Message from the editor
May 23, 2012
We are pleased to announce that China Development Brief has re-emerged in another format as China Development Brief (English) which started up in May of 2010．We will continue CDB's focus on China's social development and civil society and provide reporting and resources for understanding these sectors. We thank Nick Young and CDB for their many years of excellent work which has made an important contribution to the development of China's civil society. In the near future, we hope to archive this website in our new CDB(English) website to preserve the work of the old CDB. To access the new CDB(English) website and read up on current news and analysis of China's civil society sector, please go to our website: http://www.chinadevelopmentbrief.cn.
With best wishes,
Shawn Shieh, Director and Editor
China Development Brief (English)
December 10, 2008
Efforts to revive this site (following the political difficulties of last year) have now fizzled out, writes founding editor, Nick Young, but it will remain accessible until the end of 2010 as an archive of past work; and our surviving Chinese partner, www.cdb.org.cn, will continue to post recruitment notices here. I, meanwhile, have migrated to Uganda where I am continue to write—about China, inter alia—on www.nickyoungwrites.com
October 10, 2007
Negotiations with police and government officials following our political difficulties this summer brought no useful result, writes Nick Young. Indeed, when I tried to return to China in September, immigration officials turned me back at the airport and cancelled my multiple-entry visa, citing Article XII of the Immigration Law (“Foreigners considered to be persons who might endanger the security of the State or the social order of China shall not be allowed to enter the country.”)
In these circumstances, I can see no way to continue our English language publishing, which relied on constructive but impartial reporting from the field.
However, in the remaining months of this year, I will complete and publish work that was already in progress or had already been commissioned. Julie Perng’s article on eco-tourism, posted today, is one such example. Also forthcoming is an in-depth Special Report on Civil Society and HIV/AIDS in China. That, along with the rest of our archived material, will be accessible to all visitors.
Meanwhile, I remain open to reasonable proposals from readers and other interested parties as to how China Development Brief’s useful life might be prolonged. I can be contacted by email at a gmail.com account, the username being nickyoung888. No offers of software, “meds” or penis enlargement, thank you.
July 12, 2007
Yesterday morning news of our current difficulties was injudiciously leaked to international media by a former associate. We had hoped to keep the wraps on this for some time while we tried to mobilise support with the Communist Party and Government of China; but now, alas the news is out, and we are not sure what the result will be.
For those not aware of the basics:-
On July 4 our Beijing office was visited by a joint delegation of a dozen officials from the Beijing Municipality Public Security Bureau, the Beijing Municipality Statistical Bureau, and the Beijing Municipality Cultural Marketing General Legal Implementation Team.
After investigations and interviews lasting around three hours, they ordered the Chinese edition of China Development Brief to cease publication forthwith. The authorities are now deciding what punishment to apply. It appears that initially they were considering a relatively modest fine.
I, as editor of the English language edition of China Development Brief, am deemed guilty of conducting “unauthorized surveys” in contravention of the 1983 Statistics Law, and have been ordered to desist. It was made perfectly clear to me that any report posted on this website (which is run off a UK server) would count as the output of an unauthorized survey.
I have since been interviewed by the police section responsible for supervising foreigners in China, and have sent them a personal statement explaining my situation.
This timing of this is unfortunate. I had decided a year ago that the time had come for me to leave China Development Brief, and we had worked out an ambitious localisation strategy for the English language publishing. I have always argued that it is important to get coherent, informed and independent Chinese voices into international debates about China—rather than those debates being dominated by Western voices that are often ill-informed and unsympathetic to the real difficulties of governing this huge and complicated country—and I hoped that China Development Brief could come to offer the world at large “the best in Chinese thinking on social development, in plain English.” We were about to appoint an expatriate transition Managing Editor with a mandate to develop a high-calibre team of Chinese writers who, at the end of two years, would assume formal ownership and editorial control. On July 3, the day before the police came, we received the last of the donor funding pledges that we needed, and were all set to proceed.
That project is now in grave peril, but I remain open to negotiation and discussion with the Chinese authorities.
Meanwhile, we have removed the subscription form from this site, as we are no longer in a position to guarantee that we will continue for another year. I am afraid that there is no possibility of returning subscription payments, as we have been living a hand to mouth existence for many months, with staff having to take on consultancy work on top of their normal duties in order to pay their own wages, and we have absolutely no reserves.
However, we do have a backlog of unfinished work and, if all else fails, in the coming months I will complete and post at least some of it.
Finally I would like to pay a warm tribute to my Chinese colleagues who have reacted to this series of unfortunate events calmly and courageously.
We remain hopeful that the authorities will recognise the value of their work, and find some way of allowing it to continue.
June 26, 2007
Many thanks to the 200+ guests who braved grisly weather in Beijing to join us last Sunday afternoon for our Midsummer Concert Party, held to mark 12 years of publishing (a full cycle of the Chinese calendar). Time will not erase the memory of the Beijing Young (well, not very young) Disabled Club arriving in a motor-trike cavalcade only to spend the next hour valiantly deploying their crutches to hold down the plastic sheeting covering the stage and sound system in the ensuing gale, dust and thunderstorm. There’s ability for you. Learning points? 1) It is inadvisable to plan outdoor events in Beijing’s midsummer. 2) All-weather friends will stay long enough to see the rain subside and the music resume.
June 04, 2007
Amnesty International has submitted a response to our February/March editorial, which critiqued an Amnesty report on internal migration in China. The response is posted, with the orginal editorial, here.
May 10, 2007
Recently added to our open-access Directory of International NGOs supporting work in China are profiles of Ventures in Development, Magic Hospital, Prevention Thru Education and the American Development Foundation. Also recently updated are the entries for the American Friends Service Committee and the Heinrich Boell Foundation.
Our forthcoming issue will include a feature article on “MSM” (men who have sex with men) NGOs in China’s north-east, and a review essay discussing the recent flurry of books, articles and research reports on China’s role in Africa.
April 13, 2007
After a long and fiercely contested process, a Chinese NGO representative has finally been elected to the Country Coordinating Mechanism of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is committed to a substantial increase in funding for prevention and care projects implemented by NGOs in China.
Meanwhile, renowned Chinese AIDS activist, Dr. Gao Yaojie (高耀洁), has returned home from the United States where she received an award from the Vital Voices Global Partnership and met presumed US presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is an honorary co-chair of Vital Voices. On her return, Dr. Gao, who is 80 years old, issued a statement saying that she did not wish any organisation to use her name to create a foundation or other organisation, and this is reaffirmed in a new will that she has made. Her lawyer, Yang Shaogang (杨绍刚), told China Development Brief in Shanghai last week that Dr. Gao is concerned by Chinese NGOs’ low levels of financial management capacity and transparency.
What is going on in China’s community of NGOs and activists working on issues relating to AIDS? China Development Brief will survey the field in an in-depth, bilingual Special Report on AIDS and Civil Society in China that we are currently preparing and expect to publish towards the end of this summer.
February 26, 2007
New on the site today (and the 1001st aricle to be added to our archive) is a 34 page Special Report that asks How Much Inequality Can China Stand? After describing the growth of social and economic inequalities, this considers palliative measures the government is beginning to put in place, and concludes that these will probably suffice to avoid widespread unrest, but not to reverse growing social stratification. Incremental political reform to increase administrative accountability, the paper concludes, will be increasingly necessary to satisfy rising social expectations.
Coming soon . . . The February/March double issue of our regular newsletter, which will include feature articles on new policies for rural finance and on farmers’ associations in Yunnan, Anhui and Sichuan.
January 30, 2007
There’s been a flurry of procreation in the closing months of the Year of the Dog. Young married couples have been keen to conceive because the dog is associated with intelligence, and progeny conceived at this time will have the double benefit of being born in the coming Year of the Pig, which is widely deemed lucky. (Pigs are lucky because they don’t have to work—they just get to eat and sleep). What’s more, according to the Chinese calendar, this coming Pig Year is a “golden” one, which happens only once every sixty years. Urban ante-natal clinics are therefore brimming; while local education planners—some of whom had been increasingly willing to let rural migrant children enter urban state schools, to make up for a general decline in numbers—are bracing themselves for a population bulge of primary school entrants in six years time.
Amidst such general fecundity, we are hoping to give birth to a double issue of our regular newsletter to mark the Spring Festival. Due date of delivery: February 15.
December 30, 2006
Winter in Beijing has thus far proved unseasonably mild, bringing an eerie close to a year in which climate change alarm bells have tolled more insistently than ever before.
Today, Saturday, two inches of snow have fallen, bringing chaos to city roads on a week-end when the citizenry is supposed to be observing normal working hours in preparation for a three-day New Year holiday.
This, along with the May 1st and October 1st national holidays, brings to three the number of working weeks that are now routinely extended in China to create space for a subsequent ‘golden’ holiday designed to encourage domestic spending and consumption.
The Christmas period has indeed already been marked by a great deal of shopping and partying in Beijing. ‘Santa’ hats are de rigeur among shop assistants and waitresses around the capital.
It is a strange world in which consumption is encouraged as a civic duty to keep the economic wheels spinning, even as the Tibetan glaciers and Siberian peat bogs melt.
And strange how, whilst Christians in rich countries deplore the commercialisation of their major festival, it is largely this that commends it to the shopping malls of Asia.
This year did, however, see an on-line petition—started, according to the China Daily (21/12/2006), by “ten philosophy and education PhD students from China's top universities”—aiming to "wake up the Chinese people to resist western cultural invasion" as exemplified by the embrace of Christmas. (“The excess sugar of a diabetic culture/Rotting the life of nerve of life and literature” they might have said, had they been familiar with Louis MacNeice’s Eclogue for Christmas.)
The call did not seem to be widely heeded, though, either in the malls or in Christian churches reportedly packed on December 24 and 25 by curious onlookers.
A young woman interviewed by the BBC World Service outside St. Joseph’s Church in the heart of Beijing’s busy Wangfujing shopping district said, ingenuously or ingeniously or both, that Christmas couldn’t be a bad thing because it is a “harmonious festival.” Harmoniousness legitimates everything.
In several ways, 2006 has seen further relaxation of official attitudes towards religion. Zhejiang Province hosted a major international Buddhist forum in April; the national government sponsored an exhibition about Christianity in China that toured the United States, and the Archbishop of Canterbury visited China in October, adding his voice to the argument that religion can play a positive role in building a harmonious society.
It is true that life remains difficult for China’s Catholics (because the state cannot accept the authority of the Pope over any of its citizens); and the central government’s fear of Xinjiang separatism also leaves Muslims there in an uncomfortable position. Nevertheless, on the whole it seems that the state is feeling less threatened by, and increasingly willing to accommodate, the main religions it recognises.
This is probably in part driven the managerial calculation that it is better to allow space for organised religions that you can negotiate and deal with rationally—and that do seem to be useful in delivering charitable services and cohesive communities—rather than risking a groundswell of “superstition” and dangerous “cults.”
Falun Gong is much the best known—and, to China’s leadership, the scariest—recent example, but there are others. August saw life jail sentences handed down to a group of “Voodoo healers” in Xinjiang, and newspapers have also reported swoops on Beijing markets where Voodoo artifacts were being sold. Such episodes cannot escape the notice of a government that is still given to deploring the “backwardness” of its own population.
Many people, both Chinese and foreign, allege that there is a “spiritual vacuum” in Chinese society, and the top leadership will not want to see that occupied by invisible networks with impenetrable beliefs. More tolerance of formal, organised religion is a better managerial response.
But China seldom flows in only one direction at once. Thus we see, on the one hand, continuing displacement of Maoist ideology—which, in its heyday, had a distinctly religious quality of its own—with a social and economic managerialism that, although authoritarian in many respects, accords greater individual freedoms in others (so long as folk carry on shopping). But, at the same time this is blended with an ongoing effort—which itself has been recurrent throughout Chinese history—to constuct a new, distinctively Chinese and distinctively “harmonious” neo-Confucian moral order.
It’s going to be another interesting and complicated year. We wish all our readers the best of it.
December 11, 2006
Recently added to our open-access Directory of International NGOs supporting work in China are new entries for two organisations with an established track record in very different fields. The Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA) specialises in affordable water supply, waste management and renewable energy, while the Dui Hua Foundation dialogues with Chinese authorities on individual human rights cases. In our ongoing efforts to keep this free resource up to date, we have also revised existing profiles for several groups, including World Vision and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
November 22, 2006
Microfinance specialist Myriam Bartu has written five case studies of NGO projects in Yunnan and Sichuan—ranging from The Nature Conservancy’s efforts to finance energy conservation technologies to a drive by the Association for Rural Development in Yilong to multiply local savings and credit associations—to accompany her article, “Searching in the dark” for credit switch, as published in our October newsletter. Subscribers can download the studies in a PDF file attached to her original article.
Our next newsletter, planned for publication on December 5, will include a feature article on the development of the social work profession in China and an essay that asks “How much inequality can China stand?"
October 24, 2006
As Beijing prepares this week to host a major international conference on health policy, China Development Brief is also revisiting the topic. Our November newsletter will include an exclusive interview with WHO Beijing representative, Henk Bekkedam, who discusses the need for stronger government intervention in a sector where half of the population is unable to afford essential care. This will be accompanied by an article examining the development of patient self-help groups.
October 12, 2006
Yesterday, under the slogan ‘One world, one Network,’ we launched our online database of Chinese environmental NGOs (www.greengo.cn) with a small celebration that drew around 70 grassroots activists and Chinese journalists, and that was honoured by the participation of two veteran stars in China's NGO constellation, Liang Congjie, founder of Friends of Nature, and Liao Xiaoyi, founder of Global Village of Beijing.
International users of the database will find that English language summaries have now been completed for all the Beijing-based organisations that are profiled, and over the coming weeks we will be adding English summaries for all of the 100 or so listed organisations.
Preparations for this, together with the national holiday week, have delayed completion of our October issue, which will now be emailed to subscribers on Monday, October 16.
September 5, 2006
Paying subscribers can now download our 160 pp Special Report on NGO Advocacy in China by clicking here. Visitors can scan the contents pages which are themselve designed to highlight some of the key findings of a year-long research project that involved in-depth interviews with 10 Chinese "Government Organised NGOS," 10 trade, industry and professional associations, and 20 "grassroots" NGOs.
On school math, marching, state and society
August 24, 2006
Back in my seat after a summer break in Spain, where the upright, elderly lady in our village shop still serves customers individually and tots up the bills with a pencil stub and paper (and can, for good measure, instantly tell you the price in archaic pesetas as well as in Euros). What a contrast with Beijing where, despite the awesome mathematical proficiency of the average schoolchild, even the shabbiest xiaomaibu in our neighbourhood now uses a calculator to add up the cost of a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of beer. Is this because the hutong shopkeepers mainly belong to the Cultural Revolution generation that missed out on schooling, or does it tell us something about Asia’s love affair with the machine?
Our vacation was marred only by reading the appalling news from the Middle East and, passing through London at the end, by several days’ delay as a result of the security alert at Heathrow airport. After the first two hours of standing about in a confused, rumouring crowd outside Terminal 4—a crowd that, on the third day of the security crisis was still receiving no reliable information from either the airline or the airport authorities or the police, and in which we stood alongside elderly and infirm transit passengers, clutching their passports and tickets and absolutely nothing else, having bid farewell to all their luggage in other, remote cities—my wife and I turned to each other and both said “In China they would have regimented us but, by God, they would have handled it better than this.” Eleven hours later, just before they told us all to go home and “re-book through our airlines” (who were unobtainable for days), we were saying it to neighbours; and I stand by the comment.
Many foreigners dislike China’s enduring habits of regimentation, but in some ways they are what makes so large and complicated a place continue to function. I used to think this, several years back, watching my daughter march—yes, march—out of her Chinese primary school every day, in a line of 50 classmates with the class leader holding up the class placard, alongside 40 other lines, 40 other class leaders (destined, perhaps, to assume a future place in the Communist Youth League), 2,000 children, advancing across the playground to meet their parents (or, more often, grandparents) at the gate. How else, in tiny Fuxue Hutong, which is only fifteen feet wide, could you dispatch so many children without chaos? Administrative necessity invents regimentation. And China is such a big ship to steer that it is hard to steer lightly. It is useful to remember this before getting too sanctimonious about the need for a “bottom-up approach” and “participation” and all that.
Mark you, the other thing that astonished me about the Fuxue Hutong school was that the school entry and exodus was grossly aggravated by the cars sent to fetch the richer kids—probably, at the time no more than five to ten per cent of the total, but ample even then to make life hell for the rest of us on foot or bicycle, having to endure the fumes and the moronic hooting. (Out of the way, workers and peasants, important person in black car coming). That’s the other side of China now. How much can ordinary people be expected to endure for the sake of allowing the elite to enjoy their wealth and privilege? And what can the ordinary folk do to get the administration to also restrain and regiment the elite? Maybe a little consultation with the masses would be helpful here. Or do the little people in the masses just put up with it because one day, they hope, they too will find a place behind the wheel?
So there in Fuxue Hutong school was China writ small. The state, depending on strong and brusque administrative methods to hold the place together; society fragmenting between those who have a chance of entering the propertied elite and those who do not, with the latter enduring and being patient only so long, perhaps, as there is some chance of the system eventually working for them, but certainly still relying, at this stage, on the state to intervene on behalf of their interests.
These are apposite, background thoughts as I settle down to put the finishing touches to our long-awaited, repeatedly announced but never quite yet finished report on NGO advocacy in China. Yes, I took it to Spain with me, but there were distractions—fresh water, fresh air, green hills—so no, I did not finish the final edit. But it will, I swear, be on this site before the end of the month.
But I have returned to an office that, unlike the rest of China, is rather under-populated at present. Matt Perrement left us in early summer to take up a job in London with www.chinadialogue.net , a bilingual (English/Chinese) website, supported by the UK-China Sustainable Development Dialogue, that is well worth a visit. We wish that venture well, and Matt with it, and hope he copes with living back in a society whose freedoms are imperilled not just by terrorism but by the fear of being accused of sympathising with terrorism. Meanwhile, Matt’s special report, on migration and ethnic minorities in China, On the Margins (which paying subscribers (only) can download here), stands as his final flourish. A Chinese language version will be available shortly.
Our Chinese staff writer, Tina Qian, is spending a year as a fellow at the UC Berkley School of Journalism, where she will, no doubt, encounter much that is strange to her and come back to us with an enriched understanding of the way that foreigners think, which will aid her future work here in telling them what Chinese people think.
Reinforcements are arriving soon: we have a new, talented, Chinese colleague starting with us on September 1 and, if the money can be found—which means, if enough of you readers sign up and pay—will soon recruit another. But for the time being our English language team is down to just two people. This means that our September issue will not be ready until the middle of the month, but it will be worth the wait.
I hope those transit passengers, from Delhi and Detroit and Dar es Salaam, finally made it to their destinations and also felt that it was worth the wait.