|Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 6, April 23 - 29|
Zhang Snubs Cannes
In a letter to festival directors printed in the Beijing Youth Daily,
Zhang says Cannes organizers have painted his work in unwanted political
"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.
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
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.
Out with a bang
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
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.
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.
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
Parties will continue for three more days in parks throughout the
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.
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.
Broken Rice Bowl
"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
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
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.