local train station as scheduled...

Caixin Media

09.05.12

Making a Killing on Herbal Medicine

CAIXIN

Mushroom gatherers converge and crawl on hillsides in Qinghai province every March while foraging for wild caterpillar fungus.Theirs is not a garden-variety morel hunt. Caterpillar fungus is a hard-to-find parasite that infects and mummifies a host before forming a mushroom, the...

Caixin Media

08.31.12

Tall Order in Ordos

CAIXIN

A desert city infamously littered with new but vacant apartment buildings and idle construction sites is getting no relief in the parched climate for local government budgets.Ordos, where local leaders have been trying for years to build a thriving community almost from scratch,...

Caixin Media

08.25.12

Gu Kailai: Getting Away with Murder?

CAIXIN

Closer Look: Nearly Getting Away with MurderBy Zhang JianjingShortly after Bogu Kailai received a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, four former high-ranking Chongqing police officers were sentenced to jail terms ranging from five to eleven years. Each officer was convicted...

Caixin Media

08.18.12

Economist Lin Yifu on State-Sustained Growth

CAIXIN

Standing up to a wave of pessimism about China’s prospects for continuing high-level economic growth is no easy task.But economist Lin Yifu, who recently retired as a senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank, is holding his ground with a prediction that China...

Caixin Media

08.13.12

We Make It Pour, Declare Cloud-Seeders

CAIXIN

Will it be clear or gray skies today? Increasingly, the answer in China may be decided by the government.The Chinese have been seeding clouds for decades. Airplanes equipped with rocket-launchers and chemicals for inducing rainfall are based in thousands of counties across the...

Caixin Media

08.09.12

Subsidized Cartoons, Comics Tickling Too Few

CAIXIN

Breaking into the animated film industry usually requires a basic plan for blending colorful images and clever storytelling in ways that entertain the public—and make money.Since 2006, however, animated film start-ups in China have done quite well with a lot less effort by...

Caixin Media

08.03.12

Queerly Not Dangerous

CAIXIN

Several authors of a “danmei” fiction website were recently detained by authorities. The injustice is so glaringly obvious that I can’t stop myself from saying something.Danmei (or “boys' love”) fiction is particularly interesting only to a minority. The idea comes from...

Caixin Media

08.02.12

Landlords of the Rings Push Urban Rents Higher

CAIXIN

A twenty-six-year-old woman who moved to Beijing from a distant town for work could be a poster child for urban China’s latest housing market phenomenon: skyrocketing rents.The woman, surnamed Fang, said goodbye to Liaoning province three years ago for a job that paid 2,400...

Caixin Media

07.31.12

Shedding Light on the Solar Crisis

CAIXIN

After Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., a Wuxi-headquartered photovoltaic cell producer, went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2005, China’s solar industry grew at an astonishing speed. More than 200 photovoltaic product manufacturers are operating in Zhejiang province...

Caixin Media

07.26.12

Mass Medal Preparedness

CAIXIN

China’s Olympic training system demands its athletes give their all—and not expect much in return.It’s a structured, planned, and government-funded system specifically designed to churn out winners.While other countries around the world build Olympic teams with professional...

Caixin Media

07.26.12

Buried Under Water

CAIXIN

Ding Zhijian, a 34-year-old editor at a children’s literature publishing company, was on his way home after meeting a colleague when a horrific rainstorm hit Beijing.Earlier that day, his wife had asked Ding not to leave the house. It was the weekend, after all, and rain had...

Caixin Media

07.19.12

Vineyards Pop Corks on Chinese Wine Investors

CAIXIN

Wine-tasting party conversations among investors in China are increasingly sounding like sour grapes.Some well-heeled wine investors have been anxiously debating whether a price bubble for investment-grade wine is getting ready to burst. Others complain that counterfeiters who...

Caixin Media

07.19.12

More than Medals for China’s Olympic Stars

CAIXIN

China’s best athletes have not only broken records but they’ve hauled in increasingly sizeable cash bonuses from central and local governments for their champion, medal-winning performances at Olympic events.Between 1984, when China re-entered the Olympics arena, and the 2008...

Caixin Media

07.11.12

Economic Ties that Bind

CAIXIN

Labor leader Wayne Swan has his finger on the pulse of the Australian economy as the nation’s deputy prime minister and treasurer, which means he’s well-equipped to explain factors defining the increasingly robust relationship between China and Australia.The period since...

Caixin Media

07.11.12

Railroaded into a Fast-Train Technology Trap

CAIXIN

The professional dreams of a team of locomotive designers and rail systems engineers sped along steel tracks through the countryside of northeastern China.The year was 2003, and high-speed track testing was under way between the cities of Shenyang and Qinhuangdao for the China...

Caixin Media

07.06.12

Land of Vanishing Lakes

CAIXIN

The last lakes in Hubei province are shrinking so fast that no one knows whether new government regulations—the latest leg of a sixteen-year-old environmental scramble—can reverse the disappearing act.The province has been losing its once-bountiful lakes for about a hundred...

Caixin Media

07.06.12

Fighting the Filth

CAIXIN

Has the division of spoils from China’s rapid economic growth become a one-sided affair? The answer is less abstract when one considers the state of the nation’s environment.Waterways are barricaded by garbage, mountains gouged with dusty pits, and the air in many major...

Caixin Media

07.06.12

Powering Down Coal-Fired Economic Expansion

CAIXIN

Slowing nationwide power demand and coal consumption, twin barometers for economic growth, suggest the Chinese economy may be sailing into the doldrums while at the same time changing its course. Electricity use in May rose a relatively mild 5.2 percent compared to the same...

Caixin Media

06.29.12

Barclay’s Diamond Offers an Optimistic Vision

CAIXIN

A calm, confident Robert Diamond discussed financial restructuring in Europe and economic options for the Chinese government during a June 14 interview—thirteen days before the British bank where he serves as CEO, Barclays Group, was fined for manipulating interbank lending...

Caixin Media

06.29.12

Shale Gas Race

CAIXIN

The shale gas revolution in the United States has led to a debate in China over shale gas development. But can the United States really achieve energy self-sufficiency? And if it can, what are the implications for China?Ever since the Nixon era, almost every American president...

Caixin Media

06.27.12

Cash for China’s Homegrown Smartphone

CAIXIN

Xiaomi Mobile Internet Co. has raised US$216 million, its CEO says, raising the total value of the upstart, homegrown Chinese smartphone maker to US$4 billion.If Lei Jun’s claim is accurate, his two-year-old company’s value is close to the market capitalization of Research In...

Caixin Media

06.20.12

China’s Food Fright

CAIXIN

There’s no denying that the gastronomic horizons of Chinese cuisines sometimes verge on the infinite. But on factors of food quality, there’s little subtlety or nuance for safety standards. In the past five years, the number of public food and drug safety scandals has hit...

Caixin Media

06.18.12

Recurring Dreams for the Rule of Law

CAIXIN

On the Beijing campus of the China University of Political Science and Law stands a dramatic monument inscribed with the words of legal expert and former university president Jiang Ping: “Rule of Law for Everyone.”Jiang’s words carry special weight, even from retirement,...

Caixin Media

06.14.12

Uproar over Aborted Fetus Photo

CAIXIN

A Shaanxi Province woman provoked an uproar with an online posting of a photo showing her with her seven-month-old fetus after what she said was a forced abortion.The gruesome photo was reposted across the Internet in China, prompting provincial officials to...

Caixin Media

06.08.12

Road Show Media Bandits Squeeze IPO Hopefuls

CAIXIN

Buying media silence is a common first step toward an initial public offering in China that siphons billions of yuan every year from companies seeking investors in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The phenomenon has been documented by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC)....

Caixin Media

05.28.12

Rail Builders Shift Interest to Overseas Mines

CAIXIN

After a three-year wait, China Railway Construction Corp. Ltd. (CRCC) recently won permission to launch a major copper mining project in Ecuador. The production agreement signed April 25 by Ecuador’s government and Corriente Resources, a Canadian company jointly controlled...

Caixin Media

05.25.12

Policeman Burned for Dealing With the Devil

CAIXIN

On March 17, the Chenzhou Public Security Bureau announced Huang Bailian had been removed as head of the police department’s drug squad. Huang offered a simple explanation for his sacking: “This is retaliation.” Three years earlier Huang, who is forty-eight years old...

Caixin Media

05.23.12

Identity Crisis Rattles Volvo’s Chinese Owner

CAIXIN

New models bearing the Chinese-owned Volvo badge shared a luxury spotlight at the Beijing International Auto Show in April with perennial stars Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus.But behind the diamond-studded presentation was confusion over the legal status of Sweden-based Volvo Car...

Caixin Media

05.18.12

Demography and Destiny

CAIXIN

China is facing a demographic reckoning that is approaching a nightmare.For thirty years, the government has been obsessed with keeping population growth down, often resorting to late-term abortions and other brutal measures. The panic now is that China is growing old before it...

Caixin Media

05.18.12

Message in a Bottle for Spirits Maker Moutai

CAIXIN

A glass of Feitian Moutai packs a wallop, which is one reason why the 106-proof baijiu is a hit among influential government officials.They also like Feitian Moutai because a single bottle, thanks to special arrangements between state agencies and distiller Kweichow Moutai Co....

Caixin Media

05.18.12

Era Ends for China’s Legendary Stock Picker

CAIXIN

Investors who closely followed the stock picks of one of China’s most successful brokers are wandering in the wilderness—and wondering what will happen next to their unemployed luminary Wang Yawei.In April, and without warning, Wang resigned from his position as a star public...

Caixin Media

05.09.12

Along the Xiang, It’s Toxic from the Tap

CAIXIN

Water flowing from the Xiang River into the faucets of Hunan Province homes has been dangerous for decades. The central government first classified the river’s water as toxic in the 1980s. But the river was being called the most polluted in China as early as 1978, years before...

Caixin Media

05.04.12

Chinese Firms Try Scoring with Spanish Soccer

CAIXIN

When NBA journeyman Damon Jones signed a shoe deal with sporting goods maker Li Ning in 2006, he became the first in a long line of American basketball players to win a sponsorship from a Chinese company.Today, China’s Peak Sport Products leads other domestic companies in terms...

Caixin Media

05.02.12

Garish Flowers of War

CAIXIN

The Flowers of War begins December 13, 1937, with young convent girls fleeing for their lives through a besieged Nanjing shrouded in mist. The first words heard are those of the lead girl Shujuan: “Everybody was running that day but no one could escape the thick fog.”It feels...

Caixin Media

05.02.12

Yearning for the Yuan

CAIXIN

London is forging ahead with plans for yuan-based financial services by developing an infrastructure and banking services that match its ambitions for the Chinese currency. On April 18, the city welcomed the first yuan-denominated bond issuance outside China’s sovereign...

Caixin Media

04.25.12

Watery Grave for Yangtze River Fish

CAIXIN

(Beijing)—Fishermen along the banks of the mighty Yangtze River have long spoken of emptier nets and longer waits for a catch.On April 2, an unusual auction held in a downstream city in Jiangsu Province added weight to their bleak reports: A single, 325-...

Caixin Media

04.18.12

Unscathed by Scandals, Official Promoted

CAIXIN

(Beijing)—Although sacked once for the coverup of the 2003 SARS epidemic and a second time for blocking media coverage of the 2008 Shanxi mudslides, Meng Xuenong’s career has always bounced back.According to the website of the China Youth Political...

Caixin Media

04.06.12

China: The Worst Place To Retire

CAIXIN

China is facing a crisis over providing for the elderly as its population ages and the supply of labor diminishes. The Beijing News reported in late March that state-run homes for the elderly in the capital are overcrowded. One had 7,000 applicants waiting for a vacancy,...

Caixin Media

03.29.12

Give Wenzhou What It Needs

CAIXIN

The development of China's private economy requires financial support, especially private financial support. Wenzhou is the home of the private economy. With 99.5 percent of companies falling into the category of small and micro enterprises, one in three people in Wenzhou is a...

Caixin Media

03.19.12

Fair Trade

CAIXIN

A typically opaque investigation can begin with a tip from a Shanghai Stock Exchange official and end with a ten-year jail term for a businessman convicted of insider trading. What happens in between is a carefully guarded secret. Likewise hidden from the public eye are the...

Caixin Media

03.19.12

An Insider's Account of the Wukan Protest

CAIXIN

For months, thousands of villagers in Wukan, Guangdong Province, staged large protests over illegal land seizures, rigged elections and official corruption. The unrest started in September, and as the months wore on they attracted nationwide, then worldwide, attention. Finally,...

Caixin Media

03.09.12

Ex-Officials Battle Plan to Build Nuclear Plants

CAIXIN

Work on China’s nuclear power plants started picking up again about a year after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. But the meltdown in March 2011 was still fresh on the minds of four retired cadres in Anhui Province’s Wangjiang County. They filed a petition opposing the...

Caixin Media

01.20.12

Melodies of My Youth

CAIXIN

When I was a child, my family had an old-fashioned phonograph that had been passed down from my grandfather. It required hand-winding and used a bamboo needle, and it came with special silver tweezers for cutting the bamboo needles. On the side of the phonograph was a logo...

DISCUSSION

Mao and the Writers

MARTIN BERNAL

By the 1930s the intolerable quality of life and the inefficiency, corruption, and conservatism of the Kuomintang had driven nearly every serious creative writer in China to the Left. Most turned toward some form of Marxism, which not only offered the most convincing explanation...

Forever Jade

JONATHAN D. SPENCE

A central crisis in modern Chinese letters has been caused by the need to take account of Western forms. Some writers adjusted eagerly to Western literature out of a sincere admiration for Western culture; some grudgingly, out of a total rejection of China’s own “feudal”...

Stories from the Ice Age

JONATHAN MIRSKY

Since the Tiananmen Square killings it has become fashionable within the Chinese leadership to refer to dissident intellectuals as “scum.” That was Mao’s view, too. In 1942, the chairman, his armies besieged by both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese army, took time off for...