The Chinese government has sealed off about 30,000 residents in parts of Yumen, a city in northeast China.
The move comes a week after a 38-year-old man died from the bubonic plague (also known as the black death). The man is said to have contracted the disease after coming in contact with a marmot- a rodent similar to the groundhog.
Residents have been told they cannot leave the area, and police have set up roadblocks to enforce that decree. Yumen has a population of 100,000 people, but only certain portions of the city have been isolated.
Besides the 30,000 people sealed off, the government has also put 151 people who had direct contact with the man under quarantine.
There is no word yet on how long the situation will last, but city officials have said they have enough rice, flour and oil to supply the 30,000 residents for a month.
Although the bubonic plague is rare in China, it is not totally unheard of. Since 2009, there have been an estimated 12 cases in China, with four deaths.
The plague can work extremely fast, sometimes killing a person within 24 hours of the initial infection. However, modern antibiotics have proven effective in treating the disease if it is detected quickly. Beijing officials say the chances of the outbreak spreading are low.
Check out the original story from the Daily Mail here.
China’s economy has been growing at an extremely fast pace over the last couple of decades. Their annual GDP has been rising rapidly, especially since the late 90s, and is expected to surpass U.S. GDP next year.
A huge part of this growth has come from construction and real estate. Real estate has become a larger and larger portion of the Chinese economy in recent years.
But even those who have been well aware of China’s rapidly growing real estate sector will be shocked by this tweet posted by Bill Gates a few days ago.
Just to add some more perspective, in the last 100 years the U.S. has built pretty much the entire interstate highway system, as well as thousands of skyscrapers, tens of thousands of dams and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.
China’s real estate market is not really what it seems, though. There are a number of ghost towns in China- extravagantly built new neighborhoods full of shiny new buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. The only thing missing is people.
While some argue that the towns will eventually be inhabited as more and more Chinese citizens move up to the middle class, many analysts say that very few people will actually be able to afford to live in these new developments any time soon.
60 Minutes did a great piece on China’s ghost towns last year. You can watch it below. You can check out aerial images of some of the ghost towns courtesy of Business Insider here.
It’s also worth noting that China’s housing market has taken a downturn recently. China is the world’s largest trading nation- the fact that their economy depends so heavily on this sector is fueling worries that a Chinese housing slump could cause economic reverberations across the globe.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the government massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in China’s Tiananmen Square. The massacre was the culmination of a prolonged campaign by the communist Chinese government to crackdown on dissent.
After the death of the liberal reformer Hu Yaobang, pro-democracy student activists occupied the square to mourn his death and protest against the increasingly oppressive communist regime.
After the students had occupied the square for about seven weeks, the government sent in soldiers and tanks to clear them out and enforce the martial which had been declared amid the protests.
Protesters who chose to defy them were met with assault rifles and gunpowder. The event also produced this now famous clip of a man attempting to stop a whole battalion of tanks by himself:
The crackdown was bloody. There were hundreds of injuries and many deaths, though the government has never released official figures on the loss of life from the massacre. In fact, the government has been doing its best to totally remove the event from the collective memory of Chinese citizens since it happened.
Even now, 25 years later, China has enacted strict laws forbidding the commemoration of the massacre. Since April, 50 people, including writers, activists, artists, lawyers, journalists, filmmakers and relatives of those killed in 1989, have been, “detained, disappeared or summoned for police questioning” for discussing or planning to observe the 25th anniversary of the massacre today.
Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), says that this year’s censorship is the worst it has ever been:
“The leaders are more nervous because they feel less secure due to increasing social conflict and widespread discontent. They fear any display of dissent might spark protests against the government.”
Despite the risks, however, many of the victims’ relatives are still choosing to speak out about the tragedy. Liu Meihua lost her 21-year-old son in the massacre. She had this to say in an interview with the Telegraph:
“My only wish is for the government to reevaluate the June 4 incident. I have felt sad every single day since my son’s departure… I doubt I will live to see that day because of my age. No government body has ever offered us an explanation or a solution or taken responsibility for the issue. Young people today know little about June 4, since it is rarely read about or talked about, and the older people are dying out.”
As the relatives of those lost grow older, the bullying tactics of the Chinese government seem to have less and less of an effect. Sharon Hom is executive director of the organization Human Rights in China (HRIC), which just released a video with rare footage of statements being made by the families of five of the massacre victims. She puts it this way:
“The surveillance, the threats, the monitoring, the phones, all of that: they have kind of reached a plateau. Fear is no longer effective to keep them silent because they are saying: ’What more can you do to us?’ Now they are going to speak out.”
Last month, on April 1, China’s Anhui province announced a very strange new policy: as of the 1st of June, the province will be banning all burials. Anyone whose death isn’t registered before that deadline will have to be cremated.
However, any deaths registered before the deadline will still be allowed burial rights, so dozens of elderly Chinese residents in Anhui have been committing suicide so that they can die in time to be buried.
Why is Anhui province doing this? According to authorities, who have been visiting Anhui’s funeral homes and smashing up all the coffins, cemeteries are simply taking up too much space.
The policy hasn’t been met with too much opposition in the urban areas of Anhui, where the people are more modernized and are therefore less bothered by the idea of cremation.
However, many Chinese residents living in rural areas still follow very traditional systems of belief, including the belief that cremation is abhorrent and disgraceful.
There have been a number of stories of elderly people committing suicide and leaving behind notes explaining that they wanted to die in time to receive a proper burial. Three villages in the province have reported seven or more suicides each since the announcement of the new policy, and there have also been a number of deaths in Anhui’s provincial capital.
A team from Texas, California and Washington recently published research which found that pollution from Asia (the bulk of which is from China), is causing more intense tornados and increased precipitation levels in the United States as well as an increase in the amount of warm air in the mid-Pacific.
This air is part of a weather system known as the Pacific storm track- many storms that end up on the United States’ west coast originate in this weather system. The warmer air being fed into the Pacific storm track due to the air pollution increases the potential for storms originating there to be larger and more violent.
Here’s Ellie Highwood, climate physicist at the University of Reading:
“Mid-latitude storms develop off Asia and they track across the Pacific, coming in to the west coast of the US … The particles in this model are affecting how strong those storms are, how dense the clouds are, and how much rainfall comes out of those storms.”
The pollution problem in China is widespread. Just last moth, their environmental ministry reported that 71 of the 74 cities monitored by the government failed to meet air quality standards.
The government does seem to finally be taking the issue seriously, however. Just yesterday, Beijing’s leadership announced that very soon, major revisions would be made to the country’s environmental protection laws, including giving environmental protection authorities power to,
“Shut polluting factories, punish officials and restrict industrial development in some areas.”
After years of rhetoric, it will be the first real change to the environmental protection law since 1989.
Ok, “literally” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m of the opinion that you must have a healthy dose of insanity to do what Russian free-climber Kirill Oreshkin does, so I stand by that title. Here’s some of his more insane pictures- click an image to enlarge and check out his website to see more photos.
Here’s a video of Kirill and his buddy Vitaly Raskalov climbing China’s Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building at just over 2073 feet tall. It really gets crazy at around the 2:00 mark. If you’re not good with heights, prepare yourself…
Here’s another video that shows some of the highlights of his various climbs.
Jack Matlock was the last American ambassador to the Soviet Union, serving in that office from April 6, 1987 until August 11, 1991, as the Soviet Union dissolved.
He recently spoke to Democracy Now! about the current turmoil in eastern Europe. Here’s some of what he said:
“I think that what we have seen is a reaction, in many respects, to a long history of what the Russian government, the Russian president and many of the Russian people—most of them—feel has been a pattern of American activity that has been hostile to Russia and has simply disregarded their national interests.
“They feel that having thrown off communism, having dispensed with the Soviet Empire, that the U.S. systematically, from the time it started expanding NATO to the east, without them, and then using NATO to carry out what they consider offensive actions about an—against another country—in this case, Serbia—a country which had not attacked any NATO member, and then detached territory from it—this is very relevant now to what we’re seeing happening in Crimea—and then continued to place bases in these countries, to move closer and closer to borders, and then to talk of taking Ukraine, most of whose people didn’t want to be a member of NATO, into NATO, and Georgia. Now, this began an intrusion into an area which the Russians are very sensitive.
“Now, how would Americans feel if some Russian or Chinese or even West European started putting bases in Mexico or in the Caribbean, or trying to form governments that were hostile to us? You know, we saw how we virtually went ballistic over Cuba. And I think that we have not been very attentive to what it takes to have a harmonious relationship with Russia.”
I think a lot of Matlock’s points are pretty valid, but when it comes to trying to find causes for major political changes, it will always be somewhat unclear how responsible certain past events were.
So what do you think?
Here’s the full video of the interview if you’re interested.
About a week ago, the US State Department published its annual report on the state of human rights worldwide. In their report, they highlighted China, saying that despite some positive reforms,
“China continued its crackdown on human rights activists, increased repression in ethnic Tibetan and Uighur areas, and continued to severely restrict the freedoms of expression, religion, association, and assembly.”
Apparently, the Chinese government got sick of being called out by the US, and responded the next day by releasing a list of the US’s own human rights violations.
In the foreword, China’s State Council (who published the report) says,
“The State Department of the United States, which posed as “the world judge of human rights,” made arbitrary attacks and irresponsible remarks on the human rights situation in almost 200 countries and regions again in its just-released Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013. However, the U.S. carefully concealed and avoided mentioning its own human rights problems.”
The report is expansive, but focuses on a few major issues:
The privacy violations of the mass-surveillance NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden
Civilian casualties as a result of drone strikes (particularly in Pakistan, where drone strikes have killed 926 civilians since 2004)
The “cruel and unusual” punishment of long-term isolation of prisoners in solitary confinement (some for up to 40 years) and torture of prisoners by US officials abroad
Mass murders and rampant gun violence within the US
NHK is Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, similar to the BBC in Britain. As a public broadcasting network, it has an obligation to be politically unbiased.
However, in the last two weeks, some of the NHK’s 12 board-members have been making some pretty radical claims.
Naoki Hyakuta (Photo: Japan Free Press)
First is Naoki Hyakuta, who recently said that Japan was,
“Lured into the Second World War by America while liberating Asia from white colonialism.”
He also denied a number of war crimes, most notably the 1937 Nanjing massacre, when Japanese troops sacked the city of Nanjing, killing thousands of Chinese civilians.
Then there’s the NHK’s new chairman, Katsuo Momii, who shocked reporters at a press conference two weeks ago when he said it was “only natural” to tow the government line on territorial disputes with Japan’s neighbors, saying,
“When the government says left we can’t say right.”
Momii then defended Japan’s system of sex slavery during wartime, saying that systems like this are “commonplace” during war.
So what explains these sudden outlandish claims from a network that is historically respected for its impartiality?
Naoki Hyakuta and Katsuo Momii are 2 of 4 NHK board-members who were reportedly hand-picked by right-wing President Shinzo Abe.
Recently, an unusually scathing editorial in The Japan Times stated that,
“Momii is perfectly willing to, in effect, turn NHK into a propaganda mouthpiece of the current administration.”
These drastic claims definitely aren’t helping Japan’s already tense relations with the Chinese, who are highly pissed off (and very justifiably so, I might add) at the denial of the Nanjing massacre.