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THE INITIUM
The Initium is a Hong Kong-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 boy being tested for covid by man in hazmat suit
Coronavirus
Deng Yuwen

Xi's Burden — Why China Is Sticking With Zero COVID

Too much has been put in to the state-sponsored truth that minimal spread of the virus is the at-all-cost objective. But if the Chinese economy continues to suffer, Xi Jinping may have no choice but to second guess himself.

The tragic bus accident in Guiyang last month — in which 27 people being sent to quarantine were killed — was one of the worst examples of collateral damage since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China nearly three years ago. While the crash can ultimately be traced back to bad government policy, the local authorities did not register it as a Zero COVID related casualty. It was, for them, a simple traffic accident.

The officials in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, of course, had no alternative. Drawing a link between the deadly crash and the strict policy of Zero COVID, touted by President Xi Jinping, would have revealed the absurdity of the government's choices.

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​Mass testing in China’s city of Guiyang
Society
Jian Fu, Shuyue Chen, Xiao Lin

The Guiyang Zero-COVID Bus Crash: A Chinese Tragedy In Three Acts

The city in southern China was put under harsh lockdown earlier this month after just a few positive COVID tests. Then a bus carrying quarantined residents crashed, killing 27. The senseless accident left residents more fearful and suspicious of each other than ever.

GUIYANG — Two weeks before the tragic Sep. 18 bus crash in this southern Chinese city, a local resident named Jin was anxiously driving out of her neighborhood. The police officers on duty were blocking the intersection and the area was closed off. Even though her employer had demanded she come to work, the local neighborhood committee had forbidden her from going out. That same evening one of Jin's colleague had been asked twice to get out of a taxi, and had to walk home.

The details of how China's latest lockdown disrupted Guiyang residents sound pointless after Sunday's crash of a bus transporting quarantined residents crashed, killing 27, and sparking a new round of outrage over the country's strict zero-COVID policy. And yet it is worth reviewing what had already happened to life in the city of 4.3 million after just a few cases of the virus were detected.

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Woman walks down the street in China
China
Qiliu Zhao

How China's Race To Boost Low Birth Rates Is Backfiring With Teenage Pregnancy

In an attempt to counter an aging population, China announced its "three-child policy" last year. It has also cracked down on sex education and contraception. The move has meant that abortion is often the only option for Chinese girls and women in the post-family planning era.

In 2018, the phrase "family planning" disappeared from the names of Chinese State Council ministries and commissions. Three years later, China announced the "third-child policy", allowing one family to have up to three children.

The same year, a public service gynecology clinic serving teenagers in Xi'an was asked to move from the premises provided by the local family planning department, and was no longer invited to host contraceptive education outreach activities. Anqin Zhou, the founder of the clinic, understood clearly that the government was taking contraception much less seriously than before. She was even asked, "Why are you still talking about contraception now that we are encouraging childbirth?"

But alongside the current indifference to contraception is the troubling question of teenage abortion in China.


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Photo of a worker walking past two ships in a shipyard in Taizhou, China
Economy
Lu Yang

The China-Vietnam-U.S. "Triangle": A Model For Globalization's Future?

Following the escalation of the Chinese-U.S. trade war in 2018, the "Made in China" label is not as ubiquitous as it once was. Southeast Asian economies are on the rise — but their growth doesn't necessarily threaten Chinese dominance.

There have been a flurry of reports recently in the Chinese media about the rise of Southeast Asian economies, particularly Vietnam's.

The question of whether Southeast Asia is about to replace China as the leading source of low-cost production is not new, and the "special trade corridor" between China, Southeast Asia and the U.S. became a popular subject again after the escalation of the China–U.S.trade war in 2018.

The many discussions of "supply chain relocation" for European and American companies often point to Southeast Asia as the first choice, while after the pandemic in 2020, some 60–70% of manufacturing companies in Zhejiang province in the east of China (the hub of the country's private economy) had said they would consider building factories in the neighboring Asian countries due to the rapid rise in domestic labor costs.

And now, there are more and more signs that Southeast Asia could be a good bet for companies as China faces issues both at home and abroad. But the larger picture reminds us that China and the West will very much need a middle ground in the future.

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Far Out, Far East: Meet North Korea's Biggest Booster In Taiwan
Geopolitics
Lee Yee On

Far Out, Far East: Meet North Korea's Biggest Booster In Taiwan

"Taiwanese would laugh at the leader worship of the North Koreans, but wasn't that what we did in the days of Chiang Kai-shek?"

TAIPEI — On the evening of April 15, a crowd of nearly 100 people eagerly swarmed inside an ordinary building in Taipei's Ximending neighborhood. The occasion? The "Sun Festival", which commemorates the birthday of the first leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, and one of the most important holidays each year.

The venue was decorated in a North Korean style, with DPRK flags and photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il visible all around, while the tables displayed North Korean-made noodles, biscuits, tins, soaps, cigarettes and toy rifles.

Most attendees were in their 20s and 30s, with males outnumbering females by about 2-to-1. There were couples, friends and even a family with children. Everyone who attended received a small North Korean flag, two slices of Korean fried green bean cake on a paper plate and a portion of Korean seaweed rice rolls.

In addition to the "North Korean Lifestyle Exhibition" as a selling point, the event also featured a speaker recounting his travels to the country. And just before the talk began, the speaker invited all participants to stand up, played the North Korean national anthem and then led them in a bow to the statue of Kim Il Sung.

Hung Hao, the organizer for this event, is also the manager of the Facebook page "DPRK Business News." The page now has more than 33,000 followers, but Hung's business is more than that: on his bilingual business cards, he details the other services that include investment opportunities in the DPRK, business missions and contacts, business information and consultation, the import and export of DPRK goods from Taiwan.

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Asian Cults And Castes, Where New Religions Meet Power Politics
Society
Hu Qingxin, Yin Yuet

Asian Cults And Castes, Where New Religions Meet Power Politics

Emerging religions and cults in Asia are deeply intertwined with politics: in China, religions need political approval, while in Japan religious groups use political platforms to assert themselves. Not even the killing of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, carried out by a member of the Unification Church, has prompted a closer look at exactly what role religion plays in society.

On July 8, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead while giving a speech in Nara.

The suspect confessed that he killed Abe because of his close relationship with the Unification Church, which his mother adhered to and went bankrupt for. The Unification Church was founded by Korean Messiah Claimant Sun Myung Moon in 1954, and entered Japan in 1956. At its peak, it had 4.7 million followers, but declined after the 1990s due to scandals related to donations and brainwashing.

Meanwhile, in an interview on July 4, the new Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, John Lee Ka-chiu, mentioned that he had been practising qigong for more than 25 years.

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Photo of ​Nancy Pelosi and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen walking
Geopolitics
Lin Zi-li

Pelosi In Taiwan: Bold Diplomacy, Perfect Timing

"She's now the leader of the Western movement recognizing the existence of a democratic Taiwan, aiming to break Beijing's "one-China principle..." A Taiwanese political scientist argues the 19-hour visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have real lasting impact.

-Analysis-

TAIPEI — As many have noted, Nancy Pelosi’s recent 19-hour trip to Taiwan was the first visit to the island by a U.S. House Speaker since 1997. In the intervening 25 years, some things have changed, and others haven't.

While China is now a major world economic and military power, cross-Strait relations are similarly marked by high levels of hostility and mistrust.China still wants reunification, Taiwan still supports the status quo, and there is no room for compromise.

The question of why Pelosi insisted on visiting Taiwan despite warnings from China begins to show what drives her, and what's at stake.

Her trip was a critique of China's growing ability to shape the international order. During a much earlier visit to Beijing, in 1991, Pelosi, already a member of the U.S. Congress, was temporarily arrested by the Chinese police and expelled from the country after pulling a black banner in Tiananmen Square "dedicated to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the cause of democracy in China."

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Hong Kong Tattoo Show 2021​
Society
Chung Kin Wah

China's Tattoo Crackdown: Celebrity, Subversion And A Twist Of Patriotism

A new regulation in China is cracking down hard on tattoos. The law is ostensibly about minors, but some argue that it's going too far and actively erasing the glorious Chinese past.

For those who get tattoos to be noticed, the Chinese government has noticed.

In June, China's State Council released new measures targeting the showcasing of tattoos in public media, forbidding publications, films and television programs from encouraging or abetting minors to get tattoos. This new regulation also prohibits any enterprise, organization or individual from providing tattooing services to minors.

The country's Children's Welfare Department later announced that minors cannot be tattooed, even with the consent of their parents. The regulations also state that anyone who gets a tattoo for a minor in violation of the law, or who breaks the law on promoting tattoo awareness, will face prosecution.

The Chinese government had already banned entertainment artists with tattoos from appearing on TV shows back in 2018, describing them as people who were "alienated from the Party and the country."

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