China’s high-speed trains

China has, at 8,358 kilometres, the longest high-speed rail network in the world. In December 2010, the Guangzhou-Zhuhai express rail commenced trail operation, with the travel time between the two cities reduced to 30 minutes. And the high-profile Shanghai-Beijing express rail is scheduled for operation in June.

Yet, ordinary Chinese people will have to face tougher uphill battles in the coming Chinese New Year in order to get a train ticket to return home for festive celebration. Reason? As China develops express rail links, the regular train services have been cut and for those that can only afford regular train price, especially the migrant workers and the students, they are destined harder to get a train ticket.

How expensive are the tickets for the high speed train? Take the Guangzhou-Wuhan high-speed trains. A second-class ticket costs RMB490. And how much does, say a migrant worker earn? Here are some pointers. The minimum wage in Shenzhen is RMB1,100; and starting March this year, the minimum wage in Guangzhou will be raised to RMB1,300, topping the whole country. In the second-tier and third-tier cities, the minimum wage are significantly lower.

High-speed trains are a symbol of China’s technology advancement and economic might. But the fact is, they are also a symbol of benefiting the rich, leaving those ordinary and poor even more behind.

Why the Foxconn girl wanted to die

Up to last month, 15 young people working in the Foxconn factories had died from committing suicides. Tian Yu is one of the four survivors of suicide attempts at Foxconn, which produces gadgets for Apple. She jumped from her fourth floor dormitory at Foxconn’s Longhua plant in Shenzhen in March this year. The youngest among those attempted  suicide, the 17-year-old is now receiving treatment in a hospital in Wuhan.

Tian Yu’s father is a man who has worked all his life farming land. Tian decided to follow her cousin who was working at a Shenzhen factory, after finishing vocational training in computer and failing to find a job. She found a place in Foxconn and after basic training, started her first job – inspecting computer screens. She was given only a few seconds to do the checking and this monotonous process continued for 10 hours a day.

And she was assigned to live with workers coming from other hometowns far from her own’s, and who worked different shifts. She had no friends there and stayed all the time in the factory. She had never been to the centre of Shenzhen during the first month of working in Foxconn.

After one month’s work, she was confused about how to claim her wages. She was told by her supervisor that she needed to go to another Foxconn plan, more than an hour’s bus ride away.

She then had only five yuen left in her pocket and a broken mobile phone. So she took a bus to claim her one-month salary, only to be brushed away by people there, asking her to go to someone else for help.

“I was so angry that my mind went blank,” Tian said. “Why was it so hard to get what I had earned? Why must they torture me like this? I felt so bad at the time, and I didn’t want to be insulted any more so I went home.” She told South China Morning Post.

In her dormitory, she was penniless and alone, as all others had gone on night shifts. She cried herself to sleep. The next morning, she jumped from the dormitory to escape from her desperation and helplessness.

“Why was it so hard to get what I had earned?” After reading the story, this line resonates in me. You must work hard for me, but I don’t care if you get what you deserve. That is the plight of migrant workers in China (and not to mention things like the military style management and the dormitory arrangement in factories like Foxconn).

Confucius Peace Prize?

To smear and sabotage Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize, China has gone to the unthinkable extent. It threatens the Chinese living in Norway to stage protest against the award; and it creates a farce by staging an award called Confucius Peace Prize given to a six-year-old girl.

According to the South China Morning Post, the award committee refused to reveal the girl’s background at a chaotic press conference.

The brochure handed out at the press conference says Lien Chan, former Taiwanese president, was selected by internet users as the winner. Asked when and on what website the online voting was done, a professor from Beijing Normal University, who along with two professors forms the award committee, said they failed to carry out the voting because of “technical problems”. So how has the winner been selected?

And, you must be wondering why then the girl turns out to be the winner, not Lien Chan as mentioned in the brochure. No answer either. She stands in for Lien Chan – that is what we are told.

According to the award committee, which claims to be a non-profit organization,  the Confucius Peace Prize, with the award of 100,000 yuan, aims to advance the “Chinese viewpoint of peace”. For the Chinese authority, it seems, our common values like human rights and peace, all denote differently for the Chinese. Or it claims to be.

When can China demonstrate not only its economic power, but also power of civilization its four thousand years of history has embedded in it?

Liu Xiaobo

It was just announced that Liu Xiaobo has received the Nobel Peace Prize 2010. Great news indeed – the world has not bowed to China and lived up to the common values of human mankind.

Liu’s reaction to it? “I dedicate the prize to those having died in the June 4 event.” And then he shed his tears, according to his wife Liu Xia who informed him about the news. It is a reaction that I would have expected from Liu, who keeps a low profile in his resilient fight for freedom of speech and democracy in China.

I wrote this post about Liu and his wife on 26 December 2009, and would like to copy here as my token of tribute to Liu:
 
“China’ most prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo was sentenced by the court to 11 years in jail on Christmas Day.

This is the fourth time he has been imprisoned because of his political position and his writings. He was researching in the US while the student democratic movement broke out in China in 1989. He rushed back to China and gave support to the students. He was jailed afterwards by the Chinese government.

But that marked only the first sentencing he, as a dissident, received of a series to follow. Each time he was released, he kept on writing and speaking his mind about how to make China a better and democratic country, and each time he was sentenced to imprisonment or a labour camp.

How Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, supports him is touching. She married him when he was in the labour camp. She sent him books when he was in prison so that he knew what her thoughts were and it was a way of communication between them, Liu Xia said. They also wrote poems to each other.

After the latest jail sentence was announced, Liu Xia told reporters in a clam voice: “If he (Liu Xiaobo) can persevere in the face of the ordeal, so can I.” Liu will be over 60 years old when he is released, she said.

She has had her head shaved. She is such a strong and steel-willed woman, just like her husband. “

Who is the chief at mainland university?

It is reported that at a Shenzhen university, some 40 professors competed for the post of Chuzhang (處長),a mid-level official title in the mailand’s bureaucratic system. Why is it that the professors are so keen to be an official? In most other countries, the professors and scholars are usually happy to be left focusing on their research and teaching. They don’t want to bother with administrative work. Not in China. The average basic salary in China for a professor is less than RMB25,000 (US$3,700) a year. If you are an official in the university, you will have much more, including large expenses allowances, fully paid overseas trips and even personal chauffeurs.

And they have power too – great power. The officials in the university have the biggest say on everything, from deciding which staff and courses to stay to funding distribution. So who is the top man in the university? You would think it is the President or Vice chancellor. Nope. It is the communist party secretary. Every public university, even now, has a communist party secretary who is the “decider” of the university.

For mainland’s universities to be world-class, they have a really long way to go. Not until there is revolutionary change in the society when it values free thinking and democracy.