Tag Archives: Xian

Xi’an Tests Beijing’s Zero-Tolerance For Covid

Ariel view of Xi'an under lockdown, taken on January 1, 2022. Photo credit: Xinhua/Tao Ming

THE MANAGEMENT OF the lockdown of Xi’an to control the outbreak of Covid-19 has not gone smoothly, highlighting the challenge each new resurgence of the virus poses to China’s zero-tolerance policy towards Covid-19.

The lockdown imposed on December 23 suggests that authorities have no intention to give up on their zero-tolerance approach. However, Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan said late last week that local authorities need to adopt more ‘targeted and forceful’ measures and improve quarantine controls to deal with the outbreak in the city of 13 million people.

For example, multiple reports talk of infections being transmitted by residents mingling while waiting to be tested for Covid.

The Party secretary of Yanta district in the southern part of the city and one of the areas worst-hit by the outbreak has been fired along with another official — far from the first local bureaucrats to take the fall for mishandling Covid flare-ups.

This came as reports emerged of midnight evictions in the district’s Mingde 8 Yingli housing compound on January 1 when residents were instructed to leave their homes and go to quarantine facilities with some waiting for hours outside in the winter cold for the buses taking them there.

To restrict the outbreak regarded as the most severe since the virus was first observed in Wuhan two years ago, residents were already required to remain indoors. Shops are closed. Entry to the city is heavily restricted and driving within it is banned, as the empty roads in the picture of the city above, taken on January 1, testifies.

A few dozen cases in early December increased to more than 150 a day. However, the latest data reported by state media suggest the numbers of new locally transmitted infections have peaked with new infections around the 100 mark on both days of the weekend.

A total of nearly 1,600 cases were confirmed in the city as of January 1. The number is tiny by international comparisons, but the highest in China since March 2020.

The outbreak, which is of the Delta, not the Omicron variant, was traced to a flight from Pakistan but initially evaded detection by contract tracers for some days. As well as instituting a lockdown, authorities say they have conducted six rounds of city-wide testing.

Reports speak of citizens being punished for evading lockdown restrictions by fleeing the city and shortages of food. There have also been complaints about the lack of access to medical services and the availability of heating in the midst of winter in the northwest of the country.

It is thought this was due to recent reported infections in the community. Multiple Chinese outlets reported that locals had mixed while getting tested for Covid.

Authorities say that supplies of groceries and household essentials for residents have improved and that free food deliveries have been made to residents since December 28.

However, the build-up of public frustration in Xi’an directed towards the local government that has ensued — and its expression on social media despite attempts to censor it — points to the increasing difficulty authorities may face in continuing with severe lockdowns to snuff out resurgences of the virus.


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Shanghai Becomes More Like Venice, In A Bad Way

So serious has the depletion of China’s groundwater become as a result of industrialization and urbanization that the country’s large cities are sinking, as, potentially, are the high-speed rail corridors between them. So concerning is that to authorities that the State Council has made areas with high-speed rail links a priority in a new land subsidence research project it has approved to be completed by 2015. In the order of these things, that is a crash deadline.

The survey is one of four projects that the Ministry of Land and Resources said this week that the State Council had ratified to combat the effects of China’s growing water shortage. Others include yet more controls on pumping underground water, and the setting up of monitoring networks in the worst affected areas–the Yangtze river delta, the North China Plain and the Fen and Hua river basins. The network is to be in place by 2020.

It didn’t take any technology to see the 8 meter crack that opened up earlier this month in a road near the Shanghai World Financial Center. (There are some pictures here.) That is despite authorities taking preventive measures since 2005 to combat ground subsidence caused by falling water tables. Municipal officials say the city is still sinking by seven millimeters a year. That is a better state of affairs than in the past, however. Shanghai used to be sinking by several centimeters a year.

A third of China’s water reserves lie in underground aquifers. They supply 70% of the country’s drinking water and 40% of its farm irrigation needs. They are being stretched to their limits, particularly across the grain belt of the North China Plain as evermore wells are sunk to draw water for city dwellers and industry. Underground water pollution is a separate concern, but as serious.

Shanghai is one of more than 50 large cities with a similar Venice-like problem of subsidence because the water table below it is sinking. Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Xian are among others. As the number of 50 cities has been quoted since at least 2006, we suspect it may undercount the problem today. In a paper the China Geological Survey published that year the direct economic cost of subsidence was put at 1 billion yuan ($160 million) a year. It will likely top that now.

Tianjin, which like Shanghai has been sinking since the 1920s although it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was understood why, shows why widespread limits on groundwater pumping are so urgent, and also how difficult it is to control subsidence. The city introduced restrictions as long ago as 1985. Its sinking has slowed from 80 millimeters a year then but is still dropping 20 millimeters a year now. Coastal cities share another characteristic with Venice. Floods are becoming more frequent and severe. The lower cities sink the more susceptible they are to them.

We have noted before the potential explosive social costs of a water crisis getting beyond the government’s control. It will take a comprehensive program of water conservation, better water resource management and better husbandry of the ecosystem. And there are plans on all those fronts. But if they fail, it will be more than a high-speed train or two that comes off the rails.




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Tang Dynasty Redux

This Bystander’s eye was caught by an assertion that modern-day China aspires to be a latter-day incarnation of the Tang dynasty. It was made by a serious figure. David Daokui Li is a worldly and respected academic economist, well-known in the U.S. and now a professor at Tsinghua University. He is high enough in policy-making circles to be one of an elite group of academic economists advising the central bank on monetary policy. In an article published by Insead, a European business school, and titled How China Is Managing Western Hostility, Li writes:

Our aim is the revival of our great civilisation. We are not looking for retribution against the West and we are certainly not interested in dominating the world. Instead, we would like to see the revival of a peaceful, confident, open-minded civilisation similar to that of the Tang Dynasty.

The Tang dynasty lasted from the seventh to the 10th centuries and is seen as a high water mark of Chinese civilization, especially in its first 200 years and particularly in the arts. It was a period of stability and innovation. It created a powerful, centralized bureaucratic elite, introduced Buddism and woodblock printing. Its capital, modern day Xian, was probably world’s largest and richest city at the time. Yet the political and economic parallels are interesting. It was an empire of protectorates and tributary states that extended southwards into Indochina and westward along the Silk Road into Central Asia in rivalry with the Tibetan empire. It was a maritime power whose giant ocean-going junks traded across the Indian Ocean to Africa and the Middle East. Its trade and commerce thrived even as a declining central government, eclipsed by the rising power of regional military governors, withdrew from managing the economy.

Past is prologue, but only up to a point. And we would not want to overegg this particular pudding, particularly with a selective reading of history. But the issue of how the West sees China’s emergence as a world and economic power and China’s response is an important one. Li lays out a clear and succinct exposition of how to understand China’s motives and objectives. For example:

China’s emergence gives us an alternative model for social and economic institutions, different from that of the U.S and other Western countries. A model where more weight is given to social welfare, well-being, and stability, rather than to pure individual liberties.

Whether you find that threatening or not, the piece is well worth the read.

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When Beijing Betters London And Shanghai LA

A McKinsey Global Institute ranking of the world's top 50 cities by GDP in 2005

By 2025, Shanghai and Beijing will have higher GDPs than Los Angeles and London, a further sign of the world’s eastwards economic shift. The prediction comes from the McKinsey Global Institute, the economic research arm of McKinsey & Co., the international consultancy firm, which has been working on mapping the changing economic power of the world’s metropolitan areas, and is recirculating some work on this it first released in March. Shanghai is already among the world’s top 50 cities ranked by GDP, but as well a Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Foshan, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan and Xian will all join it by 2025, McKinsey predicts. European cities will be most numerous among the dropouts, but another will be Taipei.

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BYD Fined, Loses Factories For Illegal Land Use

We now have a decision in the widely watched case of illegal land use involving BYD, the fast-growing compact automaker in which American investor Warren Buffett has a 10% stake. The Ministry of Land and Resources has announced that BYD is being fined 2.95 million yuan ($443,000) and that the seven factories the company built in Xian on 49 hectares of land bought from an economic development agency in Shaanxi, 45 hectares of which was zoned for agriculture, will be confiscated.

Construction had started last December and the plants weren’t due to start production until 2011, so the practical effect on BYD will be to constrict future, not present capacity, and the ruling lifts some uncertainty over the company for investors. In one sense BYD has got off lightly. The ministry had previously hit five companies this year for illegal land use, following a tougher inspection regime launched in February that found examples of illegal land use in more than half the 13 cities examined in an initial spot check and officials cooking the books in four. In those cases buildings were ordered to be demolished, land taken back, executives imprisoned and officials reprimanded. BYD’s high-profile and famous foreign investor may have helped it escape the most severe of those punishments, as least as far as we can tell at this point.

The question now is what sort of signal BYD’s punishment will send, and who will see it. One audience is foreign companies. As the China Law Blog pointed out in response to our preview post on the ruling, “if China is going after Chinese companies for putting manufacturing facilities on agricultural land, what in the world makes you as a foreign company think you will be able to get away with doing the same thing?”

The bigger audience is local officials, at least a dozen of whom in this case have been censured for not exercising effective supervision, including one, the director of the planning department in Shaanxi’s local Land and Resources office, who has been removed from office. It is not unknown for local officials to turn a blind eye to such land-use violations in the drive for economic growth. Companies want to bring new production capacity on stream without waiting for all the red tape to be dealt with, while officials themselves are  judged on their promotion of local economic growth and local governments have become hooked on land sales for their revenue.

The ministry has said that 7,800 hectares of land had been used illegally in the first half of this year, a 14% increase over the same period last year. That reversed the trend of the figures of the past three years. They had shown the issue was shrinking, but that may just have reflected lax enforcement and reporting. The country’s farmland has continued to be eaten up by industrialization and urbanization. It has shrunk by 6% over the past decade to 122 million hectares, barely above the minimum arable land the ministry reckons China needs to be self-sufficient in food. The summer’s floods and the drought earlier in the year in some parts of the country have reduced that margin further. Food self-sufficiency is considered a national security issue. Getting permission to change agricultural land to other uses, particularly commercial uses, is now tougher than ever.


Filed under Environment, Industry, Politics & Society

Xian’s Terracotta Warriors Show Their True Colours

The first glimpse of the terracotta army in Xian remains as bright in this Bystander’s mind’s eye as it was those many years ago shortly after they were first put on public display. But it was a monochrome glimpse. So our (real) eye was caught by a feature in the China Daily about a team of German and Chinese archeologists who are bringing more than a touch of colour to the ranks.

They have been excavating the largest of the three pits that surround the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC) since June last year. As well as newly uncovered warriors, including only the 10th figure of a general to be found, announced earlier this summer, they also found traces of the colours the figures were originally painted. That in itself isn’t news; what is is that German technology developed since the 1990s has allowed these to be preserved, unlike the case with the first digs in the late 1970s and early ’80s when the exposure to air oxidize the paint to grey.

Now the original pinks, reds, whites and lilacs of the pottery faces and the vivid purples, reds, greens and blacks of the uniforms (shown below in a snap shot from the China Daily article) can be seen, and imagined in their full colourful glory.

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