|Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 4, April 9 -15|
The novel, Looks Beautiful (Kanshangqu hen mei) features an innovative
cover design aimed at foiling would-be thieves and comes with a CD-ROM
of Wang’s past works.
Inside the book is a page with contact numbers for consumers concerned
they have purchased an illegal reprint as well as information about
rewards for those who report book pirates.
Wang is one of China’s leading young authors and Looks Beautiful is
his first new work in seven years. It details the trials and tribulations
of a group of children growing up in Beijing.
His publisher says interest in the novel has been great and distributors
have already bought the entire first print run of 200,000 copies.
Wang rose to fame in the 1980s with a series of brazen novels depicting
the underbelly of Chinese society. Peppered with sex and strong language,
the works became instant hits and gave birth to a booming black market
in cheap reprints.
A 1996 government ban on a four-volume collection of Wang’s works
added to his notoriety and fueled the underground sales.
Many popular Chinese movies are available on video disc weeks before
appearing in the cinema and musicians complain that sales of inexpensive
pirate versions of their albums outpace legitimate sales.
"We suggest that the new bottles not be used for more than two years,
but that is not compulsory," says Li Fengwen, a senior official from
the State Quality and Technical Supervision Administration. China has
witnessed an annual 20 percent growth rate in lager drinking, and yearly
beer output reached 17 million tons in 1996, making China the second
largest beer manufacturer in the world.
Wheel of Fortune
"Business is good," he beams. "When people are unhappy, business is
As China’s economy slows and painful reforms put millions out of work,
despondent masses from the industrial northeast to rural southwest are
turning to organized religion, underground worship or just plain old
superstition to soothe their aching souls.
"I’m just selling a little bit of happiness," Liu says. "For a few
yuan I give people a little lift."
Scorned by orthodox Communists as an "opiate of the masses," religion
is on the march in China.
From Christian villages on the outskirts of eastern Wenzhou to China’s
rambling border with Burma, where Buddha is king, devotion is a growth
When Chairman Mao’s rag-tag Red Army rolled into Beijing, China was
home to only 700,000 Protestants and fewer than three million Roman
The ministerial-level Religious Affairs Bureau now records at least
10 million Protestants and four million Catholics. Religious experts
estimate double that number meet regularly for unofficial prayer services.
China’s sprawling rural northwest is also populated by 18 million
Muslims, and tens of millions of Buddhists worship at official temples
scattered across the country.
But the surge is strongest outside the official churches and state-run
temples, where a powerful cocktail of orthodox religion, ancestor worship
and superstition feeds the rural need to believe.
Across the street lies Li’s competition for the hearts and minds of
the village’s 2000 residents - a brightly lit, newly built cathedral-like
building dedicated to the controversial Zhu Shen Jiao, or Supreme Spirit
China launched a crackdown on the sect last year, calling it the country’s
largest cult and arresting 20 members of the congregation in the central
province of Hunan.
The outcome of the case has not been made public, but in rural Wenzhou,
the sect remains a top draw.
"Spiritually, we’re not that far apart from our neighbors," says one
sect believer surnamed Guo, adding that the spacious cathedral draws
a greater number of Sunday faithful.
"More people come here, but there are a lot of faithful who attend
both churches," Guo says. "Some even then go to the temple," he adds,
pointing to the traditional Buddhist temple a stone’s throw away. "It
helps pass the time," he adds.
Monks in saffron robes again mingle in rural markets while shopkeepers
pay their daily respects to small Buddha statues, praying that the economy
will pick up and their fortunes reverse.
The craving for hope is also at the center of the belief boom in northeastern
Changchun, where state industry reforms have pushed thousands out of
work and onto the streets.
Fortuneteller Liu says while surveying the ranks of middle-aged men
seeking jobs at a makeshift labor market: "Belief is the easiest way
to forget the pain."
Law enforcement officials in the southern region of Guangxi confiscated
about 100 pythons from a "suspicious" truck outside the provincial capital
of Nanning, the Xinhua news agency says.
Three men from Fangcheng, on the Vietnamese border, later confessed
to purchasing the endangered pythons in hopes of selling them for a
profit on the black market, the report says.
They were detained on charges of "illegally transporting endangered snakes," it adds.