The smell of Jasmine

I don’t believe that Jasmine Revolution will break out in China, because any suspicious move of assembly will be quashed by the government, and what is more, there are too many benefiting from the establishment. They don’t want to overthrow it.

I like what a Chinese writer (慕容雪村)said: the flower season of the jasmine has not arrived yet, but this doesn’t stop us from reminiscing about the smell of jasmine. (茉莉花的花期還未到,但這不妨礙我們去想一想茉莉花的香味。)

He was speaking at an event taking place in Hong Kong. While he was speaking, more people were being arrested in the mainland for allegedly initiating and spreading the jasmine revolution messages on the web.

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?

Carrying iphones & ipads into China

I was crossing the border to Shenzhen from Hong Kong at Huanggang the other day, and was standing behind the customs area, waiting for friends. A foreigner was walking through the customs carrying with him a box, the package of which suggests that it contained an ipad. He was stopped by the customs officers and it was obvious that he ran into trouble by carrying the gadget with him. He seemed to be arguing with the officers and gradually lost temper. No doubt he was requested to give tax on his ipad.

I later read reports that people carrying iphones 4 or ipads into China will be taxed RMB 1,000 (value estimated to be RMB 5,000 so 20% tax is RMB 1,000 ). Any items, valued over RMB 5,000, even if they are for self-use, have to be taxed, according to the reports. If you don’t want to be taxed, you can place the items with the customs and take them back when you leave China. But then you may need to pay a custody fee as well.

The latest news is that Chinese Customs has publicly defened its practice, saying that a tax of RMB 1000 on ipads is justified, which is in accordance with WTO rules and international practice. So be prepared to be taxed if you an ipad or a new iphone into China.