Asian Correspondent » Michael Evans Asian Correspondent Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:16:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Job prospects improve for China graduates, but pessimism still remains Thu, 20 Dec 2012 14:06:26 +0000

Over half a million of China’s 2011 university graduates  are still without work, according to media reports last month, the latest in an apparently unending stream of bad news for Chinese students entering the job market.

This year’s seemingly dismal data hides the fact that compared to previous years, prospects appear to be slowly but steadily improving both for students looking for their first job and the newly-employed navigating the workforce.

Pic: China Photos/Getty

A survey this past August by the educational research company Mycos found that 53 percent of recent graduates are unsatisfied with their present jobs.

But this figure is a clear improvement from last year, when 60 percent of those surveyed reported disappointment with their new positions.

This lack of either material or emotional fulfillment has led many recent graduates to seek greener pastures.

Mycos reported in August that one third of all university graduates quit their first job less than one year after entering the workforce.

Of those who quit, 30 percent cited a lack of “space for personal development” as their main reason for leaving their job, while 21 percent pointed to low salaries and poor benefits.

But even this figure is an improvement from the year before.

Last year, Mycos reported that 34 percent of 2010 graduates quit their job within only six months.  The previous year, a significantly lower 20 percent of 2009 graduates quit within the same time period.

In both years, the quit rate was roughly 10 percent lower for graduates of China’s “Project 211” schools – a list of the country’s 113 top institutions – compared to other universities.

But unsatisfied as they may be, these newest members of China’s workforce are the envy of many of their classmates, who struggle to find job for months after graduation.

But graduate unemployment has steadily declined over recent years.  Ten percent of 2011 graduates remained unemployed six months after graduation, according to MyCos, the same number as in 2010, and down from 13 percent the year before, and 14 percent in 2008.

These statistics are little encouragement to those searching for work out of college, though, and bear little relation to their daily experiences in China’s ultra-competitive job market.

“It is getting even harder for us to get a job than the previous graduates of my major because fewer positions are left for me and my classmates,” said Li Junjie, who graduated from the Communication University of China in Beijing this past June.

“Media outlets here look for professionals or native English speakers, not fresh Chinese graduates with only a diploma,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in August.

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China’s Red Cross fights online rumors as hospital investigation continues Thu, 08 Nov 2012 00:44:45 +0000

As China’s Red Cross continues to investigate abuses in its hospitals, the organization has pledged greater attention to deflecting online criticism and combating internet rumors.

At an Oct. 29 news conference in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, officials announced the results of a recent investigation into Red Cross-affiliated hospitals in the region.

A team of doctors from the Red Cross Society of Hebei province undertaking an emergency rescue drill. Pic: China Daily

Out of a total 189 Red Cross hospitals in Jiangsu, 173 passed inspection.  Of those that failed, the organization is currently considering whether or not to revoke the Red Cross affiliation of 11 hospitals, while the remaining 5 will be ordered to undergo reorganization.

Describing the reasons why hospitals might lose their Red Cross affiliation, Jiangsu Red Cross Party Secretary Li Xinping gave a variety of reasons.

In some hospitals, “procedures failed to meet standards, some had been converted into privately-run hospitals, while others had become community service centers.”

Li added that the province’s inspection of Red Cross hospitals had in effect been completed, and that the results would be submitted to China’s national Red Cross authorities for a final verdict.

The nationwide campaign to evaluate China’s nearly 2000 Red Cross hospitals was launched last June, in a joint effort with the country’s Ministry of Health.

The move came on the heels of a series of local investigations prompted by high-profile stories of malpractice and mismanagement at Red Cross-affiliated hospitals.

At the news conference in Nanjing, Red Cross executive vice-president Zhao Baige also announced plans to establish an inspection committee to oversee the organization’s management.

In explaining the Red Cross’s impetus for this latest move, Zhao once again cited last year’s Guo Meimei scandal that many have pinpointed as the beginning of the Red Cross’s current troubles.

But she also mentioned the “sarcastic reaction” by netizens to an appeal for donations during this summer’s devastating floods in Beijing.

A July 24 microblog post by the Beijing government calling for residents to donate to disaster relief was met with a wave of online obscenities.  Many netizens expressed disbelief that the government was able to lavishly fund foreign aid projects, but had little to spend on its own distressed citizens.

“Comments on the Internet made us consider reform,” Zhao told reporters at the press conference.  “The emotions of the public are an important driving force for us to improve our work.”


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China’s civil service exam draws record number of applicants Wed, 07 Nov 2012 00:30:40 +0000

A record number of applicants sat for the provincial civil service exam in Sichuan province this past Sunday, a sign of the growing popularity of government jobs in a risky and uncertain employment market.

The East China Metropolis News reported Saturday that 227,000 people had registered to take the exam, each competing for a slot among 8821 job openings in the Sichuan provincial government.

The newspaper noted that while the overall ratio of examinees to jobs was 26 to 1, for the most saught-after jobs, the ratio was a staggering 671 to 1.

Examinees wait in a classroom before the examination starts in Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province. Pic: Xinhua

Authorities promised to strictly monitor testing centers for signs of cheating, complete with mobile surveillance vans monitoring and blocking signals relaying answers to wired-up cheaters within test centers.

For the first time, proctors have posted clear warnings that any examinee found using a cell phone will have their scores cancelled and be banned from retaking the examination within 5 years.

But the competition for government posts in Sichuan pales in comparison to the scramble for jobs in China’s national government bureaucracy.

An estimated 2 million applicants are expected to take next year’s national-level civil service examination, a record high after two years of falling registration.

Examinees taking the national exam will be competing for a similarly scarce 20,800 positions, a success rate of just over 1 percent.

While government jobs typically lack the high salaries found in the private sector, job security and generous benefits – both official and under the table – make civil service positions an attractive option that has earned the nickname “the golden rice bowl.”

“Government jobs are the best,” Shenzhen labor expert Liu Kaiming said flatly in an interview with Businessweek. “They provide money and stability.”

The official Communist Party newspaper Guangming Daily reported Friday that over the past decade, registration for the exam had increased a staggering 42 fold.

In 2001, a mere 30,000 applicants had registered for the exam.  Last year, the total exceeded 1.4 million.

Chinese media have dubbed the explosion in applicants a “civil service exam craze,” with symptoms rivaling that of any mania.  The most dedicated test-takers shell out thousands of yuan for special exam prep books and classes.

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Shenyang hospital calls attention to China’s rising student abortions Tue, 06 Nov 2012 01:20:48 +0000

On September 26, shoppers in the northeastern city of Shenyang were surprised to see four women wearing clothing decorated with condoms parading through a mall in the city center.

The women explained that they were nurses at a local women’s hospital, and had chosen their unorthodox attire to raise awareness of World Contraception Day.

While the move succeeded in grabbing the attention of passersby, reactions were not entirely positive.

“This kind of publicity stunt is too bizarre!” a man identified only by his surname Liu told the Shenyang Evening News.  “It makes us all feel uncomfortable.”

Speaking to a local newspaper, hospital staff explained the publicity stunt by pointing to the increasing numbers of younger patients they are beginning to see more regularly.

“Every summer and winter vacation, a scene repeats itself again and again at the hospital door.  A young couple stands outside, the girl in tears, the boy looking helpless,” said one doctor identified only as Professor Wang, from an unnamed Shenyang hospital.

Wang told the Shenyang Evening News that her hospital’s “high tide” of students seeking abortions comes when schools go on vacation.  The hospital performs an average of ten abortions every day during such periods, with the majority of patients first- and second-year university students.

“Many girls have to eat vegetables and drink water for three months, just so they can save money for the surgery,” Wang said.  “As a result, their bodies are especially weak.  It makes your heart ache to see them”

Wang explained that after three or more abortions, it will often be difficult for a woman to get pregnant again.

But she said that few patients understood such aftereffects, and recalled that she once treated a young woman in her 20s who had already undergone eight abortions.

“I’m afraid that for the rest of her life, it will be hard for her to get pregnant again,” Wang said.

Over 13 million abortions are performed every year in China, according to a government report released in September, more than any other nation on earth.

The study noted that 65 percent of patients who undergo abortion are unmarried women between 20 and 29 years old.

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Despite tough job market, China’s college students expect higher salaries Mon, 05 Nov 2012 00:00:52 +0000

Faced with an increasingly competitive job market, China’s Class of 2013 remains optimistic, expecting starting salaries higher than those earned by the previous year’s graduates, according to a recent survey.

But similar surveys in years past suggest that actual starting salaries will likely fall far short of graduates’ high hopes.

Job seekers look at employment information during a job fair in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, March 17, 2012. Pic: Xinhua

The survey, conducted jointly by online giant Tencent and educational research company Mycos, was released Oct. 16 and reported in the Beijing News on Oct. 29.

Students preparing to graduate from four-year universities say they expect to earn 3026 yuan per month in their first job.

The expected salary is 6 percent higher than that predicted by 2011 graduates in a survey conducted last year, who expected 165 yuan less.

Those planning to graduate from vocational schools expected 2506 yuan, up 9 percent from 2011, a 212 yuan increase.

Expectations of master’s degree students stayed largely consistent with last year’s estimates, the survey said, with an average 4720 yuan roughly unchanged from the 4655 yuan expected in 2011.

But optimistic graduates may be in for a rude awakening once they enter the job market next year.  Actual salaries in recent years have consistently fallen short of students’ expectations.

In 2011, graduates expected a monthly salary of 2861 yuan.  But that year’s actual average monthly salary came to 2719 yuan, according to Tsinghua University’s China Data Center.

The previous year, China’s Class of 2010 earned an average 2694 yuan per month, compared to an expected salary of 2935 yuan.

Disappointing salaries have contributed to university graduates’ growing dissatisfaction with their jobs.

Over a third of recent graduates quit their first job less than a year after finishing school, according to a Mycos survey released in August.  Of those who left their jobs, 21 percent said that low pay and poor benefits were their main reason for quitting.

Many have noted that while university graduates’ salaries have remained largely stagnant, blue-collar workers have seen their incomes gradually rise in recent years.

In a study that grabbed headlines across the country this past August, researchers at Tsinghua University reported that 69 percent of this year’s college graduates earn less than 2,000 yuan every month, slightly less than the average income of China’s migrant laborers.

The report called attention not only to the difficulties faced by China’s growing number of university graduates, but underscored what many see as the lack of marketable skills that graduates bring to the job market.

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New rumors fuel China’s long-simmering Golden Week debate Wed, 24 Oct 2012 06:42:42 +0000

On Oct 10, as millions in China went back to work, China’s National Tourism Administration denied rumors sparked by an article in the Communist Party newspaper Guangming Daily suggesting that authorities were considering restoring the May Day Golden Week holiday.

Such rumors have been a regular occurrence since China’s current holiday schedule came into effect four years ago, and reflect a seemingly unwinnable battle over China’s May 1 Labor Day holiday stretching back over a decade.

People stand next to their cars during a traffic jam in Shenzhen city, Guangdong province. Pic: Rex Features

The 7-day May Day holiday was first implemented in 2000, along with similar week-long holidays for National Day and Chinese New Year.

However the “Golden Week” holidays rapidly attracted many critics, who called for them to be replaced with flexible holidays at the discretion of individual employers, rather than the central government.

After the 2004 National Day holiday, an online survey found that 44 percent of respondents favored abolishing the Golden Week holidays.

Many critics then pointed to the same complaints being raised today: overwhelming crowds, inflated prices, and stress on China’s travel infrastructure.

The government responded in late 2007, cutting back the May Day vacation to a single day, and creating additional, shorter holidays throughout the year.

But the new holiday schedule found little public support after being implemented in 2008. The following year a poll by the official People’s Daily newspaper found that over 92 percent of more than 5 million respondents favored restoring the May Day Golden Week.

At the 2009 session of China’s parliament, some delegates pushed for legislation restoring the week-long May Day holiday.

Zhang Xiqin, a former official in the National Tourism Administration and member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference argued that the holiday would boost the tourism industry and increase consumption, providing a much-needed stimulus to China’s economy.

But the government argued that the full effects of abolishing the Golden Week holiday remained to be seen after less than a year since the new policy took effect.

Ultimately, the state-run China Daily reminded readers, the decision to set the country’s holiday schedule lay with the State Council rather than the national legislature.

Alternate plans to deal with the issue on a local level similarly gained widespread media attention, but had little effect.

On March 25, authorities in Guangdong announced a week-long May Day holiday for residents of the southern province, but China’s State Council immediately overruled the decision the following day.

Experts speculated that while many top officials favored restoring the May Day Golden Week on a local basis, the central government was irked by Guangdong party chief Wang Yang’s unveiling of the plan without first seeking Beijing’s approval.

In place of the current system of nationally-mandated holidays, some experts have proposed leaving workers’ vacation schedules in the hands of individual employers.

But the lack of any system to monitor and enforce such a policy would leave it open to abuse.  Dai Xuefeng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told the Global Times last month that many employees already do not receive all the vacation days they are entitled to.


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Will Nobel laureate Mo Yan join China’s biggest TV variety show? Tue, 23 Oct 2012 03:22:39 +0000

Amid the online buzz surrounding the Oct. 11 announcement of Mo Yan’s Nobel win, many netizens predicted that he would make an appearance at next year’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala.

The gala, broadcast nationwide on the eve of Chinese New Year, is China’s biggest television event, a glitzy annual tradition dating back to 1983.

A CCTV department responsible for the Spring Festival Gala responded tersely to the speculation on Oct 15.

“At the moment, there is truly no way to answer this question,” said spokesperson Ma Xing.  “The programming group will make no reply whatsoever.”

Pic: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

As incongruous as it may seem, the appearance of a Nobel laureate on a song-and-dance show would hardly break new ground for Chinese television viewers.

In addition to a wide range of guest stars from the worlds of music and cinema, many national heroes and newsmakers have appeared on the CCTV gala in years past.

Yang Liwei, China’s first man in space, was featured as a co-host of the Spring Festival Gala in 2004, wishing viewers a happy new year while holding a Chinese flag.

In the years since, China’s astronauts have made numerous appearances at the annual gala.

But in spite of the online chatter, not everyone was excited by the prospect of seeing Mo Yan on the gala stage.

“Let the old man have a relaxing Spring Festival at home,” one netizen pleaded the state-run broadcaster, according to the Jiangsu newspaper Xin Kuaibao.

With or without Mo Yan, the thirtieth annual Spring Festival Gala will usher in the Year of the Snake on the evening of February 9, 2013.

Less than two weeks after Mo Yan’s win was announced, the author continues to be commemorated in unusual and at times controversial ways.

Officials in the writer’s hometown in Shandong province last week announced a plan to spend 670 million yuan (US $107 million) to develop Mo Yan-themed tourism in the region.

The town of Gaomi aims to build a country club and museum to commemorate Mo Yan, in addition to planting 667 hectares of sorghum, a plant associated with one of his most famous novels.

Gaomi’s mayor has called upon the city to create a “‘Mo Yan’ brand and stress the ‘Mo Yan’ factor,” according to a statement on the Gaomi government website.

The news has brought widespread criticism of the local government’s eagerness to cash in on their native son.  The Global Times panned the sorghum project, with an editorial calling Gaomi officials to task for their lack of consideration for the taxpayers who would foot the bill.

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China’s embattled Red Cross pledges reforms Mon, 22 Oct 2012 08:07:11 +0000

The Red Cross Society of China will finalize plans for an overall organizational reform by the end of the year, to be implemented beginning in 2013, according to a report by the Beijing Morning Post.

However the results of such a reform may be slow in coming.  The newspaper reported that reforms would first be enacted in a number of designated test sites across the country, with this trial stage set to be completed in 2 to 3 years.

The second stage of nationwide reforms could take anywhere from 3 to 7 years to complete, according to the newspaper.

A Red Cross worker in Shanghai counts donations in 2010. Pic: China Photos/Getty Images

China’s Red Cross has spent the past year under intense pressure to reform.  Both the government and the public have lambasted the organization for its lack of transparency in accounting for donations following last summer’s Guo Meimei scandal.

On July 31, China’s State Council ordered the Red Cross to reform its system of governance, with a focus on improving efficiency and transparency.

“The Red Cross Society at various levels must provide information related to fund raising, financial management, tenders, procurement and distribution of donations,” read the State Council decision.  “Donors and the public have the right to know.”

The Red Cross responded by announcing the same week that it planned to publish financial information online for 80 percent of provincial branches by the end of next year, and 50 percent of county branches by 2014.

Authorities have pledged to hold the Red Cross to its word.  Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo said at a Sept. 20 press conference that his ministry would carry out annual inspections of China’s charity organizations, paying particular attention to their financial records.

In addition to reforms currently under discussion, China’s Red Cross is currently undergoing an evaluation by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with results expected soon.

Earlier this year, the organization also launched a nationwide inspection of its network of over 2,400 hospitals operating under the Red Cross name, after a series of high-profile malpractice scandals.

The series of new accusations and embarrassing headlines has taken a toll on the Red Cross.  Donations dropped 60 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to a June 28 report by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs.

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How can China fix “Golden Week” holiday fiasco? Fri, 19 Oct 2012 15:54:58 +0000

As China recovers from a record-breaking week-long National Day vacation, many have begun to debate how the crushing crowds and soaring prices can be avoided when the holiday comes around next year.

Nearly 80 percent of Beijing residents favor the creation of an additional 7-day holiday in May, when China celebrates Labor Day, according to a recent survey.

This picture taken on October 3, 2012 shows visitors gathered on the Great Wall of China outside Beijing. Pic: STR/AFP/Getty Images

People in China had previously enjoyed a May Day “Golden Week” from 2000 until it was abolished in 2007.

The survey also found that 54 percent of residents favor shortening the summer vacation for primary and middle school students, while lengthening the holidays for Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Such measures have previously been recommended by experts, who argue that more extended holidays would allow workers more chances to travel, easing the National Day congestion.

The government survey of Beijing residents was carried Tuesday by the Beijing News, a week after Chinese media reported that 13 million tourists had flooded the nation’s capital during the 7-day holiday, a 23 percent increase from the previous year.

China’s National Tourism Administration claimed record numbers of travelers vacationing across the country, with 34 million tourists passing through 119 major scenic spots monitored by the agency, according to the China Daily.

An estimated 79 million people traveled on China’s railways during the week-long holiday, the state broadcasted CCTV reported.  Meanwhile, 7.6 million passengers chose to travel by air.

Faced with such crowds, 10 percent of Beijing residents surveyed said they would not travel again during next year’s Golden Week.  Over 46 percent said that they would definitely travel again, while 44 percent would wait and see.

Liu Simin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), echoed the call for restoring the May Day Golden Week, according to the Beijing Times.  Liu said that it was necessary to give travelers more chances to take long-distance vacations during the year.

But Wang Jianmin, a tourism specialist also at CASS, rebuffed calls to reverse the 2007 policy eliminating the May Day Golden Week.

“This reform was very difficult to implement, and at the time we undertook a great deal of research,” Wang said, according to the Beijing News.  “Reform can only proceed forward, it cannot go backward.”

Wang told the newspaper that while he favored retaining the current holiday schedule, it was necessary to control crowds at major tourist attractions, particularly those of significant historic importance.

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41% of Chinese trust fewer than 3 people, survey says Fri, 19 Oct 2012 01:47:44 +0000

A survey of Chinese people’s attitudes towards trust paints a picture of a country increasingly suspicious of its neighbors, coworkers, and even family members.

The survey, conducted jointly by Tsinghua University and the Communist Party’s Xiaokang magazine, surveyed attitudes towards trust among 1017 respondents across China.

Just over 41 percent of those surveyed said that they could trust 1 to 3 people,  37 percent said they could trust 4 to 6, while 21 percent could trust more than 6.

Pic: AP

These results show a measurable decline in respondents’ confidence in their fellow Chinese.

Last year, 38 percent said they trusted 1 to 3 people, while 31 percent trusted more than 6.  In 2010, a majority said they trusted 4 to 6 people.

The Tsinghua-Xiaokang survey also painted a bleak picture of trust within the family.

Although 90 percent of respondents said that they felt they could trust their parents, a much lower 56 percent said they could trust their spouse.

Only 39 percent said they trusted their siblings.

This year is the first time in the seven-year history of the annual survey that spouses have overtaken siblings as more trustworthy, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Parents have consistently ranked highest among family members for trustworthiness.

The discouraging statistics come after a year filled with major news stories that have highlighted a disturbing lack of public trust in China.

Last summer’s Guo Meimei scandal turned suspicion on the Red Cross and other charities, which many now suspect of siphoning off donations to pay for lavish banquets and personal shopping sprees.

In the fall of 2011, a wave of national soul-searching was prompted after a series of accident victims – ranging from elderly retirees to a 2 year-old girl – were left unaided by passersby.  Many observers sympathized with the bystanders, expressing fears of being falsely accused of causing the accident and forced to pay compensation.

The Tsinghua-Xiaokang survey also ranked occupations based on their trustworthiness, with peasants topping the list as the most trusted, and lawyers and athletes tying for tenth place.

In addition, the survey examined trust in the government, with 68 percent of respondents saying that they believed the country’s government to be trustworthy.  Trust in the government has risen steadily every year since the survey was first conducted in 2006, Xinhua reported.

However, many respondents also complained that government actions were “not transparent,” and cited issues such as corruption and official negligence as having a negative influence on government trustworthiness.


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Chinese students “surrounded” by abortion ads Thu, 18 Oct 2012 01:16:10 +0000

After a recent government report noted an increase in abortions among young, unmarried women in China, one major news outlet examined an aggressive marketing campaign by abortion providers aimed at female university students.

A report by China News Service (CNS) recounted the experience of Zou Ping, a first-year student studying in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi province.  Zou was out shopping with her friends one day when she picked up a free packet of tissue paper being handed out on the street.

Inside, she found a plastic card offering a discount on abortions at a local hospital, with 50 percent off for patients who showed a student ID.

“I feel like our lives are completely surrounded by ‘painless abortion,’” Zou said.  “In classroom buildings, dorms, as you go into the dining halls, you can see advertisements everywhere.”

Advertisements for "painless abortion" on a city bus in Nanchang, Jiangxi. Pic: CNS

Zou said that she had even found abortion ads pasted on stall doors and trash cans in her university’s restrooms.

A teacher at the Jiangxi Science and Technology Normal University said that the school made special efforts to stop the spread of ads for abortion.

“In addition to forbidding outsiders from entering, the school also organizes students every night to go around and clean up these kinds of ads.”

However, he conceded that “There’s no way to prevent abortion ads from entering the school, and advertisements on buses are outside the school’s control.”

Posing as a student, a reporter for CNS set up an online appointment at Nanchang’s New Age Gynecological Hospital.  After inquiring about abortions, she was assured by someone who claimed to be a “senior doctor” at the hospital that the procedure was safe, with little risk.

He also reminded her of the special low price of 480 yuan available if she scheduled an abortion online in the next 56 days.

Min Qinghua, vice-director of obstetrics and gynecology at the Nanchang University Number One Affiliated Hospital, warned that such persistent promotion of “painless abortion” easily misleads women on the risks and dangers of abortion.

“Nowadays, more and more people suffer from infertility and sterility,” Min said.  “And one major reason is that women hear and blindly trust publicity for painless abortion, and aren’t afraid of abortion surgery, as they once were.”

Min emphasized that surgery was not always as risk-free as many ads claimed, pointing to the risk of coma or even death as a result of mistakes in administering anesthetic.

Min noted that many hospitals offer online appointments for women considering abortion, which he dismissed as “only a kind of advertisement” that promised deceptively low prices without mentioning additional hidden costs.

While ads often promise abortions for around 360 to 480 yuan, additional fees for a pre-surgery checkup, anesthetic, and post-surgery medicines often more than double the final price.

CNS contacted Nanchang’s Tongjichang North Hospital, whose ad appearing on city buses promised abortions for the total price of 360 yuan.  A consultant at the hospital surnamed Zhang admitted that the advertised price “Is just the cost of the surgery, and doesn’t include other fees.”

“After taking the checkup into account, it’s usually around 1000 yuan,” Zhang said.

Nanchang’s Department of Health told CNS that if citizens suspect a hospital advertisement to be misleading, they can call a special government hotline to make a complaint.


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China’s latest smoking ban has little effect, critics say Wed, 17 Oct 2012 00:02:44 +0000

One of China’s largest cities has pledged to step up efforts to crack down on smoking amid complaints that a new smoking ban has been largely ignored by both law enforcement and business owners.

The law banning smoking in public places in Guangzhou came into effect on Sept 1, ushered in with a massive show of force by the city’s law enforcement.

Over 200 police officers and city management officials were dispatched to patrol areas designated as smoke-free by the new ban, from shopping malls to restaurants and karaoke parlors.

Zhao Hong, vice director of the city’s Urban Management Bureau, vowed that authorities would “not be the least bit lenient” in punishing those caught violating the ban.

But in recent weeks many Guangzhou residents have complained that smoking is still prevalent in many places now officially designated as smoke-free.

Signs warn "No Smoking" in a Subway Station May 1, 2011 in Beijing, China. Pic: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images AsiaPac

Critics say that official enforcement has been lax, while restaurant managers and other proprietors have turned a blind eye to customers who smoke on the premises.

The city’s Urban Management Bureau has declined to give statistics on the total number of people fined since the new law came into effect, the China Daily reported last month.

Guangzhou’s government has vowed to address concerns over enforcement of the anti-smoking law, promising greater efforts to monitor public areas where smoking is most common.

The China Daily reported Sept 18 that the city planned to set up a 100-member task force to inspect areas such as restaurants, bars, and karaoke venues to ensure compliance with the ban.

City officials announced on Sept 25 that a new “smoking control office” would be formally established in October.  The announcement also noted that 12 smokers had been fined for violating the ban that day.

But in the nearly three weeks since the announcement, no further details on the proposed office have been released, nor has a precise date been set for its unveiling.

Han Zhipeng, a member of the Guangzhou branch of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, called for harsher penalties for those caught smoking in public places, according to the China Daily.

“The mere 50 yuan penalty is not severe enough,” he said.

In an interview with the Global Times, anti-smoking activist Gregory Tsang said that the effectiveness of efforts to control smoking depend primarily upon the example set by China’s doctors and health officials, many of whom are smokers themselves.

“These people should be setting a good example for smoking control,” Tsang said. “If they themselves are addicted to cigarettes, there is no way to convince the public to stay away from tobacco.”

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13 million abortions in China each year, govt says Fri, 12 Oct 2012 00:57:00 +0000

Over 13 million abortions are performed in China each year, according to a report last week by China’s Population Communication Center.

A study cited by the center found that 65 percent of abortions are performed on unmarried women between 20 and 29 years old.

In addition, 50 percent of women who have abortions had used no form of birth control, while 50 percent had previously had one or more abortions, the study found.

The study was reported in the official People’s Daily on September 30, four days after state media used the occasion of World Contraception Day to examine the poor state of sex education in China today.

A nurse puts free condoms on a shelf at Tongji Medical College's reproductive medical center in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province. Pic: China Daily

A survey reported by the Global Times found that about 41 percent of Chinese teenagers learn about sex through the internet, with social networking sites and discussion boards among the most relied-upon sources of information.

“There have been improvements in sexual education for teenagers, but not all students receive it and the accuracy of the information is not guaranteed,” said Min Yuefu, an expert at the Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences.

Another survey found that only 12 percent of 1000 women aged 20 to 35 said that they “fully understood” contraception, the China Daily reported.

Wu Shangchun, a researcher at the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told the newspaper that it was necessary for birth control education to be spread “through an authoritative channel” to counteract inaccurate or misleading information found on the internet.

Other experts called for efforts to increase public awareness of a wider array of contraception options.

“The advocacy on contraceptive methods has long been focusing on long-term ones, such as intrauterine devices and tubal ligation, and the use of condoms, so people are less aware of other ways such as using contraceptive pills,” said Zhang Hanxiang, director of the China Population Communication Center.

But while last week’s abortion statistics have provoked considerable surprise and concern in China, the number of abortions performed annually has stayed relatively stable over the past several years.

The same figure of 13 million abortions each year was reported by the China Daily as early as 2009.

Officials pointed to similar factors to explain the large number of abortions, with a report by the National Population and Family Planning Commission showing that nearly half of women who had  abortions had not used any form of birth control.

About 62 percent of abortions in 2009 were by young women aged between 20 and 29, only slightly less than the figures for 2012.

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Girls-only class launched amid debate over China’s “boy crisis” Thu, 11 Oct 2012 03:51:49 +0000

While a Shanghai high school made headlines across China last month by inaugurating a boys-only campus, a school in Nanjing attracted little notice with a similar announcement that it would begin special classes restricted to female students.

Fifty students at People’s Middle School in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, began the new school year this September in what the school described as an experimental program of all-girls classes.

Two girl students clean the platform at a school in Xinjian County, east China's Jiangxi Province. Pic: Xinhua

Currently, only two classes at the school have been set aside for female first-year students, at the middle school and high school levels.

“We feel that a girls’ class can made education a bit more focused for the girls,” one parent told Nanjing’s Jinling Evening News.  “Their studies can be more single-minded.”

Jin Yihong, a professor at the Jinling Women’s College, told the newspaper that girls in coed classes often feel the same pressures and insecurities that characterize the much-discussed “boy crisis.”

Surrounded by their male classmates, female students may feel hesitant to volunteer for traditionally masculine endeavors such as math and sports.

“In an environment without boys, no matter what the situation, girls have to depend on themselves, take charge on their own, and cultivate their initiative and individuality,” Jin said.

“You can sense that parents are a bit confused about how to approach girls’ education,” a teacher at the school explained.  “Especially as children enter adolescence, there are many questions that need specialized guidance.”

In addition to the material used in regular coed classes, the school is currently considering adding “activity-type curricula appropriate for girls.”  With courses such as home economics, self-development, and artistic cultivation, students would learn such skills as knitting, financial management, and physical fitness.

School officials also said that they had already decided to hire a non-Chinese language teacher to help students develop their oral English.

Nanjing’s People’s Middle School was originally founded in 1902 as the Huiwen Women’s Middle School, and only became coeducational in 1968, during China’s Cultural Revolution.  Now, administrators say they are looking to reclaim the school’s heritage.

Earlier this year, Shanghai’s Number 8 Senior High School attracted widespread media attention by announcing that it would set aside a special campus for two boys-only classes.  Approximately 60 students began their studies in the new program last month, chosen out of over 270 applicants.


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For China’s restless new graduates, job-hopping is popular, but risky Fri, 28 Sep 2012 11:56:19 +0000

Over one third of China’s recent college graduates quit their job in less than a year after finishing school, a recent survey has found.

But new college graduates may want to think twice before ditching their current dead-end job for the hope of something better.

A study conducted by the educational research company MyCos released last month found that salaries of young workers decline according to the number of times they change jobs.

Thousands of unemployed Chinese graduates flock to a job fair in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province on March 7, 2009. Pic: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Among 2010 and 2011 graduates, 38 percent quit their first job within one year, according to the survey.  For four-year university graduates, the figure was 27 percent, compared to a significantly higher 48 percent of vocational school graduates.

Within three years of graduating, 61 percent of workers with a university degree and 79 percent of vocational school graduates had quit their job at least once.

High turnover rates such as these stand out in sharp contrast to the habits of China’s workers as a whole.  The MyCos survey reported that students currently make up 98 percent of all employees who quit their jobs.

But recent graduates unsatisfied with long hours and low pay run a high risk in their search for something better.

Looking at workers who graduated in 2008, MyCos found that those who had five jobs within the past four years earned an average of 800 yuan less than those who remained in one job.

Employees  who graduated four years ago and never switched jobs earned an average monthly salary of 5,273 yuan, the study reported.  Those who changed jobs once earned an average 5,091 yuan, while those who switched jobs four times earned 4,461 yuan.

When asked why they quit their first job, 21 percent of 2011 graduates said their main reason was low salary and poor benefits.

An additional 30 percent said that their previous job had “not enough space for personal development.”

State-owned enterprises had the lowest quit rates, the MyCos survey found, with 13 percent of 2011 graduates quitting within their first six months on the job.  Government and research sectors had a similarly low rate of 19 percent.

Private companies had the highest quit rates, at 31 percent.

The job with the highest quit rate for last year’s university graduates was, perhaps not surprisingly, telemarketing, with 48 percent leaving the job.  Similarly unpopular were advertising copywriting at 46 percent and retail at 43 percent.

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China’s netizens bring down corrupt ‘smiling official’ Wed, 26 Sep 2012 13:16:12 +0000

The success of an online campaign against a local official accused of corruption highlights China’s lack of an effective government watchdog, according to many commentators on the country’s state-run media.

Yang Dacai was dismissed from his position as head of the Shaanxi Administration of Work Safety last Friday, after muckraking netizens uncovered his penchant for wearing expensive watches and other luxury accessories.

The formerly obscure official gained nationwide infamy earlier this month after a photo was published showing him smiling at the site of an August 26 traffic accident that claimed the lives of 36 people.

A screenshot taken from Sina Weibo shows a viral photograph of Yang Dacai, head of the Shaanxi Provincial Work Safety Administration, smiling while at the scene of a traffic accident that killed 36 on Sunday, August 26. Pic: Wall Street Journal

The People’s Daily questioned whether Yang’s downfall could be termed a “victory” for China’s anti-corruption efforts, noting that the Shaanxi official’s misdeeds were only uncovered after a string of chance happenings.

“If Yang Dacai had never smiled, if that photo had not been broadcast on Weibo, if the pictures of his brand-name watches had not been uncovered, this problem official could still be safely ‘hidden’ in officialdom today,” said a Sept 21 editorial on the People’s Daily website.

The traditionally liberal-leaning Southern Metropolis News agreed, saying that the fight against corruption should not have to rely solely on the watchful eyes of netizens.

The Global Times drew parallels between Yang Dacai and former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, whose downfall was likewise sparked by a bizarre incident occurring outside the usual procedures of officialdom.

The newspaper called for a strengthening of China’s internal supervision apparatus to ensure more systematic and complete prosecution of corrupt officials.

“Online supervision only requires punishment of corruption, while supervision from within officialdom can diminish the possibility for violation of discipline and promote clean governance,” the newspaper said in an English-language editorial.

Still, others were still optimistic over Yang’s fate and its implications for future anti-corruption efforts.

“The dismissal of ‘Watch Brother’ fully displays the great power of public supervision,” declared  Guangzhou’s Yangcheng Evening News.

Evidence suggests that the newspaper’s view is shared by many in China.  In a survey conducted this past March by China Youth Daily, 77 percent of respondents said that ordinary citizens should be responsible for holding government officials to account over proper the use of public funds.

In contrast, 24 percent said that the responsibility belonged to government officials themselves.

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Baidu declares disputed islands Chinese, then calls for calm Tue, 18 Sep 2012 05:32:06 +0000

Chinese search engine Baidu has joined the fight over the disputed Diaoyu Islands, expressing support for China’s territorial claims while calling for an end to violent protests.

The logo on the search engine’s homepage today shows an image of a Chinese flag flying above the largest of the Diaoyu Islands, recently purchased by Japan (where they are known as the Senkaku Islands) amid widespread and increasingly violent protests across China.

Clicking on the image leads internet users to a page dominated by a similar flag and island image, along with a graphic of chiseled stone characters reading “Diaoyu Islands, China’s!”

Baidu calls for netizens to advocate "rational patriotism" by planting a digital flag on a map of the disputed islands.

The majority of the page is taken up by a map of the East China Sea centered around the Diaoyu Islands, the two largest of which are marked with images of waving Chinese flags.

The page also calls on netizens to “plant your flag on the Diaoyu Islands,” with the click of a button.

By noon Wednesday, over 2 million “flags” had been planted, according to a running count displayed on the page, while over 222 million had searched for “Diaoyu Islands,” according to a similar tally shown below.

But despite Baidu’s strident rhetoric, the Chinese internet giant made it clear that the purpose of its flag-waving was to calm the more extreme forms of patriotism seen in China in recent days.

“Our purpose was to encourage people to be rational in their expressions of patriotism, to renounce violence and other forms of extremism,” said Kaiser Kuo, Baidu’s director of international communications, in a statement to internet news site The Next Web.

“Planting a digital flag to express your feelings on the matter of the Diaoyu Islands is a much better alternative to throwing rocks or smashing cars,” Kuo said.

Baidu’s peaceful intentions are featured prominently on its Diaoyu Islands page.

The button allowing users to plant a digital flag calls on netizens to “advocate rational patriotism,” a phrase that has been frequently used by official media and others urging protesters to refrain from violence.

The phrase appears repeatedly throughout the page.  The lone photo displayed shows a young, masked protester holding up a hand-made sign reading “Oppose violence, rational patriotism.”

Similarly, a question and answer box at the bottom of the webpage includes topics such as “How do we rationally participate in the Diaoyu Islands Incident?” as well as advice on “How to be rationally patriotic.”

Another question asks “Are demonstrations illegal?  What law do they violate?”  The answer points readers to relevant sections of China’s law books, which allow for protests but set limits on both activities and intentions of those participating.

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Chinese businesses cash in on island dispute Mon, 17 Sep 2012 06:20:39 +0000

As anti-Japanese protests continue to spread across China, businesses are rushing to cash in on popular sentiment with a range of Diaoyu Island-themed promotions.

A restaurant in Leshan, Sichuan province, announced with a banner across its storefront that customers who shouted “The Diaoyu Islands belong to China” as they entered would receive  a 10 percent off their meal.

Those who shouted “Japan also belongs to China” would receive a 20 percent discount.


Other photos uploaded by Chinese netizens show similar promotions offered in restaurants and stores for customers willing to shout the same slogans.

Meanwhile, a small hotel in Xi’an gained nationwide fame over the weekend after it changed its name to the “Diaoyu Island Hotel.”

The former Xianju Island Hotel had intended to bear the same name as the disputed island chain when it first opened little more than a year ago, the owner explained, but the local Department of Ministry and Commerce refused to approve the name, according to

Approval was finally granted in July, when the current dispute with Japan began to intensify.

Inside the hotel’s ivy-covered courtyard, a large banner carries the slogan, “Travel the mountains, travel the rivers, travel the entire world,” followed by “Love the country, love your home, love the Diaoyu Islands.”

As a growing number of voices call for a boycott of Japanese goods, domestic auto makers at a Beijing car show last week decorated their models on display with Chinese flags and placards calling for consumers to “Buy like a patriot, buy domestic.”

A clothing store offers discounts to customers who shout the slogans "The Diaoyu Islands belong to China" and "Japan also belongs to China." Pic:

Sales of Japanese cars in China have already been seriously impacted by the dispute between the two countries, according to industry insiders.

“This round of losses suffered by Japanese car dealers is the worst I’ve seen,” said Luo Lei, deputy secretary-general of the China Automobile Dealers Association, in an interview with Bloomberg News.


China Auto Sales

Sales of Japanese cars have plummeted in China. Pic: AP.

While Japanese auto sales have fallen, sales of German, American, and South Korean cars have risen by more than ten percent, according to the association.

Japanese products and firms have been targeted in recent protests, with Japanese-made cars vandalized in cities across China.  On Saturday, protestors broke into Japanese factories in the coastal city of Qingdao, according to Japan’s NHK broadcasting service.

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Chinese city calls for govt officials to donate blood Fri, 14 Sep 2012 15:42:09 +0000

In one of the latest attempts to alleviate China’s shortage of blood donors, the city of Qingdao has set aside four days each year as “government employee blood donation days.”

According to a Sept 9 notice by the city government, the first Tuesday in January, February, July, and August each year have been chosen as “donation days” for civil servants in municipal-level government bureaus in the coastal city in China’s eastern Shandong province.

Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu participates in a blood donation drive in Beijing in October 2010. Pic: Xinhua

On those days, blood donation groups will be organized, and individual government employees are will be encouraged to schedule appointments at blood donation centers and bloodmobiles throughout the city.

The new measure aims to “encourage and organize” the city’s government workers to donate blood as a group, according to a report by China National Radio, in order to alleviate seasonal shortages that affect blood banks not only in Qingdao, but in cities across China.

Winter and summer months commonly see the most serious blood shortages, as extreme temperatures keep walk-in donors away from bloodmobiles, and as university students return home for vacation.

By setting aside these four days each year, Qingdao aims to make government workers the fourth largest group of blood donors, after students (who make up 20 percent of total donors in Qingdao), migrant workers, and health workers, China National Radio reported.

An editorial in Shandong’s Qilu Evening News expressed hope that the new policy would not only encourage more citizens to donate blood, but would also help to disprove the many negative rumors and urban legends about blood donation, particularly regarding its supposed harm to donors’ health.

Government officials and civil servants have come under criticism in the past for reluctance to donate blood even in the midst of severe shortages.

During one of China’s worst blood shortages during the winter of 2010 in the southwestern city of Kunming, civil servants made up less than one percent of blood donors.

Medical workers similarly accounted for only 1.2 percent of donors.  The vast majority of blood donations came from students and migrant workers, together totaling over 90 percent of all donors.

Currently, only 0.87 percent of China’s total population donates blood.

The Qilu Evening News reported Tuesday that this year, 1152 government workers in Qingdao have donated a total of 378,000 mL of blood.


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Chinese press blasts Japan’s purchase of disputed islands Thu, 13 Sep 2012 04:27:52 +0000

Newspapers across China reacted with indignation yesterday to Japan’s announcement that it had purchased the Diaoyu (or Senkaku) Islands claimed by both countries.

“Japan illegally buys the Diaoyu Islands,” reported the Chongqing Business News.  A headline in bold red characters spelled out Beijing’s response: “China says no.”

Several newspapers issued stern warnings to Japan’s government.  “Pull back before it’s too late,” commanded Wuhan’s official Changjiang Daily. “Stop playing with fire.”

Protesters hold a model of Diaoyu islands (Senkaku islands in Japan) with Chinese national flags during a demonstration near the Japanese Consulate in Hong Kong, on July 9, 2012. Pic: AP

Others gave encouragement to their compatriots.

The front page of Anhui’s Xin’an Evening News featured a Chinese flag and four large characters reading “Never yield.”

“Defend our national territory, declare sovereignty,” read the front page of the Shenyang Evening News.

A message running along the top of the page declared that “Japan must clearly recognize the international situation.  The world is no longer one where great powers hold sway, and the weak become food for the strong.  And today, China is no longer poor and weak, China is no longer trampled underfoot by all.”

Many front pages reported the announcement by China’s military that two patrol ships had been sent to the Diaoyus to reassert its territorial claims.

“We have arrived!” declared Jiangsu’s Xiandai Kuaibao, above a map showing Chinese vessels heading towards the islands.  “No one can ‘buy’ the Diaoyu Islands!”

Sichuan’s East China Metropolis News chose a different way to express its solidarity, with a front page dominated by the day’s weather report for the islands.

“Slight rain today, clear tomorrow,” read the headline, above an image of the largest of the Diaoyu Islands, with a Chinese flag flying at its peak.

The headline came a day after the islands were included in the weather report broadcast by China Central Television.

China’s Meteorological Administration said in a statement Tuesday that it would begin providing information on the islands to the state broadcaster, given that the area was “prone to extreme weather” and served as “Chinese fishermen’s traditional fishing grounds,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The martial rhetoric continued onto China’s editorial pages.

The Global Times took a familiarly strident tone in an editorial calling for the Chinese people to “discard the illusion of friendly ties with Japan.”

The newspaper said that Japan’s behavior “demonstrates its inferiority toward strong countries, ” and that “a lesson is necessary to dispel its contempt toward China since the Meiji Restoration [of 1868].”

The Global Times editorial included a conciliatory note that “it is possible to restart friendly ties between China and Japan,” and that “keeping friendly neighboring ties is a good policy.”

But the editorial warned that “it cannot be achieved through one-sided begging and compromising.”

Such rhetoric was not limited to China’s editorialists.  The Beijing News reported that Vice Premier Li Keqiang called Japan’s stance toward the Diaoyu Islands a “blatant denial of the victory of global anti-fascism warfare,” according to a translation by the BBC.

The military’s official newspaper Liberation Army Daily echoed Li’s sentiments, saying that the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands “is not only directly related to Japanese aggression against China and other Asian countries, but also related to whether Japan accepted its unconditional surrender after the World War II,” according to a summary by the English edition of the Global Times.

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For China’s struggling graduates, higher education means higher unemployment Mon, 10 Sep 2012 11:39:41 +0000

A pair of recent studies has found that for some recent graduates, a higher level of education corresponds to a lower chance of getting a job.

A newspaper in Jiangsu province reported last week that 89 percent of undergraduate students who finished their studies in 2012 were currently employed, compared to 81 percent of graduate students.

And in contrast to both, a full 92 percent of this year’s vocational school graduates are now working a job.

The study put the total percentage of employed university graduates in the province at  89.9 percent.

Pic: STR/AFP/Getty Images

“Jiangsu is a major manufacturing province, so there is a very great need for blue collar workers,” said Lin Wei, an official in the Jiangsu Education Bureau in an interview with the Jiangnan Times.

“Because of this, vocational student employment has always been on the rise.”

Lin said that international economic decline has also had a negative effect on graduate and undergraduate employment, as many small and medium enterprises have cut back on hiring.

The survey noted that female graduate students face extra difficulties in the job search, as they are often passed over by employers looking for younger workers.

This is not the first time that studies have shown an inverse relationship between education and employability.

The Jiangsu Bureau of Education, which conducted the study released last week, reported that the current situation has existed for the past three years.

In 2010, the People’s Daily reported that by December, 84 percent of Jiangsu’s graduate students were employed, compared to 88 percent of undergraduates and 92 percent of vocational school graduates.

And such statistics are not unique to Jiangsu.

A July report by Chongqing’s Municipal Educational Committee gave even more disheartening statistics to the city’s new doctoral and masters graduates.

The report put employment of graduate students at 74 percent, undergraduates at 84 percent, and vocational students at 89 percent.

The statistics fly in the face of long-standing and closely-held beliefs by many of China’s students that higher education is the best way to guarantee a stable, well-paying job.

Last year, 1.5 million students applied to take the graduate school entrance examination, a record high of over 110,000 more applicants that in 2010.

According to one survey, when asked why they had chosen to take the test,  the most popular answer at 36 percent was that they believed a graduate degree would help them find a better job.

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China says trust in government is rising, but shaky Wed, 05 Sep 2012 11:18:05 +0000

Over 67 percent of Chinese say they trust the government, according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted jointly by Tsinghua University and the Communist Party’s Xiaokang magazine, found that trust in the government is the highest it has been since 2006, when the annual study was first conducted.

The figure for 2012 was 67.8 percent, compared to 60.5 in 2006.

The percentage of people who trust the government according to the Tsinghua-Xiaokang statistics has been steadily increasing each year since the survey was first conducted.

Pic: Wei Yao / Imaginechina / AP

The government gained over two percentage points of trust from 2010 to 2011, in spite of widespread public criticism over its handling of the July 2011 Wenzhou train crash, as well as an increasing number of demonstrations against local authorities, most prominently the December mass protests in the southern town of Wukan.

While the survey’s high figures may seem at odds with current events, they are considerably lower than the results of a similar recent survey conducted by a non-Chinese public relations firm.

The Edelman Trust Barometer released in Jan 2012 put China’s trust in government at 75 percent.

Unlike the Tsinghua-Xiaokang survey, Edelman found that trust in China dropped significantly from the previous year, when it stood at 88 percent.

But China’s confidence in its leaders is still significantly higher than the global average, according to the Edelman survey.

Overall trust in government among the 25 countries surveyed declined nine points from 2011 to 43 percent.

Despite its image of rising confidence, the Tsinghua-Xiaokang survey did not paint an entirely rosy picture for China’s government.

Over 53 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that “the government’s actions are not transparent.”

When asked what most influenced their trust in government, 44 percent of respondents said corruption, while 34 percent said dishonesty and false information.

And the Chinese government has recognized that citizens’ trust cannot be taken for granted.

Top leaders and official media frequently raise the threat of a public loss of confidence as impetus for greater reforms and improved government performance.

Most recently, a report by the official Xinhua News Agency last week warned that the government must take decisive action to improve highway safety, and prevent accidents similar to the Aug 26 bus crash that killed 36 people in Shaanxi province.

“For much of the general public, the more fatal accidents occur, the greater the government’s credibility is undermined,” the report said.

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China’s latest smoking ban: Will it last? Wed, 05 Sep 2012 06:15:53 +0000

A smoking ban in Guangzhou attracted media attention throughout China this past weekend, with authorities promising strict enforcement, in a sharp contrast to similar but ineffective anti-smoking laws introduced repeatedly over the past few years.

A swift, zero tolerance approach to smoking is sorely needed, experts say, as Guangzhou and other Chinese cities face a public health “crisis” as more and more citizens light up.

Over 70 percent of people in Guangzhou are being harmed by direct or secondhand smoke, according to a study released in July by the Guangdong Province Health Education Center.

The study found that 20 percent of the city’s residents are smokers.

Pic: Xinhua

More troubling, over 50 percent of residents surveyed by the center were unaware of the damage that smoking causes to the brain, heart, and other organs.

While authorities no doubt hope that the new smoking ban will reduce the risk of secondhand smoke for the majority of citizens, previous anti-smoking laws have set a discouraging precedent.

Exactly two years before last weekend’s ban came into effect on Sept 1, a nearly identical smoking ban was introduced, along with the same 50 yuan fine for violators.

However the previous law was considerably more lenient than the current one, allowing smokers to escape the required fine if they stopped smoking when confronted by police.

The Xinhua News Agency reported that the 2010 ban was inspired by a similar anti-smoking law passed in Beijing, in the run up to the 2008 Olympic Games.

The Guangzhou ban came as the city prepared to host the 16th Asian Games, which opened Nov 12.

But less than two months after the ban was enacted, Chinese media reported that many citizens were complaining that public smoking was continuing unabated.

Those hoping for a law with teeth received little encouragement from authorities, with one top local official describing the law as more of a public education campaign than a law enforcement one.

“The stress of the regulation is on education and deterrence,” said Li Li, deputy director of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of Guangzhou.

“ Imposing fines is just the means,” Li said.  “Later, the amount of the fine might be lifted.”

This past May, the China Daily reported that the city’s People’s Congress was considering a tougher version of the anti-smoking law.

In the first five months of this year, the city received 1,200 complaints about smoking in public venues, with 84 percent regarding smoking in restaurants and other entertainment venues, the newspaper reported.

The show of force this past weekend by police and urban management teams in Guangzhou, accompanied with heavy press coverage, suggests that the city is intent on addressing such complaints.

Only time will tell how their resolve holds up once the TV cameras and microphones turn away.

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Migrant workers more trustworthy than police, says China survey Mon, 03 Sep 2012 14:17:27 +0000

Migrant workers are more trusted by the Chinese public than police, according to a new study released last week.

The study, conducted jointly by Tsinghua University and Xiaokang magazine, surveyed attitudes towards trust among 1017 respondents across China.

Participants were asked to rank 34 occupations, from the most trustworthy to the least.

Peasants were ranked as the most trusted occupation, followed by soldiers.

Pic: AFP/Getty Images

Researchers said that these two groups had consistently been ranked first and second since the annual survey was first conducted in 2006, though they frequently switch places.

Next came students and teachers, which have also switched places each time the survey was conducted in the past three years.

The fifth most trusted occupation was migrant workers, a surprisingly high ranking for a group subject to widespread discrimination, and which has long been stereotyped as dishonest and amoral.

“Ordinary civil servants” were ranked sixth, having moved up from ninth place last year.  In the 2010 survey, they did not make it to the top ten.

Following behind were police, journalists, judges, and in a tie for tenth place, lawyers and athletes.

While that may seem like a vote of no confidence for the country’s legal system, both lawyers and judges were ranked higher than government officials, who were absent from the top ten.

Doctors were also missing, for the second year in a row.  In 2010, they were ranked tenth.

Lack of faith in China’s health care system is hardly surprising, as recent years have seen growing numbers of violent attacks on doctors viewed as incompetent and corrupt, along with apparent public sympathy for the attackers.

Commenting on the survey, Ju Chunyan, professor of social science at the Beijing University of Technology, noted in an interview with the Legal Daily newspaper that for occupations, “the further their distance from society, the better their image of trustworthiness.”

Ju noted that peasants were ranked first, but that “the day they become migrant workers, their image of trustworthiness falls.”

China’s Ten Most Trusted Occupations

1. Peasants

2. Soldiers

3. Students

4. Teachers

5. Migrant workers

6. Ordinary civil servants

7. Police

8. Journalists

9. Judges

10. (tie) Lawyers

10. (tie) Athletes

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China gets tough with public smoking ban Sun, 02 Sep 2012 15:13:43 +0000

One of China’s largest cities is cracking down on smoking in public places, with a massive and well-publicized enforcement campaign rolled out this past weekend.

On September 1, a new law punishing public smoking with a 50 yuan ($8 US) fine came into effect in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou.

The city’s smoking ban extends not only to large common areas such as shopping centers and public transportation, but also entertainment venues including karaoke parlors and internet cafes.

Pic: AP

Authorities were keen to show that the new law would be taken seriously.

“As soon as we find that someone is smoking illegally, we’ll immediately give out a fine.  We won’t be the least bit lenient!” promised Zhao Hong, vice director of the city’s Urban Management Bureau, according to the official Guangzhou Daily newspaper.

On the day the ban went into effect, the city sent out over 200 “law enforcement officers” including police, health officials, and urban management inspectors, charged with discovering and punishing offenders.

Officers stood watch in public areas and patrolled indoor spaces encompassed by the ban, even peering into private rooms in karaoke parlors in the hunt for illegal smokers.

More than a hundred journalists and other media personnel followed enforcement officers on their rounds, documenting fines handed out and the occasionally hostile reactions of those caught.

“Journalists have the legitimate right to interview and observe,” said Zhao Hong.  “Those who accompany our law enforcers are under the protection of the law.”

The first person to be caught breaking Guangzhou’s new anti-smoking law was not actually a resident of the city.

At 10:20am on Sept 1, a man from Hunan province was found smoking in a bus station waiting room, and while he claimed to have never heard of the ban, was given a ticket on the spot, according to the Yangcheng Evening News.

By 10pm, a total of eleven people had been fined for violating the ban.

While most public spaces and entertainment venues are now off-limits to smokers, those who insist on lighting up still have a few, if limited, options.

Restaurants smaller than 150 square meters or seating fewer than 75 people are not included in the ban.

Smoking was already illegal in most public spaces in Guangzhou long before yesterday’s new law went into effect.

However the previous law was considerably more lenient than the current one, allowing smokers to escape the required fine if they stopped smoking when confronted by police.

In the two years the law was in effect, only one person was fined, according to the Southern Metropolis News.

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