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The Initium is a Singapore-based, Chinese-language digital media outlet that covers news, opinion, and lifestyle content directed to Chinese readers worldwide. It was founded in 2015.
Photo of a hand holding a phone displaying an Union Pay logo, with a Mastercard VISA logo in the background of the photo.
Liu Qianshan

How A Xi Jinping Dinner In San Francisco May Have Sealed Mastercard's Arrival In China

The credit giant becomes only the second player after American Express to be allowed to set up a bank card-clearing RMB operation in mainland China.


It appears that one of the biggest beneficiaries from Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to San Francisco was Mastercard.

The U.S. credit card giant has since secured eagerly anticipated approval to expand in China's massive financial sector, having finally obtained long sought approval from China's central bank and financial regulatory authorities to initiate a bank card business in China through its joint venture with its new Chinese partner.

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Through a joint venture in China between Mastercard and China's NetsUnion Clearing Corporation, dubbed Mastercard NUCC, it has officially entered mainland China as an RMB currency clearing organization. It's only the second foreign business of its kind to do so following American Express in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the development is linked to Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting on Nov. 15 with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco, part of a two-day visit that also included dinner that Xi had with U.S. business executives.

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Photo of police forces in Taipei, Taiwan, ahead of clashes during anti-government protests in Nov. 2020
FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why Taiwan Backs Israel Even If Its Own Struggle Mirrors Palestine's

Taiwanese, though under the weight of a far more powerful neighbor, have the tendency to idealize Israel and fail to create a self-definition beyond the island nation's anti-China image.

TAIPEI — After the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, who killed around 1,200 people and took 200 hostages, Israel imposed a complete blockade on Gaza and began a large-scale counteroffensive. Originally, most Western countries fully supported Israel's right of self-defense. However, sentiments have shifted in a section of the west over the past month, with Israel's counterattacks having caused up to 10,000 deaths in Gaza and pushing the Gazan population into a humanitarian crisis, marked by a dire shortage of water, electricity, food, and medicine. With the opening of a new front by Israel on the Lebanese-Syrian border, there are fears that the fighting could expand even further, resulting in an even greater humanitarian catastrophe.

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After the Hamas raid shocked the world, public opinion in the Chinese-speaking world, like in western society, split into two. One side firmly supported Israel's determination to defend its homeland and national sovereignty, while the other side invoked the region's history and sympathized with the Palestinians.

However, unlike in the west, most Chinese people did not choose a side based on well-considered national interests or humanitarian concern for the disadvantaged, but rather based on their attitudes toward the United States and China. Being anti-American or anti-China has become a fundamental factor determining whether you support Palestine or Israel.

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photo of a monastery on a hilltop in Tibet
Ba Li

Tibet Or Xizang? Why China May Be Ready To Rename The Contested Land

The use of "Xizang" instead of "Tibet" by Chinese officials is supported by some nationalists, but viewed by Tibetans, including those affiliated with the Dalai Lama, as veritable erasure of identity.

Updated Nov. 3, 2023 at 5:30 p.m.

In early October, a message was widely circulated on Chinese social media, suggesting that the name of Tibet in English would be changed to "Xizang."

The source was the China Tibet "Himalayan Rim" International Cooperation Forum, held in Linzhi, Tibet, from Oct. 4-6. The forum was co-hosted by the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and attended by representatives of more than 40 countries, regions, and international organizations, who held in-depth discussions on ecological and environmental protection, development cooperation, and other issues. The event used the Mandarin Chinese pinyin "Xizang" instead of "Tibet."

Pinyin is the romanized spelling of transliterated Chinese, such as “ni hao” or “Beijing.”

This change has not yet been reflected in legislation or official regulations. On Oct. 10, the Tibet Autonomous Region government and Xinhua News Agency, China's official news agency, continued to use "Tibet." Xinhua also used "Tibet" in its English-language coverage of the Forum, using "Xizang" only when referring to the name of the event.

Correcting "serious misunderstanding"

An article published by the United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in August, titled "United Front Work New Language", stated that Tibet should be translated as "Xizang" instead of "Tibet".

The article pointed out that in the context of the use of "Tibet" outside China, the word "Tibet" not only represents the Tibet Autonomous Region, but also covers the Tibet-related prefectures and counties in four provinces, namely Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan, and "highly overlaps with the so-called 'Greater Tibet' that the 14th Dalai Lama's group has been advocating to establish for a long time."

Wang Linping, a professor at Harbin Engineering University's School of Marxism, says: "Translations like 'Tibet' have created serious misunderstanding in the international community's understanding of the geographical scope of Tibet.”

There is an urgent need to explore the use of an English translation of the term 'Tibet' that accurately expresses China's position. The change in the English translation would help to reconstruct the media image of Tibet and enhance China's international discourse on Tibet.

It is worth noting that Wang is not a Tibetan researcher. Furthermore, to what extent this argument represents the future direction of Chinese official policy remains unknown.

Li Shulei, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, at the 2023 "Forum on the Development of Xizang, China'' in Beijing\u200b.

Li Shulei, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, at the 2023 "Forum on the Development of Xizang, China'' in Beijing.

Liu Bin/Xinhua/ZUMA

Should Hong Kong be renamed too?

However, not everyone likes the idea of a name change. Qu Weiguo, a professor at the Department of English Language and Literature at Fudan University, wrote in an article: "If Tibet (in Mandarin Chinese: Xi Zang) can't be translated in English as Tibet, is it still appropriate to call Hong Kong (in Mandarin Chinese: Xiang Gang) Hong Kong?

Qu notes that changing the name of a province should be a serious matter, supported by an official document from the State Language Commission.

He also believes that there is no need to change the name of Tibet, which is now understood in mainstream English as the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

Translation of geographical names is not clearly defined in Chinese law.

Overseas Tibetan exiled groups have criticized the replacement of "Tibet" with "Xizang" as an attempt to limit the concept of "Tibet" to the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Voice of Tibet, an affiliate of the 14th Dalai Lama's administration, previously stated that "the Chinese Communist Party has sent a large number of people to international conferences and events related to Tibetan studies to legitimize its rule over Tibet, in an attempt to indoctrinate them in the Chinese language and change their perspective on Tibet."

Unclear legality

David Bandurski, co-founder of the China Media Project, noted in a 2022 piece that the use of "Xizang" rather than "Tibet" to refer to the Tibet Autonomous Region began primarily in 2022, through articles and diplomatic discourse by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has not yet been followed up by the People's Daily or other official authorities.

Translation of geographical names is not clearly defined in Chinese law, and the Regulations on the Administration of Geographical Names, which came into force on May 1, 2022, makes no mention of the issue of translation.

The "New Language of Unification" cites a 1978 report approved by the State Council — a report on changing to Han (Mandarin Chinese) pinyin as a uniform standard for the spelling of the Roman alphabet for Chinese names and geographical names — as the only known regulation.

What is the official name of Tibet?

The official name of the region is the "Tibet Autonomous Region" (TAR). It is an autonomous region within the People's Republic of China. It is sometimes simply referred to as "Tibet."

​What is the historical name for Tibet?

Historically, Tibet was known as "Bod" in the Tibetan language. It was also referred to as "Xizang" in Mandarin Chinese. The term "Tibet" is a Westernized version of the name.

What's Tibet's nickname?

Home to Mount Everest, Tibet often referred to as the "Roof of the World" because of its high elevation and its location on the Tibetan Plateau, which is the world's highest and largest plateau. Much of the region is situated at an average elevation of over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), and it contains several of the world's highest mountain peaks,

Western Plunders Of Antiquities? Challenging The New Chinese Uproar
You Peng

Western Plunders Of Antiquities? Challenging The New Chinese Uproar

There is no doubt that the old museums in Europe and America bear deep imprints of the colonial era; in a mirror image, "protecting treasures" has become a transcendental reference for the new China.

In mid-August, the British Museum reported a suspected burglary.

A batch of gold jewelry, precious stones, semi-precious stones and glass from the 15th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D., not on public display and used for scholarly research, were said to have been stolen from the museum. The suspected burglar? The museum's curator of Greek artifacts. In a more explosive revelation, the director of the museum, Hartwig Fischer, confirmed that some 2,000 items had been lost from the museum's coffers over the past 10 years. He resigned at the end of August.

The incidents made ripples in China. The Global Times published an editorial on August 27 titled "Please return Chinese cultural relics to the British Museum free of charge," stating that "Most of them were looted or stolen when Britain took advantage of people's danger, robbed them while they were on fire, or even directly engineered disasters for China."

In September, a Chinese social media user produced a web series called "Escape from the British Museum'' — it became a hit. The show tells the story of a Chinese "jade pot" in the British Museum's collection that transforms into a young woman who wants to return to China.

Ironically, the jade pot is a contemporary artifact (made in 2011) and was given to the British Museum by its creator, Yu Ting, a jade carver from Suzhou.

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Photograph of Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad smiling for photos in front of a group of Chinese Syria studies students
Ru Sang

How China Fell In Love With Syria's First Lady

Asma al-Assad fits China's traditional, nationalist, and sexist stereotype of the 'perfect woman'. Her image has also helped distract from her husband's oppressive regime.

BEIJING — It was September 21 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad arrived in Beijing on a special Air China plane and began their six-day state visit to China.

Photos of the couple getting out of the plane and walking on the red carpet became an instant hit on Chinese social media. Their brief presence during the opening ceremony of the Hangzhou Asian Games quickly became viral and a top search on Weibo.

Asma was widely praised for both her appearance and temperament. As they visited Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, local media reported that a woman tourist touched Asma's face and paid her a compliment. Asma also did an exclusive interview with Phoenix Satellite TV and visited Beijing Foreign Studies University with her children to participate in a symposium — she was warmly welcomed and her presence was highly appreciated by teachers and students alike.

During their visit, keywords such as "First Lady", "Desert Rose" and "Diana Of The Orient" trended on China's mainstream social media platforms. Asma, who has dual British and Syrian nationality, was called a "hero" who "resists American hegemony".

If you believe some social media users, Asma is unaware of the real situation of the Syrian civil war, as she is an angel of "wisdom, beauty and kindness" and "the person who has the most fans in China."

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Chinese man smoking a cigarette with a solemn facial expression
Jude Chan, Jason McLure & Christoph Giesen

Big Tobacco, Tax Windfalls: The Inside Story Of What Really Feeds China's Smoking Habit

No country in the world has as big a cigarette industry as China. This is the story of how a giant state-backed monopoly created the industry, which provides more tax revenue than any other, and ultimately sabotaged the country's anti-smoking efforts in the process.

Updated October 3, 2023 at 12:15 p.m.

This story by The Examination was supported in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center. It was reported with Germany’s Der Spiegel and the investigative newsroom Paper Trail Media, Chinese-language Initium Media and Austria's Der Standard. The full version of the article can be read on The Examination here.

Chongqing, a booming municipality of 32 million people, was set to join a short list of major Chinese cities that have banned indoor smoking in public.

But in August 2020, Zhang Jianmin, head of the state-run monopoly China National Tobacco Corp., paid a visit to local leaders — including the mayor and the powerful head of Chongqing’s branch of the Communist Party.

When Chongqing’s new smoking law was adopted the next month, it included a significant carve-out long sought by the company: Restaurants, hotels and “entertainment venues” such as bars and karaoke clubs could allow smoking in designated areas.

It was another demonstration of strength by China National Tobacco Corp., the largest tobacco company in the world — and one more missed opportunity by China to live up to a key commitment it had made in signing a major international tobacco control treaty 20 years ago this November.

Under that treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, China pledged to enact a national indoor smoking ban, a measure that both protects people from second-hand smoke, and, researchers say, makes smoking less socially acceptable. But in China, the national law never happened, and efforts by municipalities to implement their own bans have been challenged at every turn by the tobacco monopoly, commonly known as China Tobacco.

Other important elements of the WHO treaty also have yet to manifest. China has not banned the marketing of low-tar cigarettes as safer than other products (they aren’t), and has failed to require that tobacco manufacturers disclose many of the cancer-causing toxins in their products.

China’s tobacco addiction, meanwhile, has continued unabated. Smoking rates have barely budged, even as they have plunged in many comparable countries — and as the country has undergone a remarkable economic transformation.

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Photograph of an ethnic Uyghur man cooking Kebab in Kashgar bazaar.​
Huang Yi Ying

Every Step, Every Swipe: Inside China's System Of Total Surveillance Of Uyghurs

Research by anthropologist Darren Byler provides a rare look inside the surveillance state China has created to control the Uyghur population of Xinjiang province, where every move is tracked, people are forced to carry cell phones, and "re-education camps" await anyone suspected of trying to break free.

With the release of police files and internal documents from Xinjiang's re-education camps, as well as testimonies from exiles in Xinjiang, the world has been able to get a better grasp of the reality of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) control over the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and its human rights abuses.

Since the end of last year, a number of testimonies and publications have been revealed describing the experiences of people who have endured the re-education camps.

Research by anthropologist Darren Byler, assistant professor of international studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, provides an insightful, raw look at the experiences of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Byler is an internationally recognized researcher on Uyghur society and China's surveillance system, and has been active in advocating for Uyghur human rights as a witness to the re-education system and surveillance governance in Xinjiang.

Singapore-based media news outlet Initium Media interviewed Byler during a recent visit to Taiwan. He presents his insights on technological surveillance in Xinjiang and the lives of Uyghurs there, and emphasized that what has happened to the Uyghurs could happen to anyone.

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A young person signs to a camera infront of a black background
Shi Wanping

Why Have Hong Kong's Hearing Impaired Been Left Behind?

Sign language services are relatively good in such Asian countries as Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Why do they lag in Hong Kong? An exploration of the island's particular circumstance

HONG KONG — In May 2020, Chung Chi Keung, a deaf man suffering from depression, committed suicide 16 hours after being discharged from Kwai Chung Hospital in Hong Kong.

In July 2023, the Coroner's Court held an inquest, revealing that the suicide risk assessment form had not been properly filled out, and that Chung hadn't had access to a sign language interpreter while in hospital, and was left to communicate there with only pen and paper.

The incident raised concern among Hong Kong's community of people with hearing impairments around the hospital's failure to provide timely sign language assistance, which had clearly created miscommunication.

The general public knows very little about sign language, as a language and a service. If they think that there is sufficient support for the deaf in this society, and that it is only negligence and individual failures that led to this tragic incident, this glosses over the real problem of insufficient service, and also oversimplifies the complex linguistic reality of sign language.

Singapore news media The Initium invited Shi Wanping, a sign language researcher at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Associate Director of the Center for Sign Language and Deaf Studies, to help share a basic understanding of sign language and some of the related issues.

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