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Uncertain Future for Architectural Treasures

Uncertain Future for Architectural Treasures

Nestled between mountains and a winding river in a scenic corner of Shanxi province is Zhongyang County, the home of an exquisite Confucian temple built during the Ming dynasty.

The colorful wooden temple graced this idyllic valley for hundreds of years before a construction crew in October started clearing land for a twenty-six-story apartment building. Workers eventually dismantled and moved the temple piece by piece to a new site about a kilometer away.

The relocation and Zhongyang’s altered landscape are a microcosm of the wide scope of change affecting the Chinese world of ancient architectural jewels. It’s a world shaken for decades by economic development, urbanization, and sometimes sheer neglect.

And in recent years, it’s a world shaken up by commercial forces, as businesses catering to historic preservation expand around the country. Today, an entire industrial chain has formed to feed off demand for ancient architecture.

Indeed, business is booming for buyers, movers, rehabilitators, and sellers of old buildings. No data is available, but anecdotal evidence and business reports suggest increasing numbers of culturally significant structures in underdeveloped parts of the country are being sold and moved to wealthy cities. Other buildings, like the Confucian temple in Zhongyang, are being moved by developers so hungry for land that they’re willing to pay for a delicate relocation.

Many buildings cannot be moved legally. Under Chinese regulations, the central government can designate certain cultural structures state-owned and immovable. But ownership of anything not on the list is subject to local government control.

Zhongyang’s director of cultural tourism, Qiao Jinping, told Caixin the apartment building developer and local officials coordinated a “relocation-protection-style” project that combined support for economic growth with historic preservation.

“The developer bought the land (from the government) and paid a large sum of money that helped us resolve the funding problem,” Qiao said. “Rather than let the Confucian temple collapse, we elected to have it be reborn elsewhere.”

Cultural Decay

The interest in saving China’s cultural gems may have arrived too late for a large number of rare structures that once stood in Shanxi province. Today, though, the provincial Bureau of Cultural Relics says Shanxi is home to some 350 of China’s approximately 440 oldest wood-frame buildings.

Moreover, the bureau says, Shanxi has about 75 percent of the 160 wood-frame structures nationwide that are more than 1,000 years old, which means they were built during the Song, Liao, or Jin dynasties. And about eighty of these structures can be found in a southeast part of the province called Gushangdang.

Typically threatened is the Goddess Temple in the center of Zhuangzi Township. The wooden roof of the main hall, built during the Yuan dynasty, has started to cave in. A protruding roof beam is rotting, and experts say complete collapse may be imminent.

“There are a lot of such treasures in disrepair in Shanxi,” said Tang Dahua, a historic building enthusiast who has visited about 300 old wooden buildings around Shanxi over the past two years. He calls the province a treasure trove of rare buildings as well as the epitome of cultural neglect.

Economically underdeveloped areas of Shanxi and neighboring Shaanxi province should be targeted for preservation efforts before it’s too late, says Ruan Yisan, a professor at Shanghai’s Tongji University.

Ruan says Shanxi’s historic buildings are victims of “intentional destruction and passive damage,” often in areas that lack financial and human resources to support preservation. In his opinion, each structure deserves “to be saved without a second’s delay.”

Yet at many sites around the country, there’s nothing left to save.

More than 40,000 government-registered culturally important structures disappeared between 1989 and 2011, according to the Third National Survey of Cultural Relics, which was completed by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage about a year ago.

Because a considerable number of valuable temples, city gateways, and other centuries-old structures were never registered with the central government, the survey figure may represent only a fraction of the victims of economic development, urbanization, and inattention.

A separate report released in 2012 by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development said that since 1978, nearly 20,000 of some 40,000 structures deemed nationally significant have been destroyed.

An official at the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, China’s historic sites supervisor, said natural disasters including landslides and earthquakes have claimed a number of structures. Others have fallen to urban sprawl and theft.

The nation’s Cultural Relics Protection Law says local governments are responsible for financing preservation and protection. And many have accepted the task.

Ruan said the city of Suzhou spent more than 1 billion yuan in 2011 to care for structures, while the city of Shaoxing spent some 700 million yuan. But these are relatively wealthy cities that, unlike many in Shanxi and other less-developed areas, can afford to save buildings.

The local government in charge of the Goddess Temple, for example, does not have the hundreds of thousands of yuan that would be needed for proper repairs, said Yan Zhen, director of the Jinzhong Prefecture’s Yuci District Office of Cultural Management.

A temporary structure to protect the temple from rain and snow would cost around 10,000 yuan, Yan said. But even a small expenditure “depends on how much funding higher authorities approve,” he said, and so far they’ve approved nothing.

Nor is anyone in Beijing pushing to preserve the temple.

“The State Administration of Cultural Relics is a weak department,” lamented Wang Qingfeng, director of the Changzhi Prefecture Suburban Cultural Heritage Tourism Bureau in Shanxi. “Cultural heritage is something you only see as an investment. You don’t see what it yields.

“Only leaders who truly understand this are willing to allocate funds.”

Preserve and Profit

Business interests that jumped on the historic preservation bandwagon, meanwhile, have found ways to leap barriers posed by the financial constraints of local governments.

The solution to Zhongyang’s Confucian temple conundrum, for example, balanced new property development and preserving the old for future tourism growth.

The Zhongyang government decided the best way to protect the cultural structure and retain its highest value was to harness its full commercial value. With that in mind, the temple was moved to a scenic area that the government designated as a moneymaking tourist destination. In the future, it will be joined be new buildings decorated with features of ancient architectural design.

In Suzhou, old courtyard homes have been restored along historic Pinjiang Road and are now used for luxury clubs.

Indeed, many preservation proponents argue that saving an ancient structure should not mean locking it in a glass museum case.

“A big principle for cultural heritage plans that must be grasped is that the results of cultural heritage protection should benefit the people as much as possible,” said Tan Yufeng, deputy chief engineer at the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Cultural Relics. Ancient buildings “should be used for education, like museums and exhibition centers.”

Tan prefers on-site restoration of a structure over Zhongyang’s relocation-protection technique. “Protecting the original site is the best way to protect a cultural relic,” he said. “The value of a cultural relic is reflected in its countless, complicated links with a surrounding environment.”

But wealthy buyers of ancient structures often prefer dismantling and moving, a technique dating to the 1980s, when rich Hong Kongers scoured the mainland for valuable buildings and moved them to adorn Hong Kong property developments.

More recently, major mainland developers have followed in their footsteps. In Shenzhen, for example, two residential complexes built by China Vanke Co. feature ancient buildings bought and shipped to the site from Anhui and Jiangsu provinces.

Among those who profit from demand for historic buildings are researchers who gather field data, as well as specialists engaged in dismantling, repairing, and rehabilitation.

A businessman surnamed Chai said his company in Jinghai, Zhejiang province, can be hired to buy, take down, ship, and rebuild a structure. Most buildings his company handles are in Jiangxi, Zhejiang, and Anhui provinces. They include those built in the Huizhou architectural style, as well as Fujian-type houses.

Chai said he charges about 1 million yuan for a genuine 200-square-meter historic building. His company also builds replicas for 500,000 yuan apiece.

The booming market in Suzhou is served by a website run by the Suzhou Ancient Building Network. Its founder, Zheng Zhiran, says the group promotes the protection of ancient buildings by posting information about building transactions.

Real estate agents, individuals, and groups can participate in the ancient building trade. Some see a building as an investment, while others act as brokers working for commission, usually 3 to 5 percent of a transaction price.

Zheng told Caixin his company, in business since 2007, buys about five buildings every year and sells two or three. He’s optimistic about the market: His company posted 3 million yuan in revenues in 2012, and is likely to collect 30 million yuan in 2013.

It’s not all smooth sailing for the preservation profiteers, such as the owner of a garment factory in Shanghai’s Qingpu District. He bought nine Qing- and Ming-era buildings and moved them from Anhui and Jiangxi in 2009, only to be told recently by the local government’s urban development department that the reconstruction was illegal.

Soon after demolitions started, the Shanghai Cultural Relics Bureau stepped in and ordered an emergency halt to the work, citing the buildings’ cultural value.

Yet legal loopholes often let moneymaking trump historic preservation, said Cui Biao, who works for the Zhejiang culture relics bureau. Since unprofessional dismantling and rebuilding can ruin a structure, he said, laws are needed to restrict the practice.

Opinions such as Cui’s are winning support among a growing number of historic preservation enthusiasts. Some have looked to Europe for guidance, since many European countries protect their cultural heritage sites with private funds.

But the European model may not transfer to China. Li Xin, a deputy director at the UNESCO World Heritage Institute of Training and Research for Asia Pacific, said Europe’s “private protection model … can only be drawn from slightly at China’s current stage because the property rights relationships of heritage buildings in China are more complex.”

Since government culture departments oversee protection and preservation efforts, the Chinese system would have to be adjusted to allow private financial participation. Moreover, experts such as Cao Yongkang, an expert in renovating ancient buildings, said commercial interests should not have precedent over the kind of historic preservation that’s in the public interest.

“Money spent on restoring ancient buildings is often out of sight,” said building enthusiast Tang. “From a layman’s point of view, spending hundreds of thousands of yuan to restore a building is inconceivable. So how could you convince investors to do it?”

Li suggests China draw up a system following the French heritage model, which relies on volunteers who participate in restorations. Such a system, he said, would promote public awareness as well as protect buildings.

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 Caixin staff reporters Wang Xiaoqing and Zhou Qun. This story originally appeared at Caixin on December 28, 2012.

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CAIXIN

Getting away for a little surf and sand ought to be easy for Beijingers like Mr. Wang, who recently boarded one of the daily, four-hour flights that link the capital and sub-tropical Hainan Island in China’s far south.But airport delays seriously complicated Wang’s trip,...

Caixin Media

08.12.13

China’s Urban Sludge Dilemma: Sinking in Stink

CAIXIN

Promptly at noon on March 17, a heavy truck hauling a dark substance and on a dark mission pulled out of the Gaobeidian Wastewater Treatment Plant in eastern Beijing.A wastewater treatment engineer helped a Caixin reporter identify the unusual load, which jiggled in the truck’s...

Caixin Media

08.05.13

County in Shaanxi in a Deep Hole as Mining Bubble Pops

CAIXIN

A financial crisis triggered by falling coal prices is brewing in Shenmu County, in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.Construction projects have been halted, universal health care has run into payment problems and many private bankers have disappeared in the last few months,...

Caixin Media

07.29.13

Why a Reporter Feels Sympathy for an Airport Bomber

CAIXIN

These past few years as a reporter, I have met some people with nothing left to live for and now another person can be added to the list. Ji Zhongxing, the disabled man who set off a bomb in a Beijing airport on July 20, is that person.Ji and I are the same age. We were both born...

Caixin Media

07.16.13

As Red Cross Probe Stumbles, Critics See Red

CAIXIN

Two box lunches—and nothing more. Yuan Yue says that’s what the Red Cross Society of China has frugally handed out so far to each member of a special committee assigned to investigate the charity group’s finances.But critics of the special board called the China Red Cross...

Caixin Media

06.03.13

Trading Companies and the Business of Illusion

CAIXIN

Last year, the owner of an export-processing company whom we will call Lin Minyao learned of an easy way to make money in Shenzhen, the port city next to Hong Kong.Like his fellow traders, Lin said he could set up two shell companies, one in Hong Kong and the other in special...

Caixin Media

05.04.13

Earth Moves, China Rallies

CAIXIN

Rapeseed was ripening in the lush fields ringing the village of Renjia when a local farmer, forced from his home, stepped into the sea of green stalks and pitched a tent.Less than a day earlier, the farmer and each of his more than 3,000 neighbors in Renjia had been rendered...

Caixin Media

04.20.13

Bird Flu’s Latest Talons Force Fresh Defense

CAIXIN

A surprise attack by a new strain of the bird flu virus has forced Chinese authorities into the trenches for a two-pronged defense against unseen enemies.The primary threat is the deadly virus that scientists identified as a new strain of H7N9. It first surfaced in February in...

Caixin Media

04.01.13

New Hands Take the Financial Regulation Wheel

CAIXIN

Who’s steering China’s carefully managed financial system? Speculators were busy name-guessing before and for several months after the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress in November.Finally, the dust started to settle with formal appointments announced a few days...

Caixin Media

03.23.13

Achieving Real Progress in How Government Functions

CAIXIN

After months of speculation, the reorganization of the State Council has finally been approved by the National People’s Congress.Under the shake-up, China’s rail business will no longer be managed by the regulator. Three national agencies will be formed or beefed up—on...

Caixin Media

03.09.13

Is Railway Reform Finally On Track?

CAIXIN

Finally, it seems the railways ministry may soon be restructured as part of a wider exercise by the government to streamline its ministries. Putting railway reform on the agenda of this year’s meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political...

Caixin Media

02.24.13

Dirty Business for China’s Internet Scrubbers

CAIXIN

Flames of a public relations disaster were licking at the heels of a private equity firm when China’s most notorious Internet-scrubbing company rode to the rescue.Saving the Shenzhen-based firm’s image was not cheap, and it took more than two months to douse the flames of...

Caixin Media

02.23.13

China’s 3D Printing: Not a Revolution—Yet

CAIXIN

Engineers, inventors, and industrial futurists in China are setting sights on a new technological frontier as three-dimensional printing slowly revolutionizes manufacturing.A Beijing University research team, for example, has been working on what industry sources say is a...

Caixin Media

02.04.13

Lights, Camera, Pending IPOs for Filmmakers

CAIXIN

The cameras could be rolling soon for long-anticipated stock listings by the nation’s largest movie producer and foreign flick importer China Film Group, as well as a smaller but ambitious rival, Shanghai Film Group.The state-owned companies’ names were added January 11 to a...

Caixin Media

02.04.13

Defining the Chinese Dream

CAIXIN

A new phase of Sino-American relations is poised to begin now that Xi Jinping has been confirmed as China’s next leader and Barack Obama re-elected U.S. president.In both countries, the debate about foreign policy options has been robust, particularly about the bilateral...

Caixin Media

01.26.13

Garden of Lost Children

CAIXIN

It started with a baby that was left in the doorway of a hospital bathroom. Yuan Lihai took in the girl with a cleft lip while working at a Henan province hospital in 1989. At the department of gynecology and obstetrics, she was paid 20 yuan for every infant she buried. This was...

Caixin Media

01.19.13

Shandong’s Slippery Gutter Oil Man

CAIXIN

It’s oil with an extra something, but there’s nothing virgin about it. Pumped from sewers outside restaurants and drained from dumpsters, it’s cooking oil born from waste both human and mechanical.Known in China as “gutter oil,” it’s commonly used by cooks at greasy...

Caixin Media

01.13.13

Police to Stop Camps This Year, Politburo Member Says

CAIXIN

The notorious system that lets police send detainees to labor camps without trial will be halted this year, said Meng Jianzhu, secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission, at a conference on January 7.Meng said the Communist Party’s Central Committee would submit its...

Caixin Media

12.21.12

When I Met Xi Jinping

CAIXIN

I was informed in late November that the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) had invited me to a whole-day meeting in Beijing to discuss my impressions of the 18th National Party Congress and give advice to the Chinese government. I had no idea the meeting...

Caixin Media

12.16.12

In Bo Xilai’s City, a Legacy of Backstabbing

CAIXIN

A deathbed plea brought an unexpected guest to Li Zhuang’s home one day last March, setting in motion a legal process that soon may clear the Beijing lawyer’s name, throw out a number of convictions, and close a sordid chapter of the Bo Xilai story.The visitor was Gong...

Caixin Media

12.07.12

China’s Dream Team

CAIXIN

The country’s recent leadership transition was widely depicted as a triumph for conservative hardliners and a setback for the cause of reform—a characterization that has deepened the gloominess that pervades Western perceptions of China.In fact, nothing could be further from...

Caixin Media

12.03.12

Toxic Effects and Environmental Nondisclosure

CAIXIN

High-profile talk emphasizing environmental action at the Communist Party’s 18th national congress attracted a lot of attention. News from the November proceedings spurred industry demands for more information and pushed stock prices higher for companies that make environmental...

Caixin Media

11.26.12

When Tradition is Flattened by Policy

CAIXIN

A “tomb-flattening policy” in Henan province has sparked intense controversy, with millions of tombs reportedly destroyed by local authorities in a quest to turn graveyards into farmland.The policy can be seen as a historical extension of land-saving reforms implemented after...

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

The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan

CAIXIN

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...

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...