Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 13, June 18-24

Beijing-Hollywood Co-Produce First Film
Pavilion of Women, the first feature movie co-produced by Hollywood and a Chinese studio, has started shooting. Based on a novel by Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck, the film tells a touching story about an English-speaking missionary doctor and his Chinese lover, the daughter of a powerful aristocrat who bravely renounces her family’s stifling tradition.

Directed by Hong Kong auteur Yim Ho, the movie features Willem Dafoe, an Oscar nominee as best supporting actor for Oliver Stone’s Platoon, and Chinese actress Yan Luo, also a producer and co-writer of the film’s screenplay. The film is being shot in and around Suzhou, the southern Chinese city renowned as the “Venice of the Orient.”

The film is a cooperation between U.S. production company Silver Dream and its Chinese partner, Beijing Film Studios.

Police Crack Down On Poppy-Growing Peasants
Shanghai police have cracked down on 36 peasant families who stubbornly ignored warnings against cultivating opium poppies on a coastal island near the city, the official Shanghai News reports.

The families, who grew the plants in small numbers, were forced to attend a “special study session” and sign hand-written pledges they would never again plant poppies, the report says.
Authorities ordered the crackdown after repeated annual injunctions failed to deter the practice.

One of the peasants, an 81-year-old woman surnamed Song, told the newspaper that the plant’s leaves were useful for curing chickens and ducks of contagious diseases and helping fatten pigs by making them sleepy and lazy.

As a feed supplement, it also helped fish survive when weather conditions lowered the oxygen content of fishpond water, she adds.

But Song admitted the peasants sometimes ate a dried derivative of the poppy to treat stomach ailments.

Cultivation of poppy on the island for opium production was widespread before the 1949 communist takeover, when the government virtually wiped out what had been a thriving narcotics industry.

US Artists Pay Price for Bombing
Performing schedules of major US orchestras and theaters have been disrupted by China’s cancellation of a series of US cultural programs to protest against Nato’s bombing of its embassy in Belgrade.

Some of the programs took years to negotiate, but the May 7 bombing triggered an angry reaction from Beijing, which shelved events organized by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the New York Choral Society.

China also cancelled a visit by the American Ballet Theater, involving 125 artists who had been booked to give performances in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People next month.

Yu Shuning, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, says: “The atmosphere will improve and things will be back on track after an investigation on the bombing has been conducted.”

Zhang Yu, director of the China Performing Arts Agency in Beijing, says the reason for suspending the programs was due to “this barbarous atrocity of Nato.”.

The New York Choral Society spent more than a year assembling 230 American singers to join 310 Chinese singers to perform Mahler’s 8th Symphony in Shanghai on July 30 and Brahms’ German Requiem in Beijing on August 7.

The disruptions came as the Ministry of Culture strengthened cultural exchanges with Russia by inviting a choir group to perform in Beijing from June 21-28.

China Dot Com
Replacing the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Japan, China, Australia and India have edged into the top 10 foreign countries in domain name registrations for .com, .net and .org, Computerworld reported quoting a report from Network Solutions Inc. (NSI).

According to a statement from NSI officials, China’s and India’s growth rates are partly due to declining online costs in those countries.

The U.S. still leads in domain name registrations, accounting for about 73 percent of all registrations for the three names.

According to NSI figures, the number of new international registrations totaled 230,000 in the first quarter of 1999, up from 168,000 in the same period last year.

“Growth in international registrations proves once again that ‘dot com’ is one of the few phrases understood in every language on earth,” Doug Wolford, NSI senior vice president, was quoted as saying.

Following the U.S., which had 4.2 million registrations as of the end of March, the top 15 countries (areas) in .com, .net and .org registrations are as follows:

1. Canada
2. United Kingdom
3. France
4. Germany
5. Sweden
6. Spain
7. Italy
8. China (Mainland)
9. Australia
10. India
11. The Netherlands
12. Korea
13. Hong Kong
14. Japan
15. Turkey

Consumer Credit Faces Problems
China’s bid to expand consumer credit to spur the economy faces formidable barriers in a country where people are averse to borrowing and banks are nervous about the risks involved in lending to them, analysts say.

“Some essential conditions for consumer credit are still not ripe,” says Wang Yuanhong, a senior economist at the State Information Center, a government think-tank, with considerable understatement.

A consumer credit system needs personal credit histories, an income and savings declaration system and credit insurance to help banks limit risks, he says. China has none of these. With economic growth slowing and consumer demand stagnant despite falling prices, the central bank cleared all domestic banks for consumer credit business in March in an attempt to encourage people to go out and buy big ticket items.

The “big four” state-owned commercial banks already offer mortgages and car loans. Now they are adding loans for things like computers and domestic appliances as well as for education and holiday travel.

But in the absence of personal credit histories and with the difficulties in finding out how much people earn, the banks are forced to ask for collateral such as savings certificates or treasury bonds, bankers say.

Third-party guarantees, usually from an employer, are also acceptable but are very difficult for individuals to obtain.

“This has set restraints on our business,” says an official at the Consumer Credit Department of the Bank of China.

China does not have a legal framework for consumer credit and guarantees for individuals, bankers say.

Despite China’s six successive interest rate cuts since May 1996 and massive state spending on infrastructure, consumer spending remains listless.

The benchmark retail price index has been negative for 19 months with demand feeble. The markets are glutted.

Ordinary Chinese, avid savers unaccustomed to borrowing, were unlikely to venture into consumer credit as economic reforms throw millions out of work and push up the costs of housing and medical care, the analysts say.

“People’s general expectations have not changed: there won’t be a rise in incomes in the future,” says Wang Yuanhong.

Instead of rushing to banks for a loan to buy something expensive, people stuff all their spare cash into savings accounts.

Personal savings hit ¥5.84 trillion (US$705.3billion) at the end of April, up 19.2 percent from a year ago. Zhou Shengye, an economics professor at People’s University says Beijing should slash housing prices and eliminate ad hoc fees on vehicle purchases to help cut the final price to within the reach of ordinary people.

Moreover, people were put off by worries about the cost of a loan which usually has to be repaid in no more than three years and carries a relatively high interest rate, analysts say. Borrowers face a 20 percent downpayment and pay the interest a corporation would—6.39 percent on one-year loans and 6.66 percent on three-year loans.

The result, according to the official Financial News, is that mortgages and auto credits now account for less than two percent of total bank lending. In some developed nations, that figure is 20 percent.

Previous Stories...

cartoon FYI In Short