What’s Behind the Youth Unemployment Statistics Beijing Just Decided to Stop Publishing?

A Q&A with Eli Friedman

This week, China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced it would cease collecting data on youth unemployment. The news came after nearly a decade of poor job prospects for Chinese people ages 16-24, often reported on by international media as mainly a problem affecting recent college graduates. Earlier this summer, ChinaFile’s Jessica Batke spoke with sociologist Eli Friedman, who studies international labor, about the reasons for joblessness among China’s young people and how it is covered.

‘What Kind of Wish Is This?’

A Q&A with Author Murong Xuecun

The writer Hao Qun, who publishes under the pen name Murong Xuecun, has spent the past two decades exploring Chinese society through his literature. After studying at Beijing’s prestigious China University of Politics and Law, he worked in the private sector. He began his writing career in 2002 online, writing a series on gambling, sex, and drugs in China, which he later published as his debut novel Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, the English edition of which was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008. In 2010, he won China’s People’s Literature Prize, which is presented by the state-affiliated China Writer’s Association, for his non-fiction book The Missing Ingredient. His acceptance speech was a critique of censorship in the publishing industry and of his own acquiescence to it, and when he was unable to deliver it at the prize ceremony, he delivered it instead at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong. In the years that followed, he faced mounting obstacles to speaking his mind in China. His Weibo account with 8.5 million followers was deleted in 2013. But he wrote frequently for The New York Times about the limits on expression in China. In 2020, Murong traveled to Wuhan and documented the lives of eight ordinary people at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. He left China in order to safely publish the resulting book, Deadly Quiet City, which was released earlier this year in the United States. He now lives in Australia.

Angeli Datt spoke with Murong at the offices of the writers’ advocacy organization PEN America in New York City.

The U.S. May Be Overstating China’s Technological Prowess

A Q&A with Jeffrey Ding

China’s technological prowess is frequently invoked by U.S. policymakers hoping to get votes, attention, or enough bipartisan support to pass a bill. Competition with China was a central motivating factor in federal legislation like the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, not to mention the work of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. “Beating China”—specifically in science and technology development—is a key driver of U.S. governance and, ahead of the 2024 presidential race, elections.

George Washington University Assistant Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Ding published a recent article that explains why measuring a state’s scientific and technological power should include not only how many innovations a country can check off, but also the degree to which new technologies are integrated into the economy and society. Ding spoke with Johanna Costigan about his new paper. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. —Johanna Costigan

Johanna Costigan: Can you explain the distinction between innovation capacity and diffusion capacity?

Jeffrey Ding: Innovation capacity refers to a state’s ability to pioneer new-to-the-world breakthroughs in science and technology. Diffusion capacity refers to a state’s ability to spread those innovations across a wide range of productive processes in an economy. I argue in my paper that we tend to gravitate toward measures of innovation and pay insufficient attention to diffusion.

How did diffusion occur in the second Industrial Revolution in the U.S., and why does that example show diffusion is an essential metric?

In the late 19th century, the U.S. was not at the forefront of science and technology—our best and brightest went to Germany to study. Even though other nations were leading the way in fields like chemical engineering, the U.S. was much stronger in terms of diffusion capacity; it was better at applying those uses across a wide range of processes. If you only looked at which countries were winning the most Nobel Prizes or had the most advanced research institutes, you would be underestimating the scientific and technological prowess of the U.S.

Assessments that are more oriented around diffusion capacity would have predicted the U.S. to sustain its economic rise and become the preeminent economic power. Back then, there wasn’t a global innovation index, but the case study was to go back and see if we rank different countries based on this, only using the innovation indicators provides an incorrect view. Diffusion is central to a state’s ability to convert science and technology into economic strength.

You write that academic research in the U.S. was more closely tied to commerce than it was in Europe, which allowed American breakthroughs to spread more rapidly. Given the close relationship between government and industry in the PRC, why might that not be the case in contemporary China?

The government acts as a bottleneck within China’s scitech ecosystem, stifling organic industry-university collaborations. A lot of the research happens at government institutions as opposed to corporate-sponsored R&D [research and development]. The channels between universities and industry are not as robust, so some of that has to do with surrounding legal regimes and whether university research can be translated into a startup company. Unlike China, the U.S. has a really good set of legal rules that enable that to happen.

But Chinese companies are trying to address this; more AI companies, for example, are trying to set up labs in universities to foster that. But if you look at co-authorship rates in publications on AI (papers that have at least one author from a university and one from industry), those rates are very low in China compared to countries in Europe and the U.S. A lot of the story here is just the vestiges of central planning that are still in China’s scitech ecosystem and that just don’t foster the organic fast-acting processing that is required for diffusion.

How would you characterize American assessments of China’s science and technology power? What’s missing?

The consensus significantly overstates China’s scitech capability. One recent example from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which while it is not American has been used to justify more extreme China policy, says China is leading the U.S. in 37 of 44 considered technologies, all of which were focused on innovation. (I don’t even think that conclusion is accurate based just on innovation.) It reflects the United States’ obsession with innovation capacity when it comes to assessing scitech power. Even if you go back and review Biden’s first remarks to Congress, he argued that China is closing in quickly and that it’s a race to see who can dominate new innovations in these technologies.

The contribution of my paper is partly to argue that assumptions about innovation shape the perception that China is improving rapidly and has already taken over the U.S. in some critical technologies. Reorienting ourselves to a diffusion-centric framework is an important first step to having a more balanced understanding of what’s happening in China’s scitech ecosystem.

Members of the Biden administration like Jake Sullivan have described moves like export controls aimed at China as “narrowly focused on technology that could tilt the military balance.” What do you think of that depiction, and how do judgments of relative military strength fit into the diffusion/innovation breakdown?

When it comes to competition with China over military AI applications, I think the Biden administration’s approach is overly preoccupied with maintaining a lead in innovation capacity. Their theory of victory, in my view, seems to be all about preventing China from building the biggest and baddest autonomous weapon, trained on the largest amount of data using the most amount of computing power. If the history of military electrification is a useful guide for how AI will affect the military balance of power, as I argue in a recent article, then AI’s most substantial impact on military power will take decades as advances diffuse across a broad range of applications in logistics, decryption, targeting, and intelligence. Ensuring that the military is able to tap into a broad base of AI engineering talent is a more effective route to ensuring that AI’s effect on the military balance will favor the U.S.

You write: “A rebalanced evaluation of China’s potential for S&T leadership requires looking beyond multinational corporations like Huawei, first-tier cities like Beijing, and flashy R&D numbers to the humble undertaking of diffusion.” Why do you think such limited analyses are tempting? Why are they dangerous?

Firstly, it’s just a lot harder to get diffusion capacity indicators. Many metrics of innovation, like government R&D funding indicators, patent rates, and publication numbers are all tracked, whereas it takes more work to get indicators of diffusion capacity. Finding systematic and reliable numbers of diffusion capacity is crucial.

And misleading assessments carry a few dangers. Having an accurate sense of where you stand provides a solid foundation for science and technology policy. There is something to be said about having a true—or truer—understanding of the world. Additionally, overestimating China’s scitech capabilities may lead the U.S. to engage in more reckless policies and provide more momentum for containment-type measures that backfire on both sides. It could lead to the mentality we saw in the Cold War where the U.S. was concerned about the missile gap with the Soviet Union that turned out to be illusory and resulted in wasted expenditures, spiraling fears, and an arms race that put the two superpowers on a path toward conflict.

There are people in the U.S. government who probably agree with me in that a lot of assessments on China’s tech development are overhyped, but they think it’s necessary to pump up China’s prowess in order to motivate certain policies. But that could easily backfire and is a dangerous precedent to set. While that justification might in some cases be used to make sound decisions, in other cases it could be used to enact dangerous policies.

Covering Tiananmen

An Excerpt from ‘Assignment China’

The Tiananmen Square crisis in 1989 was a turning point for China. Weeks of student-led demonstrations turned into the largest protest for political reform in the history of the People’s Republic. The bloody military crackdown that crushed the movement on the night of June 3-4, 1989, had far-reaching consequences, not only for China’s development, but for its relations with the rest of the world.

One reason was that Tiananmen Square was also a watershed moment in the history of the media. It generated unparalleled international coverage and became a defining moment in the Information Age: the first time a popular uprising in an authoritarian state was broadcast live across the globe. The images from that time—the Goddess of Democracy, the man in front of the tank—became enduring symbols of popular resistance to injustice. The coverage of Tiananmen redefined the relationship between the press, public opinion, and foreign policymaking and continues to influence both Chinese politics and international perceptions of China to this day.

I was CNN’s Beijing bureau chief in 1989. My new book, Assignment China: An Oral History of American Journalists in the People’s Republic, is based on interviews with more than 100 journalists who have covered China from 1945 to the present day. The excerpt below includes stories from reporters who covered the protests and bloodshed in Beijing in the spring of 1989.

The People’s Liberation Army assault began on the western side of Chang An Avenue. John Pomfret of the AP and Scott Savitt of UPI were watching at the Muxudi intersection.

John Pomfret, Associated Press: The military began to fire. I saw people falling.

Scott Savitt, United Press International: I can hear it right in my mind like I am reliving it—“ pa pa pa pa pa.” And those are AK-47 [rifles] firing on semiautomatic.

On the balcony of CNN’s room at the Beijing Hotel, I had a clear view a few hundred meters down Chang An to the north end of the Square. We managed to keep a phone line open to CNN headquarters in Atlanta. I could see red tracer bullets, and hear the occasional crackle of gunfire, as I broadcast live, telling viewers, “The assault on Tiananmen Square is now underway.”

Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times: I hopped on my bicycle and hurtled toward Tiananmen. You could hear the gunfire and the crowds were rushing the other way. And I keep thinking this is a crazy job where there’s gunfire, everyone in their right mind is going the other way, and you’re going towards it.

Melinda Liu, Newsweek: The bullets are so close that you not only hear the percussion of the shot, you hear the “zing.” I could see people being shot, bloody bodies being put onto these three-wheel ambulance things, people shouting all kinds of stuff at soldiers, and just total fear and chaos.

Cynde Strand, CNN: Bullets would fly past us and you’d hear crying and screaming. There were moments of fear. There were moments of—what the hell are we doing here? But this is what you are a journalist for. This is right where we need to be. We are witnessing history. This is what makes a difference. There is no record unless you are standing there.

Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times: I was pretty scared. On the Square itself, I tried to keep a layer of people between me and the troops, but I remember realizing that I was a few inches taller than most of the Chinese, so it was a pretty critical part of my real estate that was exposed. There were people in the crowd who were getting shot. My notebook from that evening was damp with sweat just from fear. I ran to the Xiehe Hospital. There were lots of bloody people in the hallways and everywhere. One of the ambulance drivers showed me bullet holes in his ambulance. One of the things that shook me was a young man, roughly my age, who had been shot in the back and who was fighting for his life. He hadn’t done anything riskier than I had. His luck has just run out.

Jim Laurie, ABC News: We were never able to determine the extent of the deaths and injuries that night. All we knew was that there were tremendous numbers and that the hospitals were in a panic mode. My view is that whether it was a hundred or a thousand, it was incredibly devastating, not only for the people who were killed, but for the reputation of China.

While all of this was happening, I continued my live reporting. At mid-afternoon Washington time—around 2:00 a.m. in Beijing—Secretary of State James Baker appeared on CNN, having been previously scheduled for a weekend talk show. I did a quick phone update, talking about seeing bullets and bodies, and then host Charles Bierbauer turned to Baker and said, “Mr. Secretary, does the U.S. government now take a stronger demarche against the Chinese government?”

James Baker, Secretary of State: It caught me by surprise. I was on the air as it began to happen. I was very much caught on the spot. I do remember vividly thinking to myself, “How do I handle this one?” I remember being caught flat-footed.

Bernard Shaw, CNN: I think you could say that was the beginning of the “CNN effect,” whereby time is truncated, and reactions and decisions are made based on events as they’re happening in real time, which puts a lot of pressure on foreign capitals.

John Pomfret, Associated Press: I stayed in the center of the Square with the remaining students until they conducted their negotiations with the military, and I walked out with them. You were involved with the simple logistics of doing your job. But it was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had in my life.

Cynde Strand, CNN: We came off the Square with them. Some were dejected, crying. But some of them were still singing. Then there was the dilemma. We’ve got great tape. How are we going to get it back? This old man in a Mao jacket was driving one of those bicycles with a flat panel. He let us lay on that, and the students gave us blankets, and we covered everything over us, and he rode us back to the Beijing hotel.

The next morning, Monday June 5, AP photographer Jeff Widener was on the balcony of a room at the Beijing Hotel.

Jeff Widener, Associated Press: I see this long column of tanks, and I’m thinking, “Well, that’s not a bad picture. I’ve got a long lens. It’ll be a nice compression shot.” And then this guy with shopping bags walks out. I’m just waiting for him to get shot, but It’s too far away. I look back at the bed, and I had a lens doubler, which would make my 400 an 800. Do I gamble? Do I go back to the bed? Maybe I lose the shot, or do I just shoot this wider? So I took a chance. I ran to the bed, got it, put it on the camera, open the aperture up all the way. One, two, three shots. Then it was over. Some people came, grabbed this guy, and they ran off. I took the film and asked a foreign student if he could smuggle it in his underwear back to the AP office.

Liu Heung-shing, Associated Press: Another 45 minutes passed. An American guy with a ponytail and a backpack showed up with an AP envelope. Our Japanese photographer soaked the film. I looked at that frame—and that’s the frame. It went out.

John Sheahan, CBS News: No one who has ever seen that is going to forget that picture.

Jeff Widener, Associated Press: For a lot of people, this guy represents everything in our lives that we’re battling, because we’re all battling something. We still don’t know who this guy is. It’s almost appropriate because it’s almost like the Unknown Soldier. He’s really become a symbol for a lot of people. For me, it was just another assignment. It didn’t sink in till later that I had something really big.

Official PRC Place Names

These datasets list the official names of all the places (political units) in China. This information is openly available on the Chinese government’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) website, but not in an easily downloadable or searchable format. We compiled these lists in CSV format and we’ve published them here in the hopes they may be of use to other researchers.

‘Beijing’s Global Media Offensive’

A Q&A with Joshua Kurlantzick

Over the past several years, there has been an active debate about Chinese influence overseas. Amidst allegations that Beijing has influenced foreign elections and politicians, state newswire Xinhua has expanded into one of the largest news agencies worldwide, and state-linked media companies have taken over Chinese-language media sources internationally. Joshua Kurlantzick discusses this landscape in his newest book, Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World. Kurlantzick spoke with ChinaFile Editorial Fellow Abby Seiff about his book. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Updates to Our Database of Arrests Related to the Hong Kong National Security Law

We updated our suite of graphics tracking the impact of Hong Kong’s National Security Law. It now includes information on the 248 individuals arrested between July 2020, when the law went into effect, and March 31, 2023. Information on these individuals’ cases, compiled by our partners at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, includes grounds for arrest, and, where applicable, resulting charges and convictions.

In January 2023, police arrested six individuals for selling books about the 2019 protests at a book fair.

For China’s Urban Residents, the Party-State Is Closer than Ever

A Q&A with Taisu Zhang

In a recent working paper, scholars Yutian An and Taisu Zhang argue that local urban governments in China emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic with far more muscle and clout than they have ever had before. Unlike in the past several decades, the sub-district (jiedao, 街道, the lowest formal level of government) and the neighborhood community (shequ, 社区, technically self-governing entities below even the sub-district) now function as robust units of social control.

Though the central government had long considered—and vacillated over—giving more authority to the jiedao and shequ, the onset of the pandemic definitively tipped the balance in favor of providing these entities with greater resources and allowing them to act with more agency. This shift means that the Party-state is more present in people’s everyday lives, able to both provide services and conduct surveillance at a highly granular level.

Taisu Zhang recently spoke with ChinaFile’s Jessica Batke about this momentous change in how the Party-state interacts with its citizens. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

‘A Stone Is Most Precious Where It Belongs’

A Q&A with Gulchehra Hoja

Gulchehra Hoja is a longtime broadcaster with Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Uyghur Service. She grew up in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and was a successful TV personality and journalist with Chinese state media there. She later left China to join RFA and provide uncensored news coverage from the United States. ChinaFile’s Jessica Batke spoke recently with Hoja about her new memoir, A Stone Is Most Precious Where It Belongs. The book describes Hoja’s upbringing in a rapidly changing society and political environment, her work as a TV host in China, her decision to leave her homeland, reporting on the ongoing crisis there, and the process of building a new life in a foreign country. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Jessica Batke: In some ways, your story is a remarkable one: you come from a long line of cultural luminaries. But in other ways, your story is unfortunately typical for a Uyghur living abroad: you are separated from your loved ones, who are undergoing persecution and oppression back in your homeland. Your book opens with a horrible statistic: 24 members of your family were taken away by the state. Do you have a sense of how common that kind of mass detention within a single family is?

Gulchehra Hoja: I am not the only secondary victim of this genocide. We live in another country, and starting in 2016, [all of us] lost contact with our family members back home. Not only me, but all of us. We didn’t know anything about our family for a year, or two years. Even right now, many Uyghurs still don’t know where their loved ones are. Their homes were destroyed. Phone calls cannot go through. You cannot find your relatives, or your neighbors, or your friends. There’s nobody there. So I am just one example.

I was able to learn the news about my family because the Chinese government intentionally wanted me to know and wanted to silence me by using this information to damage me. I think this is the way they want to give journalists a signal: If you don’t stay quiet, your family is going to be in trouble. So it’s not only me. It’s very common, the devastation we’re facing.

A few of my coworkers didn’t know what had happened to their families. And then some of them used their contacts with embassies to learn from the Chinese government, four or five years after the fact, that all their family members had been sentenced to 10 or more years because [their relatives] live in a free country. Even if [these relatives abroad] hadn’t said anything against the Chinese government’s policy.

It’s unimaginable for people living in a free country. But for the Uyghurs, that’s the situation for all of us.

It seems like Chinese authorities are especially targeting anyone they think is good at communicating and getting information out.

Yes, you can say I am a special target. Because they didn’t stop after they arrested my family members. In 2021, they accused me openly, saying I’m a terrorist. So they’re still using these kinds of tools and tactics to try and keep us silent. I don’t know what could happen to me or to my family. What can they do? I don’t know.

But I want to let them know: We will die proudly. We aren’t afraid of dying. We aren’t. We’re afraid of losing our freedom and our hope and our dignity. We don’t give up. This is all we have right now.

I wrote the book specifically for this reason. I just want to say to the world: We are not merely victims. We are so much more than that. We are beautiful people, just like you. Because we are different from the Chinese people, because we don’t obey the Chinese government—that’s why they want to destroy us.

In the book, you, and everyone around you, lived in this constant state of choosing, because anything that you did or said could be interpreted as political. Even if you didn’t mean it to be political, even if you just wanted to speak your language, or dance, it could be seen as political.

We were very careful, very careful. Even at home, we were raised with warnings from our parents: “Don’t say these kinds of things in school, don’t say those kinds of things when you’re playing with Han Chinese kids.”

Hearing that all the time reminded us we were different. And we were constantly facing discrimination in school, and society, and the workplace. We all knew it was because we were Uyghurs that we were facing that kind of pressure. So it was actually training you to be smarter in choosing your words, in communicating with people, in choosing what kind of people you should communicate with.

This is actually almost exactly what my next question was about. I feel like in the book you hinted at this sort of duality, in what you knew and how you were allowed to exist. For example, you wrote about the knowledge that you could get from history books, but also a whole other set of knowledge that could only be acquired “in private settings and in low voices.”

That’s why one of my professors in the university said, “Do you know how lucky you are?” I said, “Why?” He said, “You just can learn things sitting at the dining table that a lot of other people cannot learn even in university or reading a book. You are just so lucky because you are your father’s daughter, Abdulqeyyum Hoja’s daughter.” [Abdulqeyyum Hoja was a prominent archaeologist focused on the history of the Uyghur region.] Because I was young, I didn’t really understand it. After I grew up and this stuff was happening to us, then I realized . . . all this memory, you know, it comes back to you. So I was so fortunate, a fortunate girl.

How much do you think the knowledge from your father contributed to your decision, when you did finally go abroad, to stay abroad? Because that seems like such an extraordinary decision to make, leaving behind your family and your career. Do you think it’s because you had knowledge that other people didn’t have?

I dedicated this book to my beloved father, Abdulqeyyum Hoja, who taught me how to love myself, love my people, love my country, and human beings, and dignity, and freedom. So, the hardest part of my life was two decades of time during which I was forbidden to see my father. Conversely, this separation also trained me. It taught me that the love of human beings is unstoppable, regardless of time and space, and that such a misfortune would tighten the bonds of missing hearts.

My father used to tell me that even a stone is precious in the place where it drops. That’s the name of my book as well, “Tash chüshkän yeridä äziz.” We said that all the time. I lived through the deep values of this proverb, which is often used among Uyghurs who are separated from their birthplace.

When I was in the Uyghur region with my father, I always asked his advice when I had to make a decision. And I strongly believe that afterwards, when I was alone, he was inside of me. It wasn’t only me anymore. It was about my father, about my grandpa. The power coming from what they taught me, that’s why making those decisions was not that hard for me. Actually, it was like a cage opened for me. I was flying, carrying their hope. This is not my decision. I feel that they wanted me to make this decision. The cage opened suddenly, just for me. They stayed for other people, for their people, for the land.

You know, all Uyghurs have only one wish: that when they die, they are buried in their birth place. It’s a huge thing. Maybe I still have that hope. But if there’s no chance for me to go back, at least I have the stone from my dad [a rock from his yard he managed to send to her in the U.S.]. I will write to my kids to ask them to bury me with the stone so that I will be with part of my country, my land. This stone is most precious. It is there in my bookcase. I can show you.


[Hoja retrieves the stone and holds it up.]

This is very special. It smells like home. I don’t know why, but it really smells like home. You know, like after rain touches the soil. It’s the fragrance I love the most. I wish someone could create this fragrance! It’s the most delicious smell in the world. I feel that it heals your soul. How my father found this and sent it to me is magic. And it actually gave me the inspiration to write this book. Yep, this is my treasure. Priceless.

‘It Is Especially Scary to See Students’

Professors in China React to New Levels of Control in Their Classrooms

As in many other aspects of public life in China under Xi Jinping, the space for independent inquiry and discussion within the academy has shrunk significantly in recent years. The Xi administration has released a slew of guidelines and communiques cementing the Party’s control over the classroom; state media have criticized university professors for “lacking a sense of identity with the Party’s theories, policies, and sentiments.”

As part of the newly-published compendium New Threats to Academic Freedom in Asia, Jue Jiang, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS, University of London, examines this change through the system of student informants within China’s universities. “In addition to the high-tech cameras that are already installed in classrooms for monitoring lectures and discussion, student informants are viewed by authorities as key information nodes for a bottom-up, masses-based form of surveillance and control,” writes Jiang. “In this sense, the system of student informants provides a crucial lens for examining academic freedom in China under the leadership of Xi Jinping.”

Jiang interviewed 10 professors working in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau about their experiences with student informants. One chilling conclusion: that instructors fortunate enough or obedient enough to avoid getting informed on can develop “a demeaning or nihilistic attitude toward those who do not toe the line or those who challenge the official line eroding academic freedom.”

What follows is an excerpt from Jiang’s chapter in the book, describing (anonymized) interviews with mainland professors about the student informant system. Professors 1 and 2 had been reported on by student informants; the other professors Jiang quotes had not.

Regarding the impact of this system, both Professors 1 and 2 expressed their deep sadness and dismay about the consequences this system has brought to themselves, their teaching, and the wider context—although they were accused of having “immoral” or “unethical” speeches or acts. Also, both professors talked about taking a nonserious and irresponsible attitude toward teaching (e.g., simply reading the textbook or even asking the students to read the textbook themselves) as self-protection. Professor 1 stated that:

They were going to fire me, and I was so depressed—I nearly jumped off a building. There is nothing wrong with what I said, but they simply said, “You had evil thoughts.” That is a political crime, like in the Cultural Revolution, they accused you of bad political performance. Now they accuse me of degraded morality (dexing buhao). What is virtue? Is their morality good? They are poor in academics and even poorer in character (renpin), but they can reckon on this word of “morality” to bully you to death.

I think Hu Shi [a diplomat and scholar of Republican-era China] once said, when a country talks about morality every day, this country is particularly immoral. I really feel the degeneration of this country now—this country is hopeless. As so many people have profited from such a degraded environment, they are very supportive of such a system. A bad environment is where good people cannot do good things, so that you can only fall.

I feel that I myself am a little degraded now, because my classes are just water classes (shuike) [i.e., I teach in a perfunctory way]. I am safe only in this way, otherwise, I would be snitched on by student informants. My mistake in the past is that I was too serious; I even risked my life.

Likewise, Professor 2 said:

Several professors have been reported on by their own postgraduate students. I do not want to be complicit. I just want to listen to my heart. But I cannot be like that now. The scars inside me are so deep that I am really very disheartened when you ask me this question, and it hurts me so much talking about it. Nowadays, civility has fallen to such a level. Universities have degenerated to such a level (sigh).

There are plenty of “water classes” (shuike) in the university. Students and teachers are all irresponsible. I have been especially cautious in class this semester, and it is especially scary to see students. Nowadays, we teachers are all like this and students are not serious. We used to get angry when we saw students not being serious with study, but now we do not feel angry anymore—you snitch! Why should I be so dedicated to you?

* * *

The professors who had no such experience with student reporting and [as quoted elsewhere in the chapter] who voiced their justification for this system said they were not affected by student informants. For example, Professor 4 said:

I do not have any problems. Maybe those teaching the Constitution would have some problems? But I never talked with them, thus know nothing.

Professor 6 said:

I believe that the classroom is not a private space—it is public. So I do not think it matters if it is recorded or taped, and I will not be affected by it. The content of my classes is all discussions within the academic context, and we will also talk about the problems and shortcomings, but of course we will certainly talk about the progress and the positive aspects of the law first.

The pedagogical philosophy of teaching “within the academic context” seems to be recognized by these professors as the most crucial factor for not being impacted by student informants. They seem to believe that they will never “cross the line” and touch upon the “forbidden zones.” Perhaps most importantly, they identify themselves with the official restraints [imposed by the Party-state] and disapprove of “dissidents.” For example, Professor 3 stated:

The [classroom surveillance] technology is so advanced; thus, you know what you say may be filmed or recorded. You cannot say it forms pressure, but you would know it does—do not talk loosely (luan shuohua). If it is not necessary to say, you do not say it. Anyway, we professors are not critics (fenqing, 愤青), right?

Professor 5 also mentioned his pedagogical philosophy as categorizing officially banned topics as “politics” and leaving “politics” outside the classroom:

I do not think there is any problem with the content of my lectures, so I am not particularly worried. I do worry a little when I see reports about it [i.e., the student informant system]. But looking back at what those professors said in class after we saw the punishment, I felt that what they said in class was not quite the same as what I think Max Weber contends in Science as a Vocation (Wissenschaft als Beruf) [i.e., that politics should not have any place or role in the classroom and that teachers should not talk about their political attitudes or teach anything from a political perspective], and I agree that is not what a scholar should say in class. I am pretty sure that I will not talk about those issues myself, so I would not feel worried or nervous.

The Future of China’s Climate Policy

A Q&A with Greenpeace’s Li Shuo

With China accounting for more than a quarter of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, the future pathway of China’s emissions will play a central role in determining the extent to which the world can meet the Paris Agreement’s climate change targets. China has taken several ambitious steps in recent years to control and reduce its impact, headlined by Xi Jinping’s personal announcement in September 2020 that China would peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, referred to as the “dual carbon” (shuangtan, 双碳) targets. However, the lifting of the zero-COVID policy and ongoing concerns about energy security, among other factors, have exacerbated uncertainties about how, exactly, China intends to meet its targets.

With this year’s Two Sessions meetings set to unveil institutional reforms and a significant reshuffling of personnel, Asia Society Policy Institute’s Associate Director of Climate Kate Logan spoke with Li Shuo, Senior Global Policy Advisor at Greenpeace and one of the world’s leading experts on China’s multilateral climate and environmental governance, to discuss the potential implications for China’s climate and environmental governance. The following conversation was recorded a few days ahead of when the Two Sessions meetings commenced on Saturday, March 4. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Kate Logan: Hi, Li Shuo. It’s great to see you again. You’re actually in New York right now for the negotiations on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and marine biodiversity zones on the high seas. It’s good to welcome you back into the international fold after a few years. I hope everything’s been going smoothly over at UN headquarters this week.

Li Shuo: Thanks for having me, Kate. Very happy to discuss climate and China after two weeks of oceans negotiations at the UN. It’s a good change for me.

What we want to talk about today are expectations around China’s climate and environmental policy with regard to the upcoming Two Sessions meetings this year. They will be part of the five-year cycle of institutional reform—so a pretty major set of meetings. Maybe we could start by going back five years ago to 2018, when we saw climate policy governance shift from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the development ministry, to the newly renamed Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) as part of the last set of reforms.

What has been the impact since those reforms in 2018 on the Chinese central government’s approach to climate change? And how might this set the backdrop for what we could expect to see this year?

I think the short answer is that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Certainly a lot of things have changed. That’s actually a useful way to unpack the progress—or lack of it—of China’s climate action, if we go back to 2018 or so. I think it’s important to recall that those were the Trump years, but also the post-Paris Agreement years. Around 2018, what we observed was that despite the changing geopolitical situation—in particular, the withdrawal of the U.S. from the international climate scene—China was still interested in advancing not only its own climate agenda, but also the global climate agenda. So, in that sense, we preserved the valuable momentum that was generated in 2015 as a result of the Paris Agreement.

It was also notable, as you mentioned, that we had a bureaucratic reshuffle in that year, where the climate agenda was moved from the NDRC to the MEE. What happened after that? I think another subsequent major milestone, of course, was the somewhat surprising 2020 announcement, the dual carbon announcement made by President Xi Jinping—and in particular, the carbon neutrality [before 2060] pledge, which generated quite a bit of momentum. In China’s domestic climate discourse, immediately after that announcement we saw a big round of bureaucratic mobilization, trying to find ways to fulfill that vision in particular, on two fronts. One was that provinces found the urgency to actually act on climate change. So the issue was no longer just a Beijing agenda. And second, the key emitting sectors—steel, power, cement, transportation—were also asked to deliver more ambition. So that momentum really helped us all the way into 2021.

Around the middle of that year, there was also a lot of reflection from a governance and bureaucratic point of view on whether the environment ministry was best positioned to help deliver such a grand vision. For carbon neutrality, you really need to adjust not just the environmental aspects—the end-of-pipe emissions—but you need a reshape of your whole economic system. So around late 2020 and early 2021, there was also a lot of discussion in Beijing on the NDRC versus MEE labor division for the climate topic. I would say momentum in general started to decline as we entered further into 2021: The Chinese economy suffered difficulties, and some parts of the country experienced power shortages. Of course, as we entered into 2022, the zero-COVID situation really distracted us from the climate agenda. So as we move into 2023, the top priority for the country is to revive the economy. It is indeed a very important question, to what extent climate considerations will be featured in our economic recovery.

Let’s go to October 2022 and the 20th Party Congress. President Xi Jinping further enshrined the dual carbon targets during that meeting, but also elevated this concept of xianli houpo (先立后破), “building the new before breaking the old.” So we saw this emphasis on both clean coal and fossil fuels on one hand, and on the other hand the continued acceleration of new and clean energy development.

A lot has happened between that meeting in October and now, especially with regard to the economy and the lifting of the dynamic zero-COVID policy. We’ve seen the figures for China’s projected economic growth in 2023 massively readjusted. And as you just alluded, at this year’s Two Sessions, we’ll see a new economic master plan coming out. What does that mean in the context of xianli houpo?

I think we should see all of this in the context of the dual carbon commitment. As I mentioned, this announcement really set a high note for China’s climate momentum. But since then, the climate agenda has suffered quite a bit from our economic situation, the zero-COVID situation, and of course, the perceived energy security challenges. And I think we should see this concept of xianli houpo—meaning to ensure enough supply of energy before phasing out some of the higher-carbon sources of energy—we should see this concept in that context. I think there is still a strong desire within the Chinese system to maintain the role of coal in our overall energy mix. And that is indeed a big concern from the environmental point of view.

As I mentioned, starting this year, China will prioritize economic recovery. At the same time, we have already observed a record speed of coal power plant approval across the country. So I think the key question for us to watch is whether this growing momentum on coal will be there, and will it become even stronger. And I think the concern is the need to drive up GDP growth; the need to ensure energy security. Even if it is somewhat of a misleading way of understanding energy security. I think those things are going to be important to watch. And also whether we will see further bureaucratic adjustments out of the Two Sessions. I think that’s also something to pay attention to. I think what has already become clear is that there will be some personnel changes within the Chinese bureaucratic system—from the tactical level, at the environmental ministry, for example, to higher levels, the ministerial level. And of course, as you mentioned, the top leadership, the premier and the vice premier. So it is also going to be a very important season for us to observe. What will be the policy preferences of those new leaders? How do they balance the economic growth agenda and the climate action agenda?

Let’s dive into that personnel question a little bit deeper. Who should we have our eyes on with regard to climate and environment at the central level? For instance, former Vice Premier Han Zheng, who has been chair of the leaders’ group on carbon peaking and carbon neutrality, is no longer part of the Politburo Standing Committee. And [Special Climate Envoy] Xie Zhenhua was already brought out of retirement. What should we be watching in terms of any shuffling, especially at the highest levels?

I would continue to pay attention to the political rhetoric from the very top level—Xi Jinping—again, bearing in mind that the dual carbon commitments were announced by him. Since then, as you mentioned, there have been adjustments to the rhetoric—xianli houpo, for example. So I think what message the top leadership both send out of the Liang Hui (Two Sessions) will be something quite important to watch. And of course, this political intention will need to be implemented by China’s bureaucratic system. So I assume the vice premier will still play quite an important role in delivering that agenda. And then it goes all the way down to the NDRC and the environmental ministry. We still have some pending questions on the labor division between these two ministries. Can we expect that now there will be new leaders, potentially in both ministries, but also above them? Will that help streamline the labor division, or not? And if so, how much time will it take to streamline the labor division? I think those issues are the ones that we need to watch. And if all these issues are settled, at some point in the future, the outcome of that will tell us a lot about the direction of China’s climate momentum.

Do you think that governance for climate policy may increasingly shift back toward the development ministry, or will it stay with the environment ministry? And how much do these sorts of governance questions actually matter, versus how much is the potential for progress really down to personnel and coordination?

Well, I think it is both the bureaucratic structure, but also, of course, key individuals, their preferences, and their leadership. What I would say in general is it is increasingly clear that the climate agenda is the economic agenda, and the economic agenda will also have huge implications for the climate agenda. And this is not limited to China. Right? If you look at the U.S. climate deal, in many ways, you could argue it is an economic deal. So it is very much intertwined. And I think it is a good thing, right? It means, in a way, that the climate agenda has been mainstreamed in the bureaucratic systems of different countries. So I think in the long term, it is inevitable for China, but also for all the other countries, to integrate climate considerations in their economic policy setting. And I think everybody can have their own judgment or assessment as to which ministry might be the best positioned to achieve that objective.

Yeah, that’s a good point. For instance, in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for emissions monitoring, which is a comparable role to the Chinese environment ministry’s responsibility to track and control pollution. And that comparative strength [in monitoring] was perhaps part of the reason why climate governance was transferred [to MEE], especially as the carbon-trading market was being rolled out and the accounting of greenhouse gas emissions became more and more important—lending that comparative strength to climate emissions governance. But, as you pointed out, countries approach climate most effectively when they incorporate it across different government agencies to leverage their different strengths and treat climate as an economic development issue.

Regarding this question of local versus central, I want to bring up some of the new numbers on coal permitting and construction starts that we’ve seen released over the past weeks, indicating record numbers in 2022. How much of this [resurgence of coal] is an issue of local versus central decision-making? And what is the balance of powers in terms of who actually determines what happens on the ground with regard to both fossil fuel development and accelerating renewable energy deployment, such that we can ultimately achieve the drop in emissions that we’re all hoping for?

I think the coal power approvals are indeed the most important climate concern for China this year, and potentially for the foreseeable future. I think it is very important to understand the reasons behind the coal expansion. I think many China watchers would be familiar with the fact that China’s power sector is actually a saturated market, meaning we actually have more power generation capacity than we need. And as a result of that, if you look at most of the coal-fired power plants in China, they operate on a much lower basis—the load factor of the coal-fired power plants is much lower there than their international counterparts. So you cannot explain the coal expansion based purely on economic considerations.

The politics are important, and they are twofold. One is, of course, the interest to expand large-scale infrastructure projects as a way to boost economic growth. It is just a pretty straightforward way of doing that. And oftentimes, when officials do that, they tend to forget about the long-term economic viability of those projects. And the second thing that is emerging as a challenge in China is, how do you manage what we call peak load demand in some of the regional power systems? What I mean by peak load demand—and this is actually related to climate change—is that in the winter and summer, increasingly there are extreme weather conditions where power demand shoots extremely high, beyond the capacity of a single province or a single region. That’s what we have already observed over the last few summers.

To ensure that this peak load demand is absolutely met, there is an interest of China’s energy regulators to actually build more power capacity, just to be able to fulfill the power demand all of those few hours or few days. It is a very inefficient way of dealing with that problem. But the politics behind this is, if you’re a local governor, you absolutely want to make sure that there are no blackouts in your jurisdiction. So, I think going back to your question, Kate, about the central versus local, it’s very important for the central government to actually intervene, and in this case to set very stringent criteria for approving new coal-fired power plants because they have a very important role to keep that oversight and to ensure that further power market reforms could happen, which will actually help some of the provinces address their peak load demand. So I still see a very important role from the central government. The problem now, unfortunately, is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of political desire to safeguard emission standards and to ensure that coal power plants are not approved.

Circling back to the Two Sessions again, what do you expect to see, both from a symbolic perspective but also from a substantive perspective in terms of any sort of new concrete policy proposals?

For instance, you mentioned implementing standards around new coal-fired power plant approvals. Should we expect to see anything concrete that would influence China’s ability to meet its dual carbon targets earlier and/or at a lower peaking level than expected, which would be hugely significant for global emissions?

I think this might or might not be a surprise to many: The Two Sessions itself is not going to give us a great amount of climate policy. That’s not the expectation. We’re also not expecting climate legislation, per se. I see it primarily as a signaling platform. As I mentioned, after the high note set by the new carbon targets a few years ago, and the recent challenges that we have, how will the leadership position the climate agenda? And how will they communicate their intentions through potentially new rhetoric? And how will they also adjust the bureaucratic system—potentially reshuffling different departments, or installing key people in key positions? How will they do that? I think all of this will tell us a lot about the political direction for the rest of this year.

Thanks for that. I know you have to return to the negotiations, so I’m happy to give you the last word before you head back into the deep chambers at the UN headquarters.

I mean, we’re checking in in March. It's an interesting time period. I think overall, people should bear in mind that the country has just emerged from three years of COVID lockdown. There are still a lot of uncertainties before we can tell further the political direction that the country is going. I should also highlight that starting from the early second quarter of this year, it could also be a busy and exciting season for international engagement on climate change, including of course the fact that the country is reopening and it is possible to have official visits, which could have climate components. So, in that regard, I think the diplomatic aspect would become interesting. How will China position itself on the international climate stage? How will the climate agenda be positioned in the context of major power engagement? I think the U.S. and China are at a very tough spot with regard to that. I don’t think we can expect any breakthrough. I think the priority is damage control. But I think there is a slightly different dynamic between China and some of the European countries. Their climate conversation could be more constructive. And I’m also hoping that the desire of China to calm down some of its major power relationships could also give climate more space in some of the bilateral exchanges and lead to some concrete climate progress this year.

Document 9, 10 Years Later

Ten years ago, in April 2013, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) promulgated a critical directive: its “Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere.” The document, issued by the CCP’s General Office and not intended for public distribution, enumerated seven “false ideological trends, positions, and activities” that posed a “severe challenge” and that the Party worried could lead to “major disorder.”

Document 9,” as it would come to be called, heralded the tone of the new Xi Jinping administration. It laid bare many major themes of Xi’s tenure: a disdain for genuine, grassroots civil society; a reassertion of Party control over any and all media messaging; an insistence that the Party alone can describe and interpret history.

And, infused throughout the document, a loathing—or perhaps, a fear—of anything “Western.”

Later that fall, Mingjing Magazine, a U.S.-based Chinese-language magazine, obtained and published the full text of Document 9. ChinaFile then published a full translation in English. I read ChinaFile’s translation from my desk in the U.S. State Department, where I was a Research Analyst for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

The translation was powerful: it offered a clear and concise depiction of the CCP’s preoccupations, in English, straight from the horse’s mouth. ChinaFile had recognized the importance of this document, and, unusually, run its entire contents. And it had been translated with care, ensuring that even a reader with little background knowledge or expertise could grasp the ideological direction China was headed.

Ten years later, at the dawn of yet another Xi Jinping administration, Document 9 remains as relevant as ever. In late February, the General Office issued a notice admonishing legal theorists and educators to “firmly oppose and resist erroneous Western views of ‘constitutional government,’ ‘separation of three powers,’ and ‘independence of the judiciary.’” The struggle against intrusive Western ideologies continues apace.

‘I Wonder How the Protesters Felt When They Heard Their Own Voices’

On Sunday, February 5, after a polar vortex brought the coldest weekend in decades to the region, scores of people gathered in the heart of Boston to commemorate the third anniversary of the passing of Dr. Li Wenliang, the young Chinese ophthalmologist who blew the whistle on COVID-19 and later died of the disease. Similar events were held in over a dozen cities across four continents, from New York to Sydney and from Tokyo to Berlin. In the three years since his death, Dr. Li has become a symbol of speaking truth to power. His name is a rallying cry against censorship and state oppression.

Last November, after a fire in a locked-down building in Urumchi claimed at least 10 lives, thousands across China took to the streets, demanding an end to the draconian zero-COVID policy. For a moment, it seemed like the government acquiesced to public pressure and swiftly lifted pandemic restrictions. But arrests soon followed and have continued into the new year.

In mid-January, I received an anonymous email with the subject line: “Invitation to speak at our rally—2/05.” The organizers explained the occasion and its theme: to advocate for the release of the detained protesters and to voice support for free expression against tyranny.

I said yes without any hesitation and spent the next three weeks pondering the consequences of my decision. I had participated in a solidarity vigil for the victims of the Urumchi fire and been to public demonstrations on U.S. political issues, but this would be my first time speaking at a rally. On this freezing Sunday afternoon, by the 54th Regiment Memorial—a bronze sculpture dedicated to one of the first Black regiments during the American Civil War—I gave the following remarks:

* * *

Hello Boston!

I have never spoken at a rally before. This is terrifying. It’s truly humbling to be here. Thank you for your attention.

I remember the first time I witnessed a rally. It was a late summer day in 2009. I had just arrived in the U.S. to pursue my Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Chicago. That afternoon, I took a bus—the No. 6 Jackson Express, if there are any Chicagoans out there—up from the Hyde Park campus, to check out what downtown Chicago looks like. When we drove past Millennium Park, there was a small gathering. I did not get a chance to read any of the posters, so I have no idea what the protest was all about. But the scene is etched into my memory.

For just about anyone else on the bus, a street demonstration was as common as a McDonald’s sign and as mundane as the evening news. But for my 19-year-old self, newly out of China, the sight was a revelation: I had indeed completed a passage and arrived at a different place. I had never before seen people assert their presence and voice their demands the way the protesters did that day, like it was the most natural thing in the world. I kept replaying that scene in my mind as I asked myself if this is what freedom looks like.

Not long after, one evening alone in the office, I typed into Google “Tiananmen, 1989.” Growing up, I had sensed the presence of a seismic event in my birth year by tracing the hazy contours of censorship, but I had never probed the forbidden truth. Politics and death, as I was taught at a very young age, were the two biggest taboos. That evening, I held my breath as I clicked enter. The screen did not go dark. Crows did not fall from the sky. No government agents came knocking on my door. Sometimes, the only power of a taboo is fear itself.

Years later, after I had graduated and moved across the country, on another evening alone in the office, I wrote my first essay critical of the Chinese government. The clock slowed with each stroke. It felt like someone else’s fingers were pressing the keyboard. Words appeared on my screen and the page became a mirror, revealing a side of myself that I did not know existed, that I was told should not exist, that must be killed or banished or at least muzzled for the rest of me to live.

That night, I wrote, and a cage shattered around me.

These tiny, intimate moments, known only to myself, have stayed with me. I have stashed them in a most cherished corner and return to them when I’m in doubt, when I need clarity on who I am and what really matters. I was reminded of these moments on the closing days of last November, when protests erupted across China and spread to its diaspora. Over the long weekend of unrest, I was glued to my phone as videos and images flooded social media. I had never before witnessed my mother tongue uttered in such a bold fashion in my birth country. I wonder how the protesters felt when they heard their own voices, the tremor in their throat meeting the air, slicing through lies and taboos. I wonder how many passersby caught the sound of the unspeakable, even if by chance, and sensed a tingling in their chest.

Beyond the fleeting spectacle of a public demonstration, a lasting change begins with a private moment, when an individual confronts herself and peels back her fear, unearths an inner voice, and recognizes its power. She then walks out into the world and finds the lights shine a little differently. The colors have shifted a shade. There’s an extra lift in her step. Nothing is ever again the same.

When I received the invitation to speak at this rally, I asked the organizers which language I should use. We agreed that English would be the most inclusive. The decision might appear obvious, but as with everything about languages, it is also not so simple. Dr. Li Wenliang, in whose memory we gather here today, said that “a healthy society should not have just one voice.” He too was talking about languages. More than a medium of communication, language is a tool of power, a map for worldmaking. The only Chinese language I speak, standard Mandarin, is as old as Chinese civilization and as young as the modern Chinese state. It is rooted in three thousand years of words and song, but also tainted by propaganda and maimed by censorship. To speak Chinese is to contend with the legacies of empire. To speak Chinese freely is to wrestle history and identity from the brute forces of the state.

Since I started writing about Chinese politics and society a few years ago, I have only used English in my publications. I reckon that it is the only way I can write. My adopted tongue is my first language of freedom. Yet I cannot help but question the ethics of my practice, whether I am a coward, residing on a foreign land and hiding behind a foreign tongue. What is the point of writing across such distances? Who am I helping? Who can I help?

Similar questions may be raised about our rally today. I have been following the heart-wrenching news of mass arrests in China over the past weeks. Many of the detained protesters are young women. One of them, Qin Ziyi, is an alumnus of the University of Chicago, my alma mater. I try to picture a younger version of myself: If I were living in China, would I have stood on a street corner and held up a blank sheet of paper? Would I have heard the sound of my own voice venturing the unspeakable? I cannot say that I would have had such courage. This realization only compounds my guilt.

What is the purpose of protesting from an ocean away? I think part of the answer lies in the fact that all of us here have assumed a degree of risk, especially for those of us with loved ones in China. An act cannot be dangerous if it has no power. Presence is power. Attention is power. Raising public awareness and sustaining international pressure are well-tested tactics against state abuse.

But more importantly, the response from Chinese authorities should not be the primary measure of our actions. To do so is to give the Chinese state too much credit. To frame the question only as what we can do from here for people over there is to fall into the trap of false binaries. It is the same faulty logic Beijing wields when it blames dissent on “foreign hostile forces.” For many here in the U.S. who take their liberties for granted, casting a sympathetic gaze at another people on faraway land is a convenient way to exonerate themselves. The plight of the Chinese people is used to prop up the West’s pretense of moral superiority.

Before that fateful weekend last November, migrant workers, who sustained society under lockdown and bore the brunt cost of pandemic restrictions, were among the first to organize and resist, most notably at the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, the world’s largest iPhone factory. By their actions, these Chinese workers have exposed the complicity of global capital and blazed new paths for transnational solidarity.

For those of us who have crossed oceans and political systems, who carry the weight of a border on our backs, there is no division between the work here and the people there. Home for us is not a place; it is an idea. It is nowhere and everywhere. To be in exile is to be a prophet: to stand on the edge and make it a new beginning. We have all journeyed from a homeland that never existed—but one which, if there are enough of us, maybe will.

My teenage self once believed that freedom was the treasure on the other end of the rainbow, that the path was a one-way street. But freedom is not a gift; it is not found or bestowed. Freedom is a state of mind, a means of existence. The work of liberation may begin with a private awakening, but true freedom can only be achieved collectively. No one is free until everyone is free.

I hold no illusions about the long night ahead. If there’s any lesson from a global pandemic, three years and counting, it is that there’s no return to the normalcy of yesterday or escape to the comfort of elsewhere. Each of us with a stake in the future will be faced with some very difficult choices. When that moment comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—I hope memories from this gathering can be a source of strength and affirmation. I hope we can keep the names of the forcibly silenced close to our hearts. Let them hold us accountable. Let them make us bolder and more honest and more loving.

Let this site of a past revolution be our witness. Let us give testimony. In the words of Lu Xun, “so long as there shall be stones, the seeds of fire will never die.”

石在,火种是不会绝的。与大家共勉!Thank you very much.

Straying off Course

A Spy Balloon Q&A with John Delury

On the evening of Friday February 3, about one day after news broke that a large balloon from China was surveilling the skies over Montana, ChinaFile’s Susan Jakes spoke with historian John Delury, whose recently published book, Agents of Subversion: The Fate of John T. Downey and the CIA’s Covert War in China, centers around a U.S. spy plane downed in China during the Korean War. Delury spoke from his home in Seoul and Jakes was in Washington, D.C.

The following transcript of their conversation was being edited as news broke that the U.S. had shot down the balloon over the Atlantic Ocean.

Susan Jakes: John, over the last several years you’ve become something of an expert on airborne espionage in the context of U.S.-China Relations. This balloon is kind of a Rorschach. When you first saw the news, what came to mind?

John Delury: After laughing for a little while, maybe because the word “balloon” makes us all laugh, I was struck by a series of ironies. I get this feeling a lot. And I use it when I teach U.S.-China history—about these reversals in the relationship. For me this is a classic ironic reversal moment. My book is all about one big mission of the CIA flying a plane into the People’s Republic of China to pick up an agent and instead being shot down and leaving behind two agents for 20-plus years. [In my research for the book] I was scouring for material on what was the full scope of what the U.S. did not only to spy on China but also to infiltrate it, to overthrow the regime during the Korean War and afterwards in the 1950s and ’60s. And there’s plenty of it.

When you look at Tibet, for example, there’s a very good book called Eyes in the Sky about all of the aerial surveillance that kicked in in the 1950s when the technology got good enough: overflights with the new state-of-the-art cameras taking pictures and kind of remapping Tibet. And of course, that was a period when the CIA was training Tibetan guerilla commandos—ironically, in Colorado, not all that far from Montana—at Camp Hale. There’s this whole history that most Americans don’t know. I didn’t know about it until I did the research.

So there’s this ironic reversal moment with China where ok, now here’s China with at least the capability—we’re still trying to fathom the intention of this—to send this high-tech stuff over our airspace and what do we do about it.

And this has been a thorny issue in post-Cold War U.S.-China relations for a couple of decades. Some of the major crises in the relationship have been over surveillance, but it has been U.S. surveillance. The Hainan EP-3 spy plane incident in 2001 was a major crisis. In that case, there was loss of life. That’s a big difference. There was a Chinese fighter pilot who died, so it was much more charged. The issue of the apology was very important, with Jiang Zemin demanding it of George W. Bush. And there was [intense scrutiny] of the language of the apology, in English vs. Chinese. And then they had the plane, so they kept the plane for a while. I mean if they can bring this balloon down safely, then you would have a nice parallel of a hostage negotiation [over spy equipment]. Also, there was the issue of payment. The United States sent a reimbursement for the cost of the whole thing and then, China [who had demanded far more] didn’t cash the check.

So I think we’re potentially facing some of that. If this is a prolonged process, we don’t know what the end game could be. So far, the Chinese Foreign Ministry is not saying they’re sorry and they’re not acknowledging it’s a spy balloon even though our side says they’re 100 percent certain it is.

Which is also an ironic echo of past crises involving espionage, like the one in your book.

For sure, because then the United States was in a position of lying quite a bit publicly, to its own public, about all the stuff it was doing.

So this looks likely to become a pretty dispiriting moment for people who hoped Secretary Blinken’s visit to Beijing might serve to somewhat deescalate tensions between the two countries. How are you thinking about what the fallout might mean for the larger relationship?

I was disappointed that Secretary Blinken decided to cancel the visit, because this is just the kind of stuff that we need to talk about. And talk about it face to face. And also contextualize it, because there’s a lot else at stake in the relationship. To me, it doesn’t rise to the point of everything else has to stop and we have to resolve the balloon incident for the diplomats to meet. I guess they don’t feel they have the space. There’s a public aspect to this, too, and a media aspect. Blinken made the point, and it’s totally fair, that if a U.S. spy balloon showed up in China days before a high-level visit, or anytime, basically the Global Times would be having a conniption fit.

And the meeting would be canceled.

It would. But I do think we should have gone through it with it. I think there’s a certain confidence to being able to say, “This is ridiculous. What you’ve done is laughable and we have to figure out if we’re going to blow this up safely or bring it down . . . so I guess we can add that to our agenda.” I guess it’s really delaying the trip, and I don’t think it’s going to kill the underlying process, which is a resumption of dialogue.

But there’s also the question of intent. We have to do our best to figure out what we think was behind this. If it’s true, as the Pentagon is saying, that the balloon is not very sophisticated in terms of its surveillance and it’s not adding anything to what they have, then that raises the question of why China is doing this. Presumably, they thought they could send the balloon over and it wouldn’t be detected or it would be ignored, but again, why even do that if you’ve already got the information from your satellite. Then you go down the list of inferences, and it’s basically redundant, in terms of the information-gathering. Or maybe it’s a kind of power move, whether the government sees it or the public and the government see it. Maybe they want us to know that they’re watching.

Another possibility is that this has been going on for a while and we’ve known about it and just not viewed it as a major threat, but what was different this time was that members of the public saw it.

The Pentagon said that this balloon was lingering longer [in U.S. airspace] which would be the one obvious advantage in terms of the snooping. Because if thanks to the wind it just sits there floating right over a spot then it can stare at that spot, whereas the satellite is moving around.

But to go more meta for a minute, these kinds of issues are very neo-Cold War. When we talk about the Cold War, there was a lot of stuff that was like this, kind of in the shadows, and this kind of sparring where both governments are denying it.

One of the big problems with that for the United States is that it poses different problems for a democracy than for a non-democracy. China’s media continues to try to gaslight the public that protests never occurred in November. There’s no acknowledgement that those things happened. And as we know, Chinese people are super critical of their media and they take it all with a grain of salt because they know they’re not getting the full story. Americans expect the truth. So something like this poses problems of transparency and how much does the public know—what’s the role of media in this kind of event?

One thing I would praise is that that Pentagon readout seemed pretty straightforward and forthcoming. That was Department of Defense, but we’ve seen that from the CIA and the intelligence community around Ukraine, being more forthcoming than people are used to and putting stuff out there. As a historian of intelligence, I think this is incredibly healthy for a democracy. You need to err on the side of telling people too much, because that’s the strength of a democracy in the long run.

The problem with this incident is the danger of its spilling into media frenzy and hype. . .

Oh it’s spilled in. I know you’re in Seoul and you just woke up. I mean, now the people who think it’s cool to wear pins in the shape of AR-15s are pointing actual guns at the sky. And it’s a new outlet for the drumbeat of “Biden is weak.”

When is American culture going to recover from LBJ’s tragedy in Vietnam? That’s why I’ll be one of the one’s saying we either should have stuck with the trip or we should reschedule it as soon as possible, because once you start playing the game of “we don’t want to look weak” you kind of never get out of that trap. And the Democrats, in particular, have a really bad history of making really bad decisions in order to avoid looking weak.

But do you really think it’s just about the optics? I mean, it seems like not a great thing to have going on while trying to have a wide-ranging diplomatic engagement, if you have your espionage aircraft breezing around our sovereign territory. That’s pretty loud background noise.

Again, I think that’s when you talk. I guess it depends on what your expectations were for the meeting beforehand. I had very low expectations. I have low expectations of the relationship. So it’s not like, there was a breakthrough but now it would be awkward to announce the breakthrough because there’s a spy balloon in the country. This meeting was going to be about [“putting a floor under” the U.S.-China relationship].

It seems like the best most people hoped for was no breakthrough, but no breakdown.

To me, this doesn’t meet the threshold for stopping talking. Of course, I’m not there, and in a healthy administration there would be two sides to that argument. I’m not saying it’s absurd that they canceled it. I just wish it would have gone through. And Blinken is still going to have to go at some point.

Right, and so then what’s the threshold that has to be crossed to make that possible? I guess the other possibility is that at some point they do shoot it down. Whether they do that or not, what will you be looking for, apart from trying to better understand Beijing’s intent in sending the balloon in the first place?

That’s still the big one. But a lot unfolds with that. The problem is, I doubt [China is] going to budge from that first statement, that it’s a meteorological device and we regret it floated into your territory. We’re going to have to figure out why they did this at this time or why they let this happen at this time. That’s going to be a known unknown for a while. But that’s important to the longer response. This could turn into their giving their list of all of the surveillance things we do.

I assume one of the less visible elements of ballast in the relationship is that the two countries are aware of one another’s espionage activities to some extent. You think that’s the case?

In the history of intelligence, it’s often the case that in even intensely adversarial relationships like the U.S. and the Soviet Union, there are plenty of instances of a kind of gentleman’s agreement to the effect of: we know you’re doing this and we know you’re doing that. There’s even an argument that a certain amount of espionage is stabilizing and allows both sides to pass certain messages and also to not worry about certain things because they’re confident they know what is going on enough to know certain things are not going on. So there is this whole logic of intelligence, of covert relations, which gives room for the other side to do x, y, and z. And it sounds possible that the U.S. has treated these balloons as kind of “meh” insofar as it’s apparently happened several times before in previous administrations and we haven’t been told about it. That’s what we were just told [in the Pentagon readout]. That seems pretty significant. It was almost a throwaway in the transcript. But this is not the first time. It’s happened before and it wasn’t so significant that the public had to be informed, and now it’s become a big public issue. But again, there’s no information yet that this has any particular intelligence value to the Chinese. Which raises the question again of why are they doing it, but also of how forceful does our response needs to be. And, of course, we do need to retain some skepticism of our own government in times like these. That’s a lesson of the past. They’re not automatically telling us everything.

National Security Law-Related Arrests in Hong Kong: An Update

We’ve just updated our suite of graphics tracking the impact of Hong Kong’s National Security Law. It now includes information on the 227 individuals arrested between July 2020, when the law went into effect, and the end of 2022. Information on these individuals’ cases, compiled by our partners at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, includes grounds for arrest, and, where applicable, resulting charges and convictions.

This most recent update includes seven new arrests and more than a dozen new convictions—including the conviction (currently under appeal) of nonagenarian Cardinal Joseph Zen, whom the Hong Kong National Security Department arrested for “failing to register under the Societies Ordinance.”

For Your Weekend, January 6, 2023

A park bench in New York’s Central Park memorializes Li Wenliang, the Wuhan-based ophthalmologist who, just over three years ago, began issuing warnings about the dangerous pneumonia-like illness spreading in his city, that would soon come to be known as COVID-19. Jennifer Lee shared this picture of it.

In Foreign Affairs, Jude Blanchette and Ryan Hass outline a “long-game” for how the U.S. can work to prevent war over Taiwan.

Rhoda Kwan, a journalist now based in Taiwan, writes for The Guardian about the Hong Kong exile community there, her own experience leaving Hong Kong, and trying to keep the spirit of her home city alive.

In this spare and elegiac short video, Wuhan-based delivery-service worker Zhang Sai describes his work, his outlook on life, and the way both changed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.

This week, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited Beijing for talks with Xi Jinping on economic cooperation and security in the South China Sea. We’ve just published an interview with Manila’s new ambassador in Beijing, Jaime FlorCruz, on his recent memoir, The Class of '77, and his extraordinary odyssey between the two countries.

The Class of ’77

A Q&A with Jaime FlorCruz

In August 1971, Jaime FlorCruz arrived in Beijing for a short trip to learn about Maoist China. Just days later, the Filipino college student learned he had been put on a blacklist by then President Ferdinand Marcos. Facing certain arrest and likely execution should he return, FlorCruz remained in China as an exile. He worked on a farm, learned Chinese, and was admitted to the prestigious Peking University as part of the first cohort accepted by nationwide exam in more than a decade. His classmates would go on to become the leaders of a transformed China, while FlorCruz parlayed his intimate knowledge of China into a career as one of the country’s preeminent foreign correspondents, serving as Beijing bureau chief for Time Magazine and CNN. Earlier this month, the veteran journalist was confirmed as the Philippines’ new ambassador to China. Before his appointment was announced, FlorCruz spoke with ChinaFile Editor Susan Jakes about his recent book, The Class of ’77: How My Classmates Changed China. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Susan Jakes: When you arrived in China in August 1971, what were the first few months like?

Jaime FlorCruz: Well, the first month or so we were all giddy and excited and everything was gee whiz. Even after we heard the news from the Philippines, we thought it wouldn’t last long. We were excited about the visit, about what we were learning. I was taking copious notes. I had thought I’d write about this for the college newspaper when I got home. So it was an exciting time. Around November, the first batch of eight students took the risk of going home. We heard later that they were questioned upon entrance. After we heard their stories, that made us feel like it was going to be very difficult to go home. And that’s when we started to ask our host, can we stay a little longer. We were thinking that Marcos couldn’t possibly make this last long, but we were wrong. In September 1972, a year later, he declared martial law. There were more arrests, more blacklists, which made it even more difficult. And that’s when it dawned on us that it was going to be a long, long wait.

Courtesy of Earnshaw Books

During that first year, you were kind of in suspended animation?

We thought, hey, we better do something useful. And we thought, oh, we want to go to school, we want to learn more about China, the New China. They said, well, the schools are still not enrolling foreign students. But if you really want to learn about China, why don’t you do what our Chinese youth are doing? Which is go down to the countryside, learn from the working people, learn the reality of China. And we said sure. It sounded like, oh, we can stay in this kibbutz. It was very romantic.

When did that romantic view start to get complicated?

On the farm. It wasn’t just the physical hardship that everyone goes through working on a farm wherever. But especially there, we thought, Hunan, the hometown of Mao Zedong, must be enjoying some preference. But the farm was really quite poor. Of course, our hosts tried to give us the best that they had. And I thought if this is the best that they have, it’s very poor and primitive.

Did you have a sense of how long you were going to be there?

That’s the other difficult part. It was sort of one month at a time. I suppose I didn’t believe I’d be there for a long, long time. But the prospect was just murky. It was unclear what we would do next.

What really turned that romantic notion for me was much later, in the mid-70s, when Deng Xiaoping was, again, criticized with Confucius. And I was wondering, what’s going on? I couldn’t understand. By then, I was already getting into the history and politics of things. I had a good friend who was quite a mature man, he was from the Academy of Sciences and was polishing his English before he would be sent overseas. One day, in the privacy of his dorm, he told me: Deng Xiaoping is a good man, I don’t understand why he’s being put through this again. I embraced and swallowed everything in the People’s Daily at that point. But I was thinking, I trust this guy. He was a Party member. From then on, I thought, I need to really be more critical, if not cynical, about what I hear and read. I would say that was a turning point for me in terms of looking at China.

You had been a student journalist. Were you thinking as an observer during that early time? Or were you . . .

A believer? Yeah, I would say I was a believer the first several months of my stay there. I thought socialism and this New China was a good thing. Especially hearing about before and after liberation. It seemed like people were happy—not rich, but seemingly content with what they had. This was partly because there was no marked difference in terms of rich and poor, everybody was almost the same. I embraced that concept, but in a very simplistic way. The Chinese media was full of it wherever you turned. And I thought they really adored Mao and followed his thoughts. But it was shallow, obviously. In the beginning, I really couldn’t follow all the gobbledygook kind of vocabulary. It was only much later when I tried to figure out what they were trying to do and what went wrong.

Talk a little bit about how you first started learning Chinese.

It was on the farm. Our Chinese host seconded a teacher who spoke English, who doubled as our interpreter while we were on the farm. We had very primitive textbooks—mimeograph type. Our teacher, Song Mingjiang, was very good because he drilled us in oral Mandarin. I also enjoyed his stories after class. He would talk to us in English about politics because his wife was in the Foreign Ministry. He eventually rose in the ranks of the Foreign Ministry and retired as the Chinese ambassador to the EU.

You had that treatment because of who you guys were?

I think so. The poor guy had already spent a few years in cadre school. So when he was assigned to us, he had to go back to the farm. I don’t think he was happy, doing this half a day of work with us. And he only stayed for two or three months, just to get us started. Then he was recalled back to Beijing and picked up his career as a diplomat. He also taught us Revolutionary Peking opera—he was a good singer. So that made learning Mandarin a bit more interesting. It was very difficult. As you know, it’s a difficult language to get started. But looking back, it was a blessing.

Did it feel safe to talk about your life in the Philippines?

In a way it was, and sometimes, in fact, it was an advantage. Because just telling classmates and teachers about this poor exile who couldn’t go home made us seem more sympathetic—or even attractive to girls. And of course our Chinese teachers were very solicitous of our needs and gave us special attention.

So ’77 comes along. And you thought you were going to have to take the college entrance exam, right?

Yes. I was out of Beiyu [the Beijing Language Institute]. My choice was to sign up for philosophy, or Chinese literature, or history. At that time, those were the only departments open to foreign students. I figured language or literature, I could do it myself. Philosophy, that means Marxist philosophy. So I thought, okay, I’ll study history. Then the gaokao [national college entrance exam] was restored and I worried that I’d have to sit through it. It turned out that I didn’t have to because they acknowledged my three years in Manila, in undergrad. And I already had done two years at Beiyu, so they thought I could be exempted from the gaokao. But I had to pass the Language Placement Exam. So that was a big relief.

That must have been the most competitive college examination in the history of the world, right?

I think so. 5.7 million for [fewer than] 400,000 slots? Yeah, it was. I could sense the excitement, but also concern, among some of my Chinese friends who thought of it as a last chance to change the course of their lives or careers. So many of them were kind of panicking. So I was fortunate.

Were you aware when you got there for the start of the school year that you were among such an extraordinary group of people?

No, it took a while. I knew that something special was going on with this restoration of the gaokao. But I didn’t know that I’d be joining this cohort of special people until I actually knew them, one by one. Then I realized that many of them had spent years on the farms, in factories, serving the army—had rich social experience—and had somehow managed to keep up their reading and writing. And that’s when it dawned on me that this was a special cohort of students. It also became obvious when we started to talk—not just in class, but outside of class. In fact, I must have learned much more outside the classroom than in class.

You were playing basketball and performing.

Yeah, and visiting each other in the dorms. Because most of the classes were still just coming out of the Cultural Revolution. The professors were still very cautious. but the students were not. And it inflected that period of time. China was in a state of flux, and looking back at the Mao period, and looking forward when Deng Xiaoping said, you know, Open Door reform. But what does it mean?

Other people who started college that year in China have talked about the excitement of that time, that when the library got a new book, everyone would race down to try to read it.

Exactly. It was like that—especially with foreign books. Any new kind of contraband edition of something, we all just batted it around. Everybody was excited. I think that that period was about curiosity and hunger for information. And then hunger for answers to questions that must have bothered them for years: What went wrong? Why? Where is China going? What does the reform mean? What are the risks? At that time, there was a debate about the “Two Whatevers,” Hua Guofeng. Whatever Mao said, whatever he decreed, we should follow. So that was an exciting time of debate, and that was reflected in the discussions that I had with my classmates.

Did you have a sense that people had just been through a terrible ordeal? Were professors or students processing what happened?

They were still processing it. It was like layers and layers unfolding among them in the discussions. Some of them really believed in the past, and yet they saw with their own eyes how much of it failed. The question then was more of, well, if that failed, what now? They were more unsure of what would be next rather than a willingness to negate the past. I could already sense that sense of angst. But it didn’t happen right away.

Did you go back and interview people when you were writing the book?

I did. That was what I had to do to recall some of it. I looked at old pictures and tried to reconstruct whatever I went through. I never really wrote diaries, except in the first few days when I thought I would be going back.

How often over the intervening years have you gone to reunions? Did you meet with your classmates every year or every so often?

Yeah, we met virtually—my classmates, my basketball teammates. They’re very active in gathering people. Or when somebody returned to China from overseas, we would get together, do karaoke, or have a meal. And we would really have fun, just bantering over a meal.

When you starting working for Time, how did your status as a journalist affect your interaction with all of these people, especially as some of them rose to power?

My background, my friendships with them, turned out to be a big plus, even as I became a Time Magazine correspondent. Why? Because they knew me already as a friend, as Jimi, their old classmate. And so even though I’d already evolved into a foreign correspondent, they still would talk to me. I mean, jokingly, sometimes they would say: you work for an imperialist media organization. They’d rib you. But in conversations, they would forget that, and it would still be just like when we were in Beida [Peking University]. A lot of these conversations were frank and spontaneous in many ways. I think it’s also because they knew they could trust me, and that I wouldn’t get them into trouble. I knew what to use and what not to use. I benefited more from their perspective, rather than from what specific information came out of it.

I wonder how having had that background shaped your view of foreign coverage of China during the time that you were also covering it.

Sometimes I felt like I was in between—especially with the editors in New York—because of my longer perspective. I’ve seen China in its dystopian state. As an observer, I could appreciate even the tiny changes that we all saw over the years. It was an evolution to me. Capturing that nuance of that story is what I bring to my reporting, which is not always appreciated or useful because sometimes we want to conflate things into simple black and white. So that sometimes was frustrating. But at the same time, there were still colleagues, peers, editors who appreciated that. It helped that we had ample time to research and write and were less driven by the headlines at that time. It helped that longer perspective, to view China and to tell the China story in in a more nuanced way. At least that was what we aspired for. We didn’t always succeed. But that was what we brought into the story, to the job.

Now there are just three of your classmates on the Standing Committee. How do you think about what the legacy is of having come of age in that time and place?

I think it shows the importance of education, of trying to change. That generation that I studied with benefited from education, but also from openness—from the exchanges that China had with the rest of the world. Academic exchanges, technological, diplomatic, political, tourism. I think the lesson is, if China is to grow further, if China is to become strong and prosperous, they need to keep their doors open. They need to educate more generations of people like the class of ’77, who could think outside the box, who had pioneered the open-door strategy. Otherwise, it will go back to its dystopian state. In my book, I hope that comes through. Education, openness, reform: China needs to keep reforming, changing, adapting, because that’s what this class showed. And in a way, that’s what turned China into what it is now. Turning back is not an option.

Planting the Flag in Mosques and Monasteries

Over the last few years, the Chinese Communist Party has physically remade places of religious worship in western China to its liking. This includes not only the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, but also other areas with mosques or Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries. Eight Chinese government procurement notices, issued between 2018 and 2021, show local officials seeking to sinify religious sites in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces, as well as in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In most cases, the notices cite the “four entrances” policy, which seeks to bring “the national flag, the constitution as well as laws and regulations, core socialist values, and China’s excellent traditional culture” into religious sites. Accordingly, several of the local government purchasers sought flags and 12-meter-high flagpoles for mosques or temples. One notice from a county in Ningxia listed the books authorities hoped to “enter” into “religious activity sites,” including Xi Jinping Talks about Governing the Country and An Explanation of Religious Affairs Regulations, among others.

In one instance, a town government in Sichuan province wanted to architecturally alter the local mosque. The procurement notice calls for purging “sanhua” (三化), or “the three -izations,” referring to “Saudi-ization,” “Arab-ization,” and “halal-ization.” Given government-imposed architectural changes elsewhere in the country, this likely means that the town wished to remove domes, minarets, or any other such features deemed insufficiently “Chinese.”

China’s Next Act

A Q&A with Scott Moore

While discussions of U.S.-China relations tend to revolve around trade and national security, more focus ought to be given to issues of environmental sustainability, including health, and to emerging technology, argues the University of Pennsylvania’s Scott Moore. Moore spoke with ChinaFile Editor Susan Jakes about his recent book, China’s Next Act: How Sustainability and Technology are Reshaping China’s Rise and the World’s Future. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

For Your Weekend, November 4, 2022

Asian Labour Review published a translated first-hand account of one of the many workers who fled a Foxconn factory in Henan this week due to COVID cases and the threat of lockdown. The worker recounts the sudden chaos of leaving, the kindness of strangers who helped her escape, and her feelings about going to back to work.

An animated video (in Chinese) making the rounds on Twitter last week highlights the bureaucratic absurdity of life in China after three years of the pandemic. The satirical video depicts a man applying for permission to drink alcohol.