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  Beijing Scene

Home For the Holidays

Independent Chinese film director Zhang Yuan has finally won approval from Chinese censors to show one of his films on the mainland after years of having his work banned, state press reports.

Zhang's film Guo Nian Hui Jia (Home For the Holidays) won a special prize for directing at this year's Venice Film Festival, and is now the first of the director's five feature films to be allowed to be seen inside China, the Beijing Morning Post reports.

The film, which tells the story of a young woman's three-day return home after serving 17 years in prison for killing her stepsister, began showing in Beijing last Friday.

Dark, dramatic, and moving, the picture is one of the first to be filmed in a Chinese prison where the prisoners in the film, most serving terms of more than 10 years for serious crimes, played themselves.

Zhang's other films like Mama, East Palace, West Palace and Beijing Bastards were also well received in film festivals around the world, but never allowed to be publicly screened in China - largely because they show the dark side of Chinese society.

Mama was a moving documentary showing the difficulties of a mother trying to raise a crippled child. Beijing Bastards was about Beijing's disoriented youth. And East Palace, West Palace explored homosexuality in China. Zhang, 36, graduated from the prestigious Beijing Film Academy in 1989.

Fares Rise in Clean Air Bid

Fares on buses and subways in Beijing have doubled as part of the capital's effort to spruce itself up for its bid to host the Olympic Games.

The cost of a single bus ride went up to RMB1 from RMB0.5, and a single subway ticket increased from RMB2to RMB3. A monthly bus pass went from RMB15 to RMB30, and a monthly subway pass from RMB40 to RMB80.

The Transport Bureau defended the increases by pointing to the bid to host the Olympics in 2008, as well as the World Student Games at a later date, saying Beijing must improve its air quality.

It needs heavy investment in new "clean-air" buses that are more expensive than present models. Only half the 8,250-strong fleet emit what is regarded as "clean air."

Even with the price increases the bus operations would still lose money. Prices would need to be tripled to bring the company into the black, a city official says.
"After this, we will still need a subsidy," he says.

Dozens Tried in Piracy Case

In its biggest high-seas piracy case in years, China is trying 38 people for crimes including the slaying of 23 seamen who were bludgeoned to death and dumped overboard, state media says.

Prosecutors allege that the 38 defendants were members of a gang that posed as anti-smuggling police to hijack three ships in 1998.

One of those hijacked was the Chang Sheng, a freighter carrying coal cinders, state-run newspapers report.

Prosecutors say the pirates handcuffed, tied up and gagged the ship's 23 crew members, the reports say. The gang allegedly then bludgeoned the crew members to death and tied heavy weights to their bodies before dumping them into the sea, the state-run Beijing Morning Post says.

Members of the gang were charged with crimes including murder, robbery, and possessing weapons, drugs and explosives, the reports say. They say it was China's biggest case of high-seas robbery and murder in 50 years of Communist Party rule.

The trial opened in the Shanwei City Intermediate People's Court in the southern coastal province of Guangdong. It is expected to last six days, the reports say.

Wife Enslavers Executed

Six convicted men were executed for the crime of selling women as wife-slaves to love-starved northern Chinese farmers, reports the official Legal Daily.

The flesh merchants were sentenced and executed by the Intermediate People's Court in the Shanxi province's capital city of Taiyuan, in a public trial watched by 10,000 people. Prostitution, forced marriages and woman-selling were outlawed by the communist government of Chairman Mao in 1949.

Each doomed gangster was also impelled to pay RMB20,000 yuan (US$2,400) before his execution. Seven accomplices were fined RMB10,000 and were sentenced to life in prison.

The wife-selling cartel was judged guilty of tricking 52 impoverished young peasant women into believing that the men would find them distant employment. The hoodwinked maidens were gathered from the marketplaces of Kunming and Guiyang cities in the southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou. The enslavers abducted them to rural Loushan and Jingle counties in northern Shanxi, where farmers purchased the captive brides for RMB3,000 to RMB6,000 each (US$361 to US$722).

Official Chinese figures indicate that 88,000 Chinese women and children were stolen and sold into marriage and slavery from 1991 to 1996. Human-rights organizations believe that the true figures are significantly higher.

"Eighteen-year-old Yang Wenfang╔ was lured to a riverside, and before she realized what was happening, a man dragged her into a dilapidated boat and took her far away. She was locked up for several days╔ until a buyer came to inspect her."

Yang Wenfang claims that the first peasant customer who examined her was "in his 30s and very ugly, so I refused to go with him. The kidnappers told me if I didn't marry him, they would find me a man in his 60s and it would serve me right." When the intimidated girl relented, she was purchased, locked in the man's hovel, guarded by his kinfolk and eventually coerced into being his breeder wife.

The demand for wives in China has skyrocketed due to a gender imbalance: 100 females per 130 males. The number of girls, particularly in rural areas, has been decimated by selected abortion and infanticide due to the traditional preference for boys.

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