Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 3, April 2 -8


Real-Life Mulan
A woman unable to find work passed herself off as a man for more than a year to keep a tough job as a dockworker in southern Guangdong province, the Baokan Wenzhai daily reports.

The article’s headline likened her to Hua Mulan, a character in Chinese lore who bravely took her father’s place in the imperial army. Walt Disney’s recent feature film Mulan was based on the tale.

After leaving her hometown in a poverty-stricken mountain area of Hunan province, the woman surnamed Li failed to find a job in Guangdong’s cities, the newspaper says.

At the start of 1998, she decided to try responding to a furniture-factory advertisement seeking male dockworkers, it says. Using an identity card borrowed from a male friend back home, a lower voice and a short haircut, she managed to fool human-resources officials and get the job.

But the challenges had only begun, because she had to live day and night with an all-male crew of dockworkers.
The job, which paid just ¥500-600 a month, demanded 10 hours of grueling physical labor a day and included shared living quarters in a factory dormitory.

To fit in, Li had to learn to act and joke like a man in every way as well as smoke cigarettes, the report says.
She also had to be "extremely careful" in using the showers and bathrooms alone so as not to give herself away, it adds.
But she was discovered last month when the staff underwent a regular medical check according to government regulations.
"Her secret was broken. The entire factory was in an uproar," the report says.

One of the factory bosses, moved by her determination and ability to endure suffering, offered her a raise and a promotion to a management position in another part of the company, it says.
But she felt too much shame to stay, it adds.

Mulan, which premiered in China in late February, racked up lackluster box-office sales as local moviegoers rejected the Americanized interpretation of the familiar story.

Special English
China’s Wenhui-Xinmin United Press Group has started trial publication of an English language newspaper which it plans to print on a daily basis from June,officials say.

The group, created last year from the merger of the popular Xinmin Evening News and conservative Wenhui Daily, published the trial edition of Shanghai Daily this week in a move aimed at introducing more competition into the market, they say.

"This is still a trial edition," a Shanghai Daily official says. "We want readers, especially foreign readers, to tell us their views on the front page, layout and content."

"Perhaps there will be some changes by June when we begin official publication."

The first trial edition of the broadsheet, priced at ¥1, had eight pages with color photographs.

The eastern Chinese city already has another state-run English language newspaper, the Shanghai Star,published twice weekly by the Beijing-based China Daily Newspaper Group.

A handful of other English language publications, originally started outside official channels, have mushroomed recently, though some were forced to scramble for Chinese partners during a crackdown last year, industry officials say.

Other publications include the monthly Shanghai Talk newspaper and the weekly Shanghai edition of Travel China, sponsored by the China National Tourism Administration.

Monthly magazine That’s Shanghai is now backed by China’s State Light Industry Bureau.

Industry officials say the start of Shanghai Daily could help raise the overall quality of English language journalism in the city but will also make competition for advertising revenue more fierce.

Potential advertisers, confused by the sudden proliferation of English language publications, were now waiting to see if all of them would survive, they say.

"It’s really a headache to chose one for advertising," says the public relations manager of a major international hotel. "You don’t know whether one is legal or illegal."

Army Leaves Palace
China’s army surrendered its controlling stake in a leading Beijing five-star hotel in line with government orders that the military get out of business.

The army transferred its 60 percent share in the Palace Hotel Beijing, a joint venture hotel with Hong Kong firms, to the state-owned China Everbright Group, the hotel says in a statement. It says the remaining shares are still held by Hong Kong Construction (Holdings) Ltd. and Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., each with a 20 percent stake.

President Jiang Zemin has called on the army to get back into the business of national defense and retreat from thousands of moneymaking ventures set up during two decades of economic reform. The army was supposed to have given up its businesses by mid-December.

Hollywood’s top lobbyist says he will propose opening Chinese movie theaters to more American films in a move he linked to Beijing’s bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, says he is seeking a rollback on curbs that keep all but a handful of Hollywood pictures out of China.

"The main issue in China is market access," says Valenti, in China to lobby Beijing on behalf of the U.S. entertainment industry.
"In order to get into the WTO there are certain criteria - accessibility to markets and protection of intellectual property," he adds.

He was traveling with a high-profile business delegation accompanying U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley, who is holding talks with senior Chinese officials to speed an agreement on enrolling China in the world trade body.

Valenti says he will ask China to raise over 12 months the number of U.S. films it screens to 17 from the current unofficial limit of 10 per year. That would rise to 25 films the following year.
Valenti says he will deliver his proposal in meetings with Premier Zhu Rongji and other Chinese officials.

"This is not any radical two-year plan, it’s quite moderate, and I think they understand that," he says. "Whether or not I’ll be successful, I don’t know."

China has carefully guarded its domestic motion picture industry, fearing competition from Hollywood’s slick, big-budget films.

Beijing also keeps a tight grip on its mass media and fears a tide of American popular culture would undermine the authority of the Communist Party to dictate political and social norms.

Valenti also says he will push for greater access to investment in Chinese production studios and theaters, and would help distribute Chinese films in the U.S.

"We’re willing to invest millions of dollars in theaters, as well as millions of dollars in the refurbishment of studios," he says.
"We’re going to stage a film festival in the United States in New York and in Los Angeles. We’ll bring in about 10 to 12 Chinese films."

He lauded China for progress in stamping out piracy of movies, but said pirated video compact discs, or VCDs, remain a threat to the U.S. film industry.

Foreign Investment Down
China’s actual foreign direct investment (FDI) fell 9.54 percent year-on-year to US$4.208 billion in January and February, the Foreign Trade Ministry says.

Contracted FDI - an indicator of future trends - rose a year-on-year 17.5 percent to US$5.513 billion in the first two months, says a spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.

She declined to give details or explanations of the new FDI figures.
"The situation facing this year’s foreign investment could be worse than last year"’ says an economist at MOFTEC’s research academy.

Despite the surge in pledged investment, actual FDI inflows this year could "fall by a very big margin" compared with US$45.6 billion recorded last year, the economist says.

Foreign investors were more reluctant to pour money into the country mainly because of narrowed profit margins as economic growth slows and because of feeble market demand, he says.

China’s FDI stalled last year as the Asian economic crisis hit its principal investors, but rising inflows from the United States and Europe helped stave off a plunge.

Accumulated FDI in China hit US$271.7 billion at the end of February while total contracted investment reached US$578 billion, the ministry spokeswoman says.

Actual FDI to China could fall to US$35-$40 billion in 1999, Zhao Jinping, a senior economist at the cabinet’s Development Research Center, wrote in the China Economic Herald newspaper.

Crisis-stricken Asian nations would offer incentives to outside investors to lure capital and their cheaper currencies could help attract firms aimed to export their products, Zhao says.

The launch of the euro could help European nations to launch more projects within their region, reducing outflows of capital to Asia, including China, he says.

The collapse of financial institutions, including the Guangdong International Trust and Investment Corp, have affected credit ratings of Chinese firms and made it difficult for them to raise funds overseas, he says.

In addition, rising costs for joint venture firms from illegal fees and tight controls on foreign exchange dealings have "to a certain degree shaken the confidence of foreign investors," Zhao says.

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March 26 - April 1, 1999

March 19 - 25, 1999


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