2013 is a year of transition for China, politically, economically and socially. Offbeat China, in its second year of publishing, witnessed another 12 months of ups and downs in the middle kingdom with its readers.
2013 kicked off with themes that will keep coming back throughout the year, such as censorship, hukou and population, and airpocalypse. January started with smoggy weather and smoggy news. Southern Weekly’s 2013 New Year editorial “China’s Dream. The Dream of Constitutionalism” was forced to be replaced by a propaganda piece glorifying the Party. The “incident” resulted in a strike by the outspoken newspaper’s editors, which led to an open war over freedom of speech.
It’s hardly surprising that constitutionalism became a censored word in China because people are not born equal in this country, largely thanks to the household registration system Hukou. After the investigations of several corrupt officials and their family members, many people found out that while hukou confined the underclass, it allowed those in powerful positions the room to enjoy care-free corruption.
In February, the war over the control of words moved online. And Weibo, China’s leading microblogging service was the front line. A magazine under People’s Daily did a survey among 2156 government officials across China.and found that more than half of government officials have Weibophobia.
Their fear isn’t without reason but there are always two sides of the same coin. On one side, there was General Luo Yuan who opened his personal Weibo account to “fight” this very important “front line of public opinions.” Waves of criticism of his nationalist stance and bitter questions about his family’s possible corruption were what he got back. On the other side, a fan account of China’s president-in-waiting Xi Jinping which updated the whereabouts of “uncle Xi” became the hottest account on Weibo.
March was a month of paramount significance to China in the next 10 years. The 18th National Congress “elected” China’s new 7-member Politburo with Xi Jinping as the country’s new president. The Chinese people were apparently happy about the result. Xi’s rise to power meant that the country finally would have a presentable first lady – Peng Liyuan, a popular singer and a household name since the 80s. People “admired” Li Keqiang, China’s new premier, so much that they fought for a half-drunk bottle of water left by him after a press conference.
Politics aside, two new things were added to China’s environmental hazard. First, 6000 dead pigs were found floating in Shanghai river, which was the city’s primary source of drinking water. Secondly, paper mill wastewater was found to be used to irrigate wheat farms in Henan province, resulting in toxic wheat that the farmers themselves refused to eat.
At the same time, the censorship war kept evolving. China’ General Administration of Press and Publication and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) were merged into the “Ministry of Truth.” And a Guangdong University assembled “Internet Red Army” to monitor students’ online activities.
China’s scandalous baby Guo Meimei, who almost single-handedly destroyed the reputation of China Red Cross in 2011, made a comeback in April. She showed off casino chips wroth RMB 5 million online while a link to a rumored 17.2g sex tape of her went viral. Of course, it brought another PR nightmare to China Red Cross so much so that the organization’s donation boxes were left completely empty.
Guo Meimei wasn’t the only thing that made a comeback in April. People’s fear of deadly epidemic during SARS was revived in the face of H7N9 flu. The poisoning of Zhu Ling, a 19-year-old cold case was under national spotlight again after a new poisoning case in Shanghai’s Fudan University.
May was a month of protests. After a school principal and a government official in Henan province were arrested for sex with elementary schoolgirls, Chinese netizens started an online troll to protest against child abusers. At the same time in the southern city of Kunming, hundreds of people railed to protest at plans for a chemical factory. Some 1000 miles away in Changsha, protesters also took to the street…with Mao’s image in hands. They were protesting at a speech given by liberal economist Mao Yushi, who were often labeled a “rightist” and occasionally a “traitor.” Last but not the least, petitions by Chinese netizens flooded the White House petition site, demanding the US government to rule on issues ranging from tofu soup flavor to the liberation of the Chinese people.
June kicked off summer with the struggles of China’s underprivileged. A desperate poor man in the coastal city of Xiamen set fire to a rush-hour bus and killed 47 in the blaze. Stories of class and power struggles went on. And nothing is more telling than that of the constant clashes between China’s street vendors and the almighty chengguan, urban law enforcement officers.
In the city of Yan’an, several cyclists were beaten down by a group of chengguan officers for no apparent reason. The video clip where a chengguan officer jumped and stomped on a cyclist’s head angered the whole nation. In the city of Shankou, Guangdong province, however, it was the chengguan officer who was surrounded and stripped, with his neck snapped and balls squeezed. So…in an attempt to look for a way to ease the tension, two chengguan officers in Wuhan went undercover as street vendors.
More similar tragic news came in July. A young petitioner who has been paralyzed after being severely beaten by local police in Xintang denoted a small bomb at Beijing International Airport Terminal 3. It was the second of such cases in 2013 where those who’ve denied justice turned to “mass attacks” to get attention. Meanwhile in Hunan province, a watermelon street vendor was beaten to death by local chengguan officers using a steelyard weight.
The rich and powerful weren’t having an easy life, either. Liu Zhiqun, China’s former minister of railways, was sentenced to suspended death for bribery and power abuse. Wang Lin, a “telepathic” Qigong master who had troops of followers among China’s rich and famous, was busted and forced to flee the country. As if the rich still didn’t’t look bad enough for “worshiping” a Qigong master, many of them were found to pay loads of money to hire wet nurses for the unmatched health benefits of breast milk.
The summer heat was also making people more daring to speak out. Vice governor of the southern province of Guizhou called netizens who criticized problems in China “scum” and thought they should go to the US. A Tsinghua University law professor said it did less harm to rape a bargirl than to rape a good woman. An elderly Chinese man thought those who were still single at the age of 30 should be sentenced. And of course, there was also the Chinese ugly duckling which is probably the most daring children’s story you will ever read.
The political drama of the decade around former Chinese political star Bo Xilai was brought to an end in August. The live courtroom broadcasting started like the House of Cards with corruptions and schemes, but ended like the Real Housewives of Beijing with scandals and affairs.
At the same time, the crackdown on online “rumor mongers” that, seen from now, has greatly changed China’s social media landscape, began. Charles Xue, a prominent angel investor and liberal voice online, was the first to be arrested.
Beijing’s online crackdown intensified through September. Even governal legal organs thought the move was unconstitutional. At the same time, the image of nü han zi (女汉子), a strong and independent woman, has been widely celebrated among Chinese females who were more than happy to challenge the country’s traditional view of soft and submissive women.
Two news in October have the potential to influence China in many years that follow. First, Beijing worked out an education reform plan that will de-emphasize the importance of English in both school curriculum and exams. In a country like China that is known for its obsession with English, the impact will be huge. Secondly, the rise of tu hao, a class that is both uncouth and wealthy, caught national attention. Everybody was eager to make friends with tu hao – they don’t have taste, but they are rich.
November was politically charged. At the beginning of the month, a Taiwanese musician ignited fury among Chinese netizen for holding up a Republic of China flag, whereas a Hong Kong star was ridiculed for “kissing the ass of the Party.” Then, US ambassador to China Gary Locke resigned, probably out of fear of Bejing’s suffocating air.
In the middle of the month, Bejing released the highly anticipated Third Plenum communique, summarizing development and reform plans in following years. The most-discussed policy in the communique and the one that will have the biggest impact on shaping the future China is the ease of one-child policy. Couples are now allowed to have two children if one of them is an only child. But many believed that the police was too little too late to significantly improve China’s problems of an aging population with shrinking workforce.
2013 ended with Mao’s 120th birthday in December, and Mao is never short of controversies. Though the image of Mao as an “unprecedented great man” still has a deep root in China, the younger generations start to view Mao as someone who’ve done more harm than good to the Chinese people.
The year also ended with a touch of fun. Weibo’s “hot mom contest” went viral. And Hunan Satellite TV’s new hit show “Where Are We Going, Dad?” highlighted some very encouraging changes of the role of fathers in China.