Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 4, April 9 -15


Prose Pirates
Chinese author Wang Shuo has launched a crusade against intellectual property piracy with the release of a new book boasting advanced anti-counterfeiting technology.

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.
The novel is among China’s first specifically designed to prevent piracy.

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.
"It’s about everything I’ve seen, experienced, thought and heard," Wang says.

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.
Piracy is a growing problem for China’s artistic elite.
Foreign pressure on China to crackdown on the illegal reproduction of overseas films and music has forced many illegal publishers to turn to reproducing domestic works.

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.

Pop Goes the Pijiu
China is to mount a campaign against exploding beer bottles, which are becoming an increasing hazard for drinkers as factories recycle old bottles. Beer bottles produced and sold in China are required to meet new state standards from April 1, the Chinese press reports, without specifying the new measures. Beer producers will no longer be permitted to use old soy sauce or vinegar bottles to package their product, the report says.

"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
Fortuneteller Liu Laoxian thrives on despair. Smiling a golden grin from behind an unruly white beard, the grizzled oracle surveys scores of palm readers, numerologists and sundry magicians doing a roaring trade on streets teeming with Changchun’s unemployed.

"Business is good," he beams. "When people are unhappy, business is good."
Liu and thousands more like him around the nation are cashing in on one of China’s leading growth industries: belief.

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 industry.
Since the Communist Party swept to power in 1949, the official number of China’s faithful has leapt tenfold. And despite increasingly strict monitoring of religious activity, the growth trend continues.

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 Catholics.

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.
"More than 60 percent of our village is Christian," says Pastor Li, head of the Catholic congregation in a small church on the outskirts of Wenzhou.
"We have a long tradition here of belief in God, going back generations," Li says. "Before it was just the elderly who came to service, but now even the young come for a prayer."

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 Sect.

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.
Sect leader Liu Jiaguo and his lieutenant, Zhu Aiqing, were accused of agitating for the overthrow of the "secular state" and charged in a Hunan court with undermining law enforcement, rape and fraud.

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.
In southwestern Yunnan province, where the muddy Mekong river cuts a winding border between China and Burma, belief is also booming and Buddhism is back in vogue after decades of government scorn.

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.
"Only recently did we dare bring out the Buddha again," says one shop owner. "With the economy in the dumps, it’s nice to have some hope."

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."

Snake Smuggling
Police have tightened their grip on a python smuggling ring, state-run media says.

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.

    Previous Stories...

April 2 - April 8, 1999

March 26 - April 1, 1999

March 19 - 25, 1999


cartoon FYI In Short