Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 6, April 23 - 29


Zhang Snubs Cannes
Chinese director Zhang Yimou has withdrawn two of his most recent works from the Cannes Film Festival, citing bias against productions from Communist China, state media reports.

In a letter to festival directors printed in the Beijing Youth Daily, Zhang says Cannes organizers have painted his work in unwanted political overtones.

"I have decided to withdraw the two films and will not participate in this year’s Cannes Film Festival," Zhang says. "This is because I believe you have a serious misunderstanding about the works."

In the letter dated April 18, Zhang charged the West with seeing all Chinese cinema through a political lens.
"Everyone has their own opinion about whether a film is good or bad," he says.
"But what I cannot accept is that the West has for a long time politicized Chinese films. If they are not anti-government, they are just considered propaganda."
"I hope this bias can be slowly changed."

One of the films Zhang pulled from the festival was his newest, Not One Less. The movie, which premiered in Beijing last week, is a sanguine look at the difficulties of educating children in rural China.

Laced with humor and tales of personal suffering, the film was made with an all-amateur cast and marked a departure from his earlier, more cinematically breathtaking works such as Raise the Red Lantern and Red Sorghum.

Zhang is one of China’s few internationally recognized movie directors. He shot to fame in the late 1980s with a series of films shot in the rural countryside and featuring actress Gong Li.

But he ran into problems with Chinese censors in 1995 after his film To Live was shown without permission at Cannes.
- Staffer3

Out with a bang
A kidnapping case in China’s central Henan province ended in an explosion that killed one of the kidnappers and the main hostage.

Two farmers carrying home-made explosives took into hostage Mao Cunyou, President of the Xindeng Group, his wife and daughter, demanding ¥700,000 (US$84,000) in ransom. The two divided the hostages and went separate ways.

The one who held Mao Cunyou was surrounded by police. He pulled off the explosives bound to his body when a police officer jumped at him, killing himself and the hostage instantly. The police officer remains in critical condition. Police rescued Mao’s wife and daughter, killing the other abductor in the process.

Golden Anniversary
China’s capital will host a week-long, multi-million-dollar gala party replete with fireworks and a military parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Communist state, city officials say.

Executive Vice Mayor Meng Xuenong says the event will also include a 500,000-strong parade through the heart of the city.

"The 50th anniversary of the founding of new China is a glorious festival for all Chinese people,"Meng says.
"As the capital city, it is the unshakable and glorious mission for Beijing to do a good job in preparing for the events."
The activities will kick off on Sept. 28 with a party for the political elite at the cavernous Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.

A series of receptions by different government organs will follow until Oct. 1, when Beijing will be decked out in its Communist finery for a two-hour parade, which will include a military review and airforce fly-over of Tiananmen Square.

"I’m sure in telling you that none of the weapons or related technology were stolen from other countries," he adds, referring to U.S. allegations that China has stolen nuclear secrets.

At night, an additional 100,000 people will pack the square for a gala bash with fireworks and performances by members of China’s 56 ethnic groups.

Parties will continue for three more days in parks throughout the city.
Events will also include a healthy dose of Communist political theater, with speeches by Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and President Jiang Zemin.

Meng refuses to put a price tag on the event, but says it will cost "two to three times more" than the "hundreds of millions of yuan" spent to mark the 45th anniversary.

Foreign Experts
Foreign engineers will be hired to oversee the construction of the Three Gorges Dam because Chinese inspectors are susceptible to corruption, an official newspaper reports.

Consultants from foreign engineering companies will take responsibility for oversight of the project immediately, Lu Youmei, the director of the government’s Three Gorges Construction and Development Co., was quoted as saying by the Workers Daily.

Chinese overseers were too friendly with the officials they are supposed to inspect, the report quotes Lu as saying. Corruption is widely blamed in China for severe problems with shoddy construction on the government’s massive infrastructure projects.

Just last week, the state-run news media reported Chinese engineering consultants checked the construction of the dam and found it passed strict quality controls.

But without citing any Chinese consulting firms by name, Lu warns they risk losing business if they develop "relationships as close as brothers" and refuse to criticize those they are supposed to be inspecting.

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China will be the largest hydroelectric project in the world. It has strong backing from Li Peng, the chairman of the National People’s Congress who is No. 2 in the hierarchy of the ruling Communist Party.

Negotiations on hiring foreign consulting firms are in the final phase, the newspaper reports.
More than 1 million people must be relocated from areas that will be flooded by the reservoir from the new dam. Critics have argued the project is ill-conceived because the same goals of flood control and power generation could be accomplished with smaller, cheaper dams.

Broken Rice Bowl
Hu Shuzhen, 48, stares blankly at a notice board at a job center set up to help China’s fast-expanding ranks of unemployed.

"Most of these jobs are for people with some education and technical skills, which I do not have. I haven’t worked for half a year and I owe my relatives tens of thousands of yuan," she says.

Hu, a mother of two, used to work in a food processing plant. Six months ago, she was laid off with a retrenchment benefit of about ¥300 yuan (US$36) - about half her previous monthly salary.

As China closes its ailing state-owned enterprises and the Asian economic crisis takes its toll on the economy, the ranks of its jobless are swelling with people like Hu. The government’s solution: encourage a services industry that could provide temporary work for laid-off workers.

"China’s urban tertiary industry abounds in temporary jobs," says Wang Dongjin,vice-minister of labor and social security.

"In the seven large cities including Beijing and Shanghai, over seven million families or 70 percent of the total need community services such as repair of electrical appliances and newspaper delivery," he adds.

The tertiary industry in China covers services ranging from technology-intensive information and insurance, as well as community services and the catering business. It contributes less than a third of China’s gross domestic product (GDP), compared with 70 to 80percent in more developed countries, says Wang. For China’s economy to grow by the government’s targeted 7 percent this year, it has to generate more than 10 million jobs. Even then, there will still be a 16 million job shortfall this year as laid-off workers, fresh graduates and demobilized soldiers join the work force, Mo Rong, a Ministry of Labor and Social Security expert said earlier this year. Official estimates place unemployment at 6.5 percent of the urban work force, the highest rate since1949.

However, Western analysts say the real jobless figure is much higher as the figure does not account for unemployed migrant workers or those who have not registered.

Sporadic protests, in which retired and laid-off workers block railways and roads in major cities to protest their employers’ failure to pay them, are frequent occurrences. In rural areas, there have also been violent clashes.

Rising unemployment also hurts domestic consumption that accounts for about 60 percent of China’s annual GDP. But the authorities’ solution of encouraging a temporary services industry offers cold comfort to uneducated workers like Hu, and to fresh graduates with no job experience.

Hu’s two sons, aged 23 and 25, have been jobless since graduating from college a few years ago.

Hu says she is willing to take on a community service job such as working as a nanny, cook or cleaner,even if it is temporary.

But migrant workers flocking at the railway station already contribute to an over-supply of cheap, manual labor for employers.

"At this stage, I am willing to do any kind of work. But I have not been lucky so far," she says.

    Previous Stories...

April 16 - 22, 1999

April 9 - 15, 1999

April 2 - April 8, 1999

March 26 - April 1, 1999

March 19 - 25, 1999


cartoon FYI In Short