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  All materials © 1999 
  Beijing Scene

Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 4, November 5 - 11

A state-run newspaper hit out against the Communist Party's measures to temporarily improve Beijing's environment during the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic.

"This so-called good environment is impossible to sustain for the long term," says the China Youth Daily. "Actions are only taken in response to special occasions, and are not kept up for long," it adds.

Clear blue skies over the capital during the week-long holiday at the start of the month quickly reverted to the usual smoggy grey as factories were ordered back up to full production. Small-time vendors quickly swarmed back on to city streets, contributing to traffic jams, noise and the litter that now once again clogs the few streams winding through the capital. Twelve million registered inhabitants and migrant workers in Beijing were well aware that government slogans urging them to help keep things clean for yet another event were simply temporary measures, the paper says.

"The surface environment is good for a time, but the daily life of ordinary people does not improve," it says. "On the contrary, it worsens." Government officials and managers at state-run enterprises know that soon after the special dates pass they can resume neglecting their duties or discharging pollutants into the air and water. The paper says: "If the Government wants ordinary people to willingly protect the environment, it should let them see that it continues to put real effort into improving the environment after National Day, and make people feel that its fundamental aim is to create happiness for the people, not just to add color to festivities or to highlight leaders' achievements."

Crocodile Tears
An old man named Ling recently died in Shanghai. During the funeral, everybody was crying. Two women in particular were crying and screaming louder than the rest. However, the older two sons and one daughter of Mr. Ling remained very quiet. Suddenly, the two women crying and screaming stopped. Everybody was shocked that these two who seemed so upset with the death of Mr. Ling, suddenly stopped crying and screaming in the middle of the funeral procession. One of the women turned to the eldest of Mr. Ling's sons and exclaimed roughly,
"Time is almost up, so it is time to pay the bill!"

The elder son was shocked. "Time is not yet up, so why pay so early?" he exclaimed.
"Huh?" the woman snapped back. "If this funeral procession keeps going and we keep crying for you, then we must calculate overtime. You must pay double according to the labor law. Don't you realize, we cry and mourn up to the amount paid for. Then we stop. You want us to cry more, then pay more!"

One of the relatives realized that the women were only being paid to cry. "When it's time for the sons to cry, they don't bother. They pay another to cry for them. This funeral is meiyou yisi!" 

Xinmin Evening News

Beyond Belief
In Dahua county, Guangxi Autonomous Region, the local health department finished building a beautiful office building. The three health department bureau chiefs got together and planned the "house warming" celebration for their new office. Due to traditional superstitious beliefs they invited a Taoist priest to select a date for the celebration.

On the day they moved into their office, the health officials lit fireworks and hired another Taoist priest to say prayers to "scare away ghosts." They also pasted "posters of ghosts" in their offices to scare evil spirits away. Then they placed a tiny emperor's throne as the "seat of the spirit" in the center of their office. Then they requested many local leaders to come to their office, burn incense, kowtow and then "chase after ghosts" to "scare them away and avoid misfortune."

The people of this county laughed at all these activities. Rumor spread among the people to the effect, "How can you trust the health officials if they believe in superstition and ghosts. Their health work now has nothing to do with science and fact."

When news of the local health department's superstitious activities was reported to higher level officials, they were furious. Two of the bureau directors were sacked and one received a "serious warning from the Party."

The locals laughed even more pointing out that the Taoist priests ended up bringing only bad luck despite all their efforts.

Health News

Power Down
China's largest hydrodam will lose US$121 million (1billion yuan) this year, according to its general manager, because it doesn't have enough customers for its output. When the massive Ertan dam, which spans a Yangtze tributary in Sichuan province, began producing electricity last year, China's top leaders praised it for demonstrating China's ability to build world-class projects. Partly financed by the World Bank, the US$3.4 billion hydrodam was built to alleviate "severe power shortages."

But last month Xinhua News Agency reported that Liu Junfeng, general manager of Ertan Hydropower Development Corporation, "has become increasingly anxious" because he can only sell 60 percent of the dam's output. With many state-owned factories shutting down, electricity consumption has dropped sharply, and China is faced with a growing surplus of electricity after a decade of rapid expansion.

Ertan officials are furious that Chongqing municipality-the dam's largest prospective customer-has refused to buy 31 percent of Ertan's power output, as agreed to in 1995, saying it only needs 14 percent. An Ertan spokesman says that Chongqing, which separated from Sichuan province in 1997 and became a municipality under the central government, has other reasons for refusing Ertan power besides the electricity glut. Local power plants, newly-built and financed by the private sector, can readily produce power more cheaply than Ertan. And because Chongqing's new status allows it to collect tax from power producers in its jurisdiction, the municipality now has a financial incentive to favor local power producers over Ertan. 

Deregulation of the electricity industry also allows power consumers in Chongqing to choose their own power suppliers based on economic considerations such as price and efficiency. Knowing that cheaper power is available locally, Chongqing leaders have complained that the price of Ertan power, about six US$.06 cents per kilowatt-hour, is too high. The Ertan Corporation, meanwhile, has lost its monopoly status and can't force consumers to buy power they don't want or need.

Ertan is thus threatened, not just by the electricity glut, but by the increasingly competitive electricity market, Xinhua News Agency reports. Unless Ertan's managers can find more customers, the dam will be losing an estimated US$2.4 million daily by the time its last two turbines are installed next year.

A pet project of former premier Li Peng, Ertan will have a total generating capacity of 3300 MW. Its difficulties are an ominous sign for the Three Gorges dam, which is also in Sichuan province. Three Gorges, which is designed to produce five times as much electricity as Ertan, is expected to start generating electricity in 2003.

Endangered Elixirs
While China looks to expand the global market for its traditional medicines, conservationists are trying to ensure that won't mean a greater threat to tigers, rare plants and other endangered wildlife often used in the remedies. At a conference organized by the Chinese government, World Wildlife Fund officials are urging Beijing to meet strict standards barring use of endangered species as it develops its market. "Our mission is clear," Peter DeBrine, an official in the U.S.-based WWF, says. "We must work together to develop new global standards that will guide traditional Chinese medicine markets away from endangered species toward more environmentally healthy alternatives." DeBrine predicts Chinese traditional medicine sales worldwide will grow from an annual volume of just under US$1 billion now to US$12 billion in the next decade. While China uses Western medicines, it also still relies on the traditional medicines from complex recipes of plant and animal parts that date back some 3,000 years. Tiger bones are used to treat rheumatism and to promote bone healing, while rhino horn has been used for fevers, says Huang Lixin, president of the San Francisco-based American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Though the use of some animals, including tigers and rhinoceroses, is already illegal in China, demand remains strong and an underground market fed by smuggling continues to flourish, says James Harkness, director of WWF's China program. But the endangered species aren't a necessity in making medicine. Traditional doctors in China long have substituted other materials for tiger and rhino parts because they have become so rare, Huang says. One example: Bones of the sailong, a north China rat used in Tibetan medicine, are certified in China as a substitute for "Tiger Bone Wine," a famous tonic. "Any professional in the field of oriental herbal medicine would recognize that for every substance supplied by endangered species there are many effective substitutes," Huang says. The trick, she says, is getting consumers to accept that such substitutes are just as good as the endangered ingredients. Education campaigns are needed to convince consumers, Huang says. Her organization has been promoting the use of substitutes among traditional Chinese medicine users in San Francisco and Canada over the past year.

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