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.
China
Wang Yu-jie

In China, Women Still Have To Fight For Their Right To Be Single

A stand-up comedian in China recently used the term "single panic" to describe fears among women about being alone, and the words have since resonated in online discussions.

The "panic" is a product, the female comedian pointed out, of pressure and prejudices in Chinese society against single women. The only way for single women to be regarded as "not that miserable," the entertainer joked, is to live a more glamorous life than a married woman. "But even then, people will still say, 'look, she lives in such a big house and there's not even a man in it.'"

In reacting to the comedian's bit on "single panic," many online argued that it speaks to gender inequality within traditional Chinese values. As one love-and-relationships blogger wrote: "For centuries men have been the masters of the house, while women are the caregivers, and they are born to satisfy and serve the others."

Nowadays, Chinese women are gaining higher social status through access to better education. And yet, the traditional norm of "getting married as early as possible" is still popular, albeit with new social powers given to women, the blogger argues. "When being single is stigmatized, aging becomes a restriction. The mentality of Chinese women is always in conflict."

The writer goes on to say that societal norms make marriage the only significant relationship for women looking to be accepted in society, and that in turn discriminates women who have not walked down the aisle as being somehow "leftovers."


Two women glance at a mobile phone together in central BeijingArtyom Ivanov/TASS via ZUMA Press



At the same time, inflated ideas about marital life lead people into situations they haven't really though, the blogger argues. That, in turn, can result in full-blown financial, emotional and spiritual turmoil. In that sense, marriage for the sake of security is a paradox.

Others on social media take a different view, and criticize what they see as efforts, among certain sectors, to "promote non-marriage" and "infertility" — things that are ultimately "dangerous for the country." And it's not just older voices who take this kind of reactionary stance. One recent social media post (that garnered 4,000 likes) compared the so-called "leftover women" to the milk poured out during the economic crisis.

The issue of single women was also brought up, interestingly, in a 2017 IKEA commercial that aired in China. In the ad, which stirred up more than a bit of controversy on social media, a girl dines with her parents and calls out to her mother, who slams her chopsticks on the spot and turns against her: "Don't call me mom if you don't bring your boyfriend back!" Then, when the girl's boyfriend comes to visit, the girl's parents completely change their attitude and immediately set up a happy and warm home.

Some believed that IKEA's ad is a reflection of Chinese reality, that parents pressuring their children to marry is widespread. They saw nothing wrong, in other words, with the message. But others took real issue with the commercial, saying it demeans women and promotes a distorted concept. "If you don't have a boyfriend, you can't even call your mother?" one social media user asked.

Marriage for the sake of security is a paradox.

IKEA subsequently issued a statement apologizing and withdrew the ad.

Many argued that IKEA's "urge for marriage" ad simply missed that mark, that in trying to address a hot topic in Chinese society, it failed to grasp the psychology of the target group.

In another ad — SK-II's "She Ended Up at the Matchmaking Corner," from 2016 — several "leftover women" are shown speaking with their parents. It opens with the parents putting pressure on their unmarried daughters. But in the second half of the commercial, the daughters are able to explain to their parents that they "don't want to get married just for the sake of getting married." In the end, the parents seem to understand, and there's a reconciliation between the generations.

In addition to choosing between infertility and marriage, some single Chinese women are also looking for a third way: single parenthood. A particularly well-known case is Haiyang Ye, CEO of a cosmetics company, who traveled to the United States in 2017 to buy sperm and gave birth to her daughter Doris through artificial insemination. The effort cost her more than $75,000.

In a short documentary she revealed how some people on the internet criticized her for being selfish, saying that the family she had formed without a man was incomplete and that the child would have a miserable life. Ye believes that she has done everything she can to give her daughter the love she needs and that her family choices shouldn't be anyone's business but her own.

In the commenting section for the documentary, many women expressed their appreciation for her choice. Some argued that a responsible single mother can offer more happiness to her children than two parents who don't get along, while others pointed out that in two-parent families, many fathers today don't take responsibility and aren't, in the end, "essential.''

Others criticized Ye for trying to start a trend, something the CEO denies. She responded by saying that what she'd like rather is for women to have more freedom of choice. That, she said, is what she'd like to see become more mainstream.

Freedom is also the message that the comedian was trying to get at with her "single panic" routine. She too wants every woman to choose as she sees fit, and to not have to face pressure or criticism from those around her.

Society
Simin Ma

For Chinese Adoptees In The U.S., Identity Comes In Layers

Over the past 30 years, more than 170,000 Chinese-born children have been raised by U.S. families. Most of the parents are white and many live in areas where Asians are almost nonexistent.

WASHINGTON D.C. — Yang Chunju was born 20 years ago in Guangdong, China, and was abandoned at birth. A year later she was adopted by a couple from Pennsylvania, in the United States, and along with a new family, she got a new name, Mary Ruth Tomko, though most people call her Mei.

The young woman grew up in the small town of York — "the American countryside," as she describes it. And in the schools she attended, there were no other Asians. In other words, no one else looked like her, and Mei recalls being very lonely throughout her childhood.

Nor did anyone show any real interest in Asian culture, and although her parents encouraged her to study her roots, they themselves didn't really participate. Growing up in a white community bearing a white name, no one told her what it meant to be Asian American.

The United States has more adopted Chinese children than any other country in the world — more than 170,000 since 1992, when the Chinese Adoption Law went into effect, according to the organization International Adoption. Most of these children grow up in white communities and are raised by white families. As such, they see themselves subconsciously as white and often experience identity crises because they do not look like the people around them.

C.N. Le, a researcher on Asian Americans at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says that when they are exposed to racism or experience racial discrimination, they often have two responses: flight or fight. "To run away is to give up their Asian identity and disassociate," says Le. "The other reaction is to fight, to unite with others who have similar experiences."

No one told her what it meant to be Asian American.

For a long time, Mei would purposely conceal the fact that she was adopted. She would avoid walking alongside her parents so that people would not think that they are related. She recalls too how her mom one remarked that all the boys in school were interested in her because she's "very exotic." For years, the phrase made her uncomfortable.

Later she told her mom that she had to "make herself white" to integrate with her family and community: She turned her brown eyes blue in Instagram photos and pretended to be interested in parties, games and relationships to have more things in common with white friends.

Mei wrote in her diary that she "never had an Asian-American role model," even when it comes to learning how to dress. Only in adolescence, when she discovered the world of K-pop — modern Korean pop music — did she begin to realize that "Asians could also be beautiful."

"I didn't know why I was so addicted to K-pop, but now looking back, it answered my doubts and gave me confidence," she says.

At university, Mei joined an Asian student community and got to know a group of peers who grew up in Asian immigrant families and were "of similar appearance." In doing so, she fulfilled her dream of finally being part of a group that she could really identify with. From her new friends she began to learn different Asian traditions and religious cultures. Among other things, she discovered that for Asians, the concept of "family" is entirely built on blood kinship, while for her, as someone who was adopted, "family" was constructed around love and emotions.

More generally, she began to realize that her experiences were unique and valuable and to construct her triple-layered identity as an "interracial adoptee, Chinese American and Asian American."

Another Chinese-born adoptee who wishes to remain anonymous describes the experience as a continuous journey with no end point. "When it comes to adoption, many people only see the positive aspects, such as the fact that the adoptee has a great life," the person explains. "But in fact, there are gains and losses. In gaining, we lose our family of origin, culture, language and country, things we may never get back. I feel very lucky and grateful for what I have, but I also want to acknowledge the complexities of adoption."

The murder in 2020 of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white police officer, led to a nationwide anti-racism campaign. For Mei, who studies international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., the movement had a personal impact, causing her to look back at the moments of being "whitened" or "labeled" as a child and to re-examine her relationship with her parents.


Philanthropist Wang Jiayu holds an orphaned baby in China's Yingshang provinceXinhua/ ZUMA Wire


Her parents had always told her in the past "we don't see you as Asian, we just see you as our daughter." But for Mei, there's something unsatisfying about that line of thinking. She remembers her mother — a Democrat and the mother of two Asian children — feeling defensive, for example, when Mei read a book about white privilege.

"I realized that for many white parents, it's hard to be really aware of their own behavior, or to face their own inherent biases and their own deeply rooted racism," Mei explains. "It's also hard for them to face their own inherent prejudice and embedded racism."

Yi Wendong (Emma Coath), who was born in 1999 in Jiangxi, China, also grew up in a mostly white Pennsylvania neighborhood. The difference in her case, however, is that Wendong has three sisters who were also adopted from China, plus a neighbor who adopted three Chinese girls. As a result, she grew up with six similarly aged adopted children from China. And although she was troubled by "not knowing whether to eat salad like an American or Chinese food like a Chinese," she felt "very fortunate to have people in my family who look like me, who have dark hair and dark skin."

The young woman was studying graphic and interactive design at Temple University in Pennsylvania when she accidentally discovered that two of her female classmates were also Chinese adoptees, and they were both eager to meet more adoptees from similar backgrounds. And so, as part of a design assignment, Wendong excitedly showed her professor the social software she had created to serve Chinese adoptees and adoptive parents.

"Many people don't see adoption as part of history, but it needs to be mentioned."

She named the software Péngyou, or "friends" in Chinese, to not only allow adoptees to connect with each other, but also give adoptive parents a way to form an online community to share their parenting experiences. Unfortunately, the professor failed to grasp why the idea held such significance for Wendong. "Many people don't see adoption as part of history, but it needs to be mentioned," she says.

On the heels of the Floyd killing, another anti-racism campaign — the Stop Asian Hate movement — took shape and gained considerable momentum in places like New York and San Francisco. But in Wendong's small Pennsylvania town, it hardly made a ripple. At any rate, the young woman will soon be moving on. She recently landed a designer job in another city. She's excited about the change, but also worried. Not being with her white parents presents another kind of identity crisis.

As researcher C.N. Le explains, the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements have shown everyone, especially Asians and Asian Americans, that they can't take for granted that they'll automatically be accepted into mainstream U.S. society.

"Their social status is still very fragile and precarious," he says. "I hope that Asian adoptees will not run away from their identities and will confront their hostility and unite with others who suffer from racism, whether they be other Asian Americans, African Americans, or other people of color."

Mei is doing just that. At her university in Washington, D.C. she is researching ways to raise white racial sensitivity. She has also returned to her high school and community to speak and urge people to donate and care about people of different identities. She says she's "learned her identity as an interracial adoptee to engage in more meaningful discussions."

Society
Zhang Bin

Are The Olympics More Trouble Than They're Worth? The View From Asia

From global politics to the pandemic, problems abound for the Tokyo Games. Next year, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics, things could get messier still.

-Analysis-

BEIJING — After a five-year wait, the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, but the challenges remain palpable. Delayed for a full year, the event has been agony for Japan, audience ratings are down to all all-time low, and politics continue to cast a shadow over what is supposed to be the world's premiere sporting event.

Three days before the Games began, the International Olympic Committee, the IOC, voted on July 20 to add the word "together" to the Olympic motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger." This is the first time in more than 100 years that the motto has been changed, underscoring the fact that in the context of the pandemic, the global political environment has become more complex. The political meaning behind this addition is obvious.

The Olympics can never be separated from politics. Even without going further back in history, there were several boycotts of the Olympic Games in the latter half of the 20th century. Such was the case with the 1980 Moscow Games, when the U.S.-led Western countries launched a boycott and dozens of other countries, including China, joined in, and with the Los Angeles Games four years after that, when the Soviet Union, East Germany and many other socialist countries refused to participate.

The myth that the Games are apolitical has been well and truly dashed by their involvement in grubby geopolitics.

Tokyo 2020 comes with its own complicated backdrop of world geopolitics, especially with regards to Sino-U.S. and Russian-U.S. relations. Adding to the unrest are issues related to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

This April, the IOC banned protests and campaigns during Tokyo 2020, but the rules were changed in July, allowing athletes to kneel in protest before the games, but prohibiting actions during the games and on the podium, including wearing clothes with the BLM slogan. Early on in the Games, Hong Kong badminton player Angus Ng Ka Long was caught in controversy as he was wearing a black shirt in combat, and many claimed that a black shirt relates to the protests in Hong Kong, therefore making it a political act.

LGBTQ issues are at play as well. The Tokyo Games mark the first formal admission of transgender athletes, and in total, 135 participants belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are competing. The emergence of transgender athletes has drawn widespread skepticism, though most critics take issue with the IOC, rather than the athletes themselves. They accuse the Committee of compromising fairness. Supporters, on the other hand, argue that the participation of transgender athletes paves the way for a more inclusive future in sports and can inspire young LGBTQ people around the world.

Female athlete participation in Tokyo 2020 stands at 49%, a great achievement for gender equality. And for the first time in history, the IOC required participating delegations to have at least one female and one male athlete, and encouraged delegations to have one male and one female flag bearer at the opening ceremony. In addition, nine new mixed-gender events were added to the Olympic Games, including mixed pairs table tennis and mixed swimming and running relays.

"There's considerable tension between the notions of fairness and inclusion, and the desire and need to protect the women's category," the IOC acknowledged in a statement published by CNN.

Fireworks during the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony — Photo: Daniel A. Anderson/ZUMA Press Wire

The Olympics are caught in a dilemma, in other words, over whether to be more inclusive or more protective of women's rights. Many fear that the fame and fortune that come with the Olympics will encourage more men to compete as transgender, and that women, who have always aspired to gender equality, will ultimately pay the price.

There's another shadow on the horizon, as talk has already surfaced in some Western countries about boycotting the Beijing 2022 winter games. China, for its part, strongly opposes "politicizing sports." So far, there are no IOC members or athletes joining the boycott in public but many reports suggest that the U.S. and the EU are preparing bills to resist Beijing. There's also been pressure on British government officials and members of the royal family not to attend.

Even without a formal boycott, this tense political environment will still be projected onto the Olympic world, and that can have a direct impact on sports, as exemplified by the National Baseball Association's situation in China. This is not a big international picture that the IOC is happy to face.

"The myth that the Games are apolitical has been well and truly dashed by their involvement in grubby geopolitics. The way they sanitize despotic regimes make us all unwittingly complicit in repression," columnist Melanie Phillips wrote in the British daily The Times.

The good old days

It's worth, therefore, asking the question of how humanity welcomed the modern Olympics in the first place. "The inauguration of the revived Olympic games today was a delight to the eye and an impressive appeal to the imagination," The New York Times reported in 1896.

The modern Olympics, wrapped as they were in the banner of idealism, were a phenomenal success.

It was a beautiful moment of history that lasted two weeks, wrapped in the aristocratic atmosphere of Europe, and that coincided with the so-called Belle Époque, the "Gilded Age" of European and North American optimism and colonial romance. It was also the golden age of the World's Fair, a time of social dynamism. Those first modern Games, in Greece, came at the right time, in other words. And although only 241 white men competed, the marathon event drew 80,000 spectators to the Pan-Athenian Stadium.

The modern Olympics, wrapped as they were in the banner of idealism, were a phenomenal success. And in the century that followed, the Games — despite being repeatedly hit hard by politics — were still seen as a common dream by athletes around the world. As time went on, the Olympics also became a valuable and successful commodity.

Even so, critics still believe that the event is trapped in time. As The Japan Times suggested: "It is a 19th century construct floating through a 21st century world."

Japan's Naohisa Takato defeats Kazakhstan's Yeldos Smetov in the men's judo semifinal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. — Photo: David G. Mcintyre/ZUMA

In an interview, former U.S. table tennis player Han Xiao described the Games as a system that is completely separate from the rest of society. "And that's where a lot of the problems come in, whether it's with corruption or imbalances in power that lead to athlete abuse or human rights violations," he said. "If you're not keeping up with the advances that other areas of society are making, or you're not subject to the oversight of society as a whole, it's kind of predictable that these things are going to happen."

This then leads us to a question worth pondering: Does humanity still need a sporting event with such a hefty program and bloated schedule?

For the many people struggling right now, there is no way to watch the Olympics with pleasure.

Truth be told, people may not really need the Olympics that much anymore. Many of the events aren't all that exciting, and the schedule is dense. All of that affects the viewing experience. It appears, in other words, that the Olympics are gradually losing their meaning. Their idealistic color is faded. They're no longer a symbol of world peace, and their importance as a source of national pride has diminished.

And then there's the pandemic, which has widely affected the global economy. For the many people across the world who are struggling right now, there is no way to watch the Olympics with pleasure. The modern Games were a product of the "good times." But now, in this not-so-good time — coupled with all the other problems affecting the event — the Olympics find themselves inevitably on a dangerous and rugged road.

Society
Dan Wu

''Seditious'' Sheep? Inside Hong Kong's Crackdown On Children's Books

Hong Kong’s national security police recently arrested five people over the publication of children’s books featuring sheep, which it says represent Hong Kongers, attacking wolves, allegedly standing for mainlanders.

The Hong Kong National Security Police was on the move again last week, although this time the surprising target was a series of children's stories.

On July 22, authorities arrested five people over conspiring to publish seditious publications. The accused, all relatively young (between the ages of 25 and 28), are members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, as Hong Kong-based media The Initium reports. The operation against them marks the first time the National Security Law has been used to target stories directed at children.

The three books in question center around an imaginary village of sheep: The most recent, titled Dustman of the Sheep Village, was published in March and is accused of alluding to last year's Hong Kong medical workers' strike; the other two, Guardians of the Sheep Village and Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village, was blamed for making direct links to the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement in 2019 and the detainment of 12 Hong Kong residents in 2020. Authorities say the books are "creating hatred and instilling anti-government ideas among children."

Books should never make people hate the government.

In a press conference, Steve Li, senior superintendent of the Police National Security Department, explained in detail why the books are considered "illegal": The characters in the story, wolves and sheep, respectively symbolize mainlanders and Hong Kongers, local news website Stand News quotes Li as saying. By portraying wolves as "dirty," he said, the book implies that mainlanders are responsible for introducing "viruses to Hong Kong."

Li also said that the images of sheep fighting wolves and of sheep being eaten up by wolves are an attempt to incite violence and hatred against the regime. "Sheep are gentle animals, but highlighting that they can attack is publicizing violence," he said.

A page from "Twelve Warriors of the Sheep Village" Photo: The General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists

Li urged bookstores to hand in remaining copies to the police, and encouraged owners of the books to destroy their copies. Teachers, he added, are forbidden from using books for educational purposes.

"This isn't about criticizing the government," Li explained. "It's that actions, books and so on, should never make people hate the government."

When asked whether political fables such as George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm would be illegal in Hong Kong, Li responded that he had read the latter and thinks it is different from the children's books in question.

Geopolitics
Jo Tei, Chan Yat Do and Jeung Yet Gwang

Why Chinese Youth Are Still So Eager To Join The Communist Party

BEIJING — "Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to join the party..." Yanru, a 22-year-old university student studying at a well-known university in northern China, just became a CCP member last year. For her and her peers, joining the Chinese Communist Party is something that just seems natural: "It has led us to victories, fought back the foreign colonists, and built up the strong and prosperous new China today."

For Yanru, the purpose of joining the party is to serve the society, and to be useful for the country. "There is only one correct motive for joining the party, that is to serve the people with full hearts, and to eventually fully achieve communism," she wrote in her membership application letter.

But for others, being a party member is also a proof of excellence, a sign of elite status. Another young Chinese university student, Jieru, wants to join the party simply because she wants to become a civil servant. With young people becoming more focused on finding employment in the public sector, and the national civil servants admission exam becoming more competitive, all are aware of a tacit soft rule that CPC members have more chances of being selected for such posts.

In online forums, there are countless articles explaining the benefits of joining the party: a CPC membership would be an advantage when working in public administration and state enterprises. Some enterprises and institutions will list "Party members first" in their job postings, and some positions are deemed exclusive to the CPC.

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with students at a primary school in Zhongyi — Photo: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/ZUMA Wire

In a 2016 speech, President Xi Jinping declared that the Chinese state-owned enterprise system was "special" for the integration of the Party's leadership in corporations. According to a bank manager from southern China, there now exists an atmosphere in enterprises where everyone is actively joining the party without external motivation, which was gradually formed since Xi came to power. "Without party membership, you don't even dream of promotion."

But the party is also limiting membership admission under Xi, with its focus shifted to monitoring "the quality of membership." Following this initiative in 2013, newly admitted numbers in the party have been declining each year, meeting its lowest point in 2017 with 117,000 new members. Even so, in some universities, teachers have to motivate students to join the party in order to fulfill the "quotas and orders from above."

Nevertheless, it is no simple task to join the CPC. Apart from the strict examinations on political profile, academic performance and social engagements, candidates also need to take classes, while going through at least six months of waiting to pass on to the next selection steps. Loads of paperwork is also unavoidable, especially when some of the CPC branches' administrations are in chaos.

The irony is that, in reality, becoming a CPC member does not change one's life much. Qiuyuan, a university student, recalled that the only highlight was the admission ceremony, where 30-40 new members solemnly made the vow: "We are ready to sacrifice everything for the party and the people." Qiuyuan was shocked by the pledge: "Were they actually serious about this?"

Still, for most people, party membership only leads to more meetings and orientation activities, such as visiting "patriotic travel sites," and group meetings where members are encouraged to communicate and conduct "constructive critique." The latter is a response to Xi's initiative in 2016, "Criticism and self-critique are the medicine and care for our comrades… we need to name the problems, raise opinions and evaluate the harms."

Every effort is made to prevent students from dropping out of the party.

Another issue is the difficulty to pull out of the party. Theoretically, members have the freedom to quit; according to party protocols, ordinary citizens will not be expelled from the party, yet withdrawal is only granted under two circumstances: when a member voluntarily requests, or when a member "lacks revolutionary will, does not fulfill his/her obligations as a party member." But no specific guidelines were given. Official documents only suggest that withdrawal should not be announced to the public, and the party should not force the members to remain. Still, one university teacher confessed that in most cases, every effort is made to prevent students from dropping out of the party.

Still, being a party member is indeed different. Qiuyuan is beginning to sense the benefits in her career, as her housing aids and social benefits have been augmented. Under certain circumstances, party membership seems to be a trouble, especially in today's geopolitical conflicts: the Trump administration had forbidden current and former Communist Party members to immigrate to the U.S., and even their families are restricted in getting travel visas. As there are currently about 91.9 million CPC members in China, about 200 million Chinese are affected by this policy.

A group of children with red scarves and national flags pose for photos in Beijing Tiananmen Square under the party emblem — Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/ZUMA Wire

At the end of the day, young CPC members are just more or less as apolitical as most of the population in this country. "Every country has its own mode of administration, while public opinion is controlled for the stability of the country, not only in China," says Yanru. "Young people are easily incited, and we all think the CPC is pretty good anyway."

Society

For Chinese Regime, Suicide In Hong Kong Is An Act Of Terrorism

If someone is unhappy, that's one thing. But if a city is unhappy, that means something very different.

-Analysis-

HONG KONG — On the evening of July 1, outside the Sogo Department Store in Hong Kong, Leung Kin-fai stabbed a police officer from behind with a knife and later killed himself. The incident was described as a "local lone wolf terrorist attack" by authorities. According to Ming Pao, a local newspaper, Leung, a man in his 50s, had no accomplices and wrote a suicide note before the murder, mentioning his dissatisfaction with society and criticizing the brutality of police, who he said harbor criminals and are not subject to checks and balances. Further, he expressed his belief that "freedom has been lost" after the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law. The police have not yet released the full contents of the suicide note.

According to the theory of French sociologist David Émile Durkheim, such acts are classified as fatalistic suicides. Durkheim argued that when a society over-regulates individual life and even suffocates people with repression, then there are bound to be suicides as the only outlet to escape this control. But has Hong Kong reached this point of desperation?

Even wearing black clothes is considered a political statement

In the past two years, Hong Kong's government has indeed become increasingly suppressive, and the situation has taken a sharp turn for the worse ever since the enactment of the National Security Law in 2020, with most civil movement leaders either fleeing or being detained as freedom of speech is severely curtailed. This April, pollster Gallup released its Global Happiness Index, which ranked Hong Kong 113th in terms of freedom of choice in life, lower than mainland China or Taiwan; it's worth mentioning that Hong Kong ranked 66th in this index in 2019. In other words, Hong Kongers are becoming more depressed and pessimistic. If someone is unhappy, they could try changing their environment or leaving the source of pain; but if a city is unhappy, is forbidden to speak out and cannot complain, its residents would only die or explode in silence.

This theory might also explain other suicidal attacks in China, with citizens retaliating against government officials for unfair treatment and injustices. The Chinese government is, of course, sensitive to those issues, but hardly counts those incidents as terrorism attacks. In the Chinese understanding of national security, attacks that target government agencies, police and military are defined as terrorist activities.

On the other hand, Chinese state media often combines violent terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism (referred to as the Three Forces) in narratives, so the fight against terrorism is in fact the same as eliminating those three forces. The terrorist attack on July 28, 2014 in Xinjiang is a typical example: A group of armed Uyghurs attacked the government and police stations and burned cars along the way, resulting in 37 civilian deaths. 59 Uyghurs involved in the attack were shot. 215 others were arrested and evidence of "terrorism" including "jihad" flags were seized.

A 2017 anti-terrorism drill in China's Henan Province —Photo: Wang Zirui / SIPA Asia / ZUMA

The separatist movement in Xinjiang has a long history, but it is only recently that it was labeled as terrorism. After 9/11, the Chinese government used the U.S.-initiated international counterterrorism mechanism to officially classify the Xinjiang independence movement as terrorism, thereby reinforcing the legitimacy of the crackdown on Xinjinag and reducing external criticism of China's handling of the region. However, from 2001 to 2013, even though there were many attacks orchestrated by Xinjiang independence activists, the Chinese government did not act much to put an end to the independence movement other than just monitoring and handling the attacks. It was not until 2014, when a number of major terrorist attacks took place in various parts of China by such activists, that the government began to establish the Xinjiang Vocational Skills Education and Training Camps.

So how would the Chinese government tackle suicidal attacks like the one in Hong Kong? Take for example the series of self-immolations by Tibetans since 2009. Most of those who set themselves on fire are lamas and nuns, but also quite a few are peasants. Although such incidents are occasionally mentioned in state media, not all were reported or confirmed. The administration has taken a relatively conservative approach to the self-immolations, blaming them on the Dalai clique, but not publicly labeling them as terrorism.

Back in Hong Kong, the context is naturally different from that of Xinjiang and Tibet, but the authorities have already been treating attacks on the government as "local terrorism" and defined its meaning as secession. As a result, all those who support Leung Kin-fai are being recognized as supporters for secession and have become government targets. Officials are now on high-alert for similar attacks on police, with all mourning activities for Leung regarded as support for terrorist activities. Even wearing black clothes is considered a political statement.

In today's context of rule under the National Security Law in Hong Kong, when a tragedy of fatalistic suicide happens, it is undoubtedly the biggest outbreak of conflict between the powerful and the powerless. What is worrisome is that this incident might not be the end of it.

Society

China's New Crackdown Against LGBTQ Activists At Universities

Reports have come in from LGBTQ activists around the country that the government has shut down the organizations pages on WeChat, the top Chinese platform.

SHANGHAI — On July 6th, when the day was finishing for most Chinese university students, a pop-up notification began to appear on the phones of certain campus LGBTQ activists: "The Wechat account that you are managing is permanently blocked."

He Zhang is the founder of Z Society, a Shanghai-based student academic hub that focuses on gender issues, with more than 70,000 followers on its official account. Suddenly, the page was all blank. " I knew this day would come sooner or later, but I never thought it was going to be so soon."

About 20 influential official accounts that focus on LGBTQ, feminism and gender issues were blocked that night, precisely at 9:53 p.m. All their past articles are gone, back pages were completely blank, and even their names were all turned into "unnamed official account." Tencent, the company that runs Wechat, did not offer any explanations on the ban, and the students in charge of the accounts had no way to appeal. China's Foreign Office responded to related inquiries on July 8 with a single dry sentence: "We manage the internet by the law."

It's notable that in July 2020, the Chinese delegation spoke at the UN Human Rights Council on the issue of violent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, stating that "China opposes all forms of discrimination and violence." Still, LGBTQ-themed films, television dramas, speech, and activist movements have been repeatedly suppressed, and student organizations, which are officially considered difficult to control, have been subjected to increasingly harsh conditions.

They are convinced that everything is done by foreign forces.

Blocking the official accounts was not the first move. In May, LGBTQ and feminism campus communities were questioned by their home universities. Each event organized by these communities has been a test of the limits for the ever-tightening space. Students were interviewed by the school several times, pressured by teachers who tried to figure out "the foreign forces' behind the communities.

"They never believed that there is a group of audience out there for our society," said one student activist. "They are convinced that everything is done by foreign forces."

According to observers, the shutdown is related to controlling the influence of minority groups by the administration. As social media creates space for free discussion and could even influence public opinion, especially among the young, the government instinctively moves to control and supervise. "The government is actively increasing its monitoring efforts to prevent any unstable factors," noted another activist. "It's especially true this year, which is the centenary anniversary for the founding of the Communist Party of China."

Universities used to be a relatively tolerant environment for discussion in China, especially for spreading ideas of gender equality and providing a sense of community for sexual minorities. But as the government continues to tighten controls, Wechat official accounts had become the "last stand" to voice such ideas. Now, this small haven too looks to also have been completely erased. "It's pretty desperate," said He Zhang, "One by one, things like this are getting worse, and it feels like it's futile to make any effort, and you don't even need any reason to be banned."

Economy
Yang Lu

Regional Disparity Trap: Why China’s Economy Resembles Europe

The Northeast is the Chinese equivalent to Greece ...

Professor Lu Ming of Shanghai Jiaotong University was the first to refer to the sharp differences within China as the "Europeanization" (or Eurozoneization) of the Chinese economy.

The Eurozone consists of 19 European countries with a unified market and a single currency, but with large differences in productivity between them. This, of course, has many advantages, such as promoting the internal common market, reducing transaction costs and so on. However, the smooth operation of the Eurozone depends on whether its members have similar levels of productivity or public debt. If they aren't, it will create a divergence in interests between the "core" countries with high productivity and low debt and the "peripheral" countries with low productivity and high debt.

For example, Greece and Germany use the euro, but Germany's GDP per capita is more than twice that of Greece, with much higher productivity levels. But the Euro exchange rate is the same in Germany and Greece. So, if the European Central Bank sets the exchange rate under conditions favorable to Germany, then the currency will be "too expensive" for Greece. That would Greek exports and limit its credit scale. But if the ECB sets the exchange rate according to Greece's economic standards, then the euro will be "too cheap" for Germany. That could lead to inflation and bubbles. It is difficult for the ECB to satisfy both Germany and Greece, and the difficulty causes all sorts of political, economic and social problems.

With low growth and high unemployment, and no way to stimulate the economy, Northeast China has become the Greece of the Eurozone.

In China, too, the 31 provincial administrative regions of mainland China use the same currency, the RMB, which serves as a unified market. But economic conditions vary greatly from province to province.

This divide is accelerating. In 2010, for example, Shanghai's GDP per capita was 3.7 times that of Heilongjiang's. By 2019, the gap had widened to 4.3 times.

Like Greece in the Eurozone, Heilongjiang can't unilaterally devalue its currency to stimulate its economy. What is even more difficult for the province, compared to Greece, is that there are many ambiguities around the division of responsibilities between China's local and central authorities.

Corporate defaults in the Northeast, often accompanied by large amounts of debt, complex debt relationships, and ambiguous and changing government attitudes, have become a hot topic in China's economic news.

The biggest problem for the "peripheral countries' of the Eurozone such as Greece (as well as Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland) during the European debt crisis last decade was that monetary policy was completely out of their hands (it falls within the ECB's remit), while fiscal policy was only partly in their hands (Eurozone countries have some fiscal autonomy but are bound by unified tax regulations). This has much in common with the situation encountered by Northeast China in the last five years.

Corporate defaults in the Northeast have become a hot topic in China's economic news.

Since 2016, China has embarked on a fierce "deleveraging" campaign, with rapid credit tightening. In the second half of 2016, Northeast Special Steel, the largest special steel enterprise in the north headquartered in Dalian, whose largest shareholder is the Liaoning State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, had financing difficulties, defaulting seven times in four months, transforming itself overnight from a contender for the "world's largest special steel enterprise" to the "king of serial defaults." Its chairman died by suicide.

Since 2014, economic growth in the three northeastern provinces has been lower than the national average almost every year. Liaoning even exposed itself to GDP falsification after the change of the head of the government. With low growth and high unemployment, and no way to stimulate the economy, Northeast China has become the Greece of the Eurozone. It is in this economic context that young people in Northeast China leave their hometowns. After all, it is easier to move from Heilongjiang to Guangdong than to migrate from Greece to Germany.

In light of these developments, the population census in China has attracted particular attention this year, especially from the real estate sector. The days when any estate in China could appreciate are over; 900 million of China's 1.4 billion people already live in cities and towns, and according to the experience of developed countries, the rate of urbanization would only slow in the future, which means that property investors need to pay more attention to the demographic split. If the population is decreasing, investors should be careful.

Local governments in poor economic conditions are increasingly struggling to secure financing — Photo: Nate Landy

Changes in property valuations due to the divergence in population growth may further exacerbate the "Europeanisation" of the Chinese economy. The population exodus and the decline in local financial resources in the Northeast are closely related to the decline in government public protection capacity. The population decline undermines the value of real estate, which in turn would affect local governments that rely heavily on land concessions. For some local governments, revenue from land concessions can account for about a quarter of their financial resources, and the loss of this revenue will further undermine local public services and social security systems, triggering a new round of local population exodus and entering a vicious cycle.

Demographic changes have indeed harmed the Northeast's economic growth in terms of labor contribution rates, but the Northeast's total productivity has been a greater nuisance on economic growth in recent years than the negative impact of the population exodus.

In addition to population decline, the demographic structure of Northeast China displayed the worrying phenomenon of aging and childlessness. The three northeastern provinces rank first (25.7%, Liaoning), third (23.2%, Heilongjiang), and fourth (23.1% Jilin) among the 31 provincial administrative regions in terms of the proportion of people over the age of 60, with Shanghai in second place. The three northeastern provinces are also on the same level with Shanghai on the population proportion of 0-14-year-olds. However, Shanghai is much wealthier than northeastern China, with a GDP per capita 2.7 times higher than that of the region's richest province, Liaoning.

The three northeastern provinces rank first (25.7%, Liaoning), third (23.2%, Heilongjiang), and fourth (23.1% Jilin) for the proportion of people over the age of 60, with Shanghai in second place

When comparing the 2010 census data, one can also see that Northeast China has faced the largest population reduction in the youth-adult age group of 14-59, which is the most economically dynamic age group: Heilongjiang ranks first in the country with a reduction of 7.6 million people in this age group in ten years, while Liaoning and Jilin rank fourth and fifth with 5.1 million and 4.9 million. In stark contrast, Guangdong's population in this age group increased by more than 10 million, while Zhejiang's increased by 4.1 million.

But population decline is ultimately a symptom of Northeast China's economic decline, not a cause. By breaking down the sources of economic growth into labor, capital and total productivity (generally understood as the increase in economic efficiency due to technology or institutions), labor can only explain a tiny portion of China's economic growth, no more than 10% after 2000. The remaining 90% of growth comes mainly from capital (around 60%), and technological and institutional improvements (20-30%). Admittedly, demographic changes have indeed harmed Northeast China's economic growth in terms of labor contribution rates but the drag on economic growth from Northeast China's total factor productivity in recent years has been much greater than the negative impact of population outflow.

Population decline is ultimately a symptom of Northeast China's economic decline, not a cause.

The plight of the Northeast is not so much a demographic problem but more as an institutional problem with strong historical inertia. Liu Shangxi of the Chinese Academy of Finance calls this the "Northeast phenomenon": When the national economy is doing well, the decent growth rate can often cover up all the dysfunction of the Northeastern economy. But once there is an economic downturn like the one that began in 2015 when money is tightened and local financial autonomy is reduced, then Northeast China is often the first to be hit. There are often jokes on the mainland network that "investment is not the only way to get through the mountains and seas', often because of the lack of separation between government and business in the Northeast and the poor business environment.

China's economic "sailing against the wind" will be the norm in the future, but there might be many more problems to be exposed in the Northeast. Demographic change is almost impossible to reverse, and it is difficult for the accumulation of capital: since 2018, a lot of new credit loans have been going to the eastern coastal provinces: Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shandong have received the most credit resources. Local governments in poor economic conditions are increasingly struggling to secure financing, with negative growth in the scale of financing in Heilongjiang and Liaoning, and only weak growth in Jilin.

The only way out for the Northeast's economy in the future is through efficiency and reform. That is easy to say but difficult to do. There is a serious lack of financial resources of local governments, unclear powers and responsibilities of the system. People in the Northeast are leaving to go to Beijing or the southeast coast. That's called "voting with their feet," in essence, and is a kind of optimization of resource allocation: if the system remains unchanged, then I will leave.

Society
Jinyan Yang

As China's Communist Party Turns 100, ''Red Tourism'' Is Booming

Zunyi, in the mountainous province of Guizhou, is chock full of communist-themed museums and memorials, and is attracting especially large crowds this year.

ZUNYI — The deep blue Wu River runs near the city of Zunyi, in mountainous central China, and on one side, large red characters spell out the words: "It would have been dangerous if we hadn't been able to cross."

This distinctive slogan harkens back to an historical event. In early January 1935, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), founded just 14 years earlier, led the Red Army across the Wu and won its first victory on the Long March, breaking through the Kuomintang (Nationalist Government) blockade and setting the stage for the crucial and transformative conference where Mao Zedong would be chosen as the party leader.

This was indeed a fateful battle for the CCP. But the gigantic slogan was only constructed after 2015, when president Xi Jinping visited Zunyi and said those words while standing on the riverbank.

Typical of China's top-down political system, the statement was so well received by local government officials that it was immortalized as part of a memorial park which cost roughly $23 million, a huge investment for this remote, mountainous county that lacks any real industry.

People attending a festival to cherish the martyrs at the red army martyrs cemetery in Zunyi, Guizhou,China — Photo: TPG/ZUMA

CCP-themed tourism is the biggest business in town, and it's been a real boom for Zunyi, thanks to the growing attention that Xi's government has given to old Revolutionary regions and Red-patriotic education.

For the communist regime, Zunyi is a significant "red city." Its core is filled with memorials and museums, from the Zunyi Conference site to the Red Army Martyrs' Cemetery and the residences of core Communist Party leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, each of which has been carefully preserved and restored.

There are endless crowds of visitors, most of them party members or employees from government agencies and state-owned enterprises from all over the country. These are official business trips that are allowed, despite the strict anti-corruption policy implemented by Xi Jinping, for the sake of team building. And this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, Zunyi is in a particularly lively mood.

Among the things people come to see is a nearly 20-meter-tall, reddish-pink statue called "Breaking through the Wu River," which tells the story of the Red Army's victory in 1935 in an artistic manner.

After gaining support from the locals, the Red Army successfully crossed the Wu River, breaking through the Kuomintang Army's defenses and freeing themselves from the siege. The sculpture shows Red Army soldiers holding their guns and fists high and supporting each other. It also depicts local villagers who helped the Red Army make bamboo rafts to cross the river. What is most striking about them is their eyes and posture: They demonstrate the same fierce, determined, fighting spirit that is preached in the country's primary and secondary school textbooks.

Li Guang (1st L front), a veteran of the Red Army, attends a session marking the 80th anniversary of the Zunyi Meeting — Photo: Liu Xu/Xinhua/ZUMA

Most of the CCP's important figures have left their traces in Zunyi. This is where Mao's central status in the Red Army and the CCP was confirmed on Jan. 15, 1935, an event that went a long way to determining the party's future direction. This is why Zunyi is also known as the "city of turning."

At the Zunyi Conference site, visitors take group photos in Red Army uniforms while forming "battle poses." At the Red Army Hill Martyrs' Cemetery, group after group are repeating the oath of party membership and the Young Pioneers' manifesto in front of the monument, and presenting flower baskets to the martyrs.

With great emotion and even tears, guides at the cemetery tell the visiting teams about the heroic deeds of the martyrs. In front of a sculpture of a Red Army doctor, a narrator explains with real sadness in her voice, as if she's acting on stage: "In those days, revolutionary martyrs like the Red Army doctors were very young when they sacrificed their lives. They dedicated the best years of their lives to the great revolutionary cause of our Chinese nation, and exchanged their youth and blood for a better life for us today..."

Zunyi built the bronze statue of the kind, beautiful and legendary Red Army doctor in 1953. All these years later, the object has been transformed by the countless people who have laid hands on it, making it seem almost godlike. Her legs, feet, arms, and the medicine jars she carries have been polished to a golden shine by the fingers of all those visitors. The statue is said to be magical, capable of curing diseases.

"Touching her leg means you don't have to go to hospitals," says one young girl who brought her mother on a pilgrimage. "Touching the medicine jar will cure whatever illness you have."

Behind the bronze statue, on a spot that is said to be the doctor's "Red Army grave," people bow and offer incense as if they're worshiping a Buddha. In a country that is officially atheistic, ordinary people have turned every possible sculpture into an object of worship in a spirit of pragmatism, be it an actual Buddha, a Taoist god, or a Red Army soldier.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party, the CCP has planned an intensive and rich commemorative program. In addition to the regular conferences, exhibitions and cultural performances, different departments are competing to organize activities.

A local resident reading a book at a ""Red"" Bookstore in Zunyi — Photo: Ou Dongqu/Xinhua/ZUMA

In Nanjing, officials are offering an extra benefit to residents eager to show their love for the party before its centennial: a free mass wedding (with hotel, makeup and wedding attire all included) for 100 couples in June, with priority given to China's more than 91 million party members.

The official in charge said the project was inspired by another party slogan: "Always remember your original mission. Love follows." Red tourism is also becoming popular. The number of people on such tours has grown rapidly, from 140 million in 2009 to 1.41 billion per year in 2019, and Zunyi is one of the top spots people visit.

In front of the Red Army Martyrs' Cemetery memorials, there are also primary school pupils commemorating in uniforms and neat lines. "Inherit the spirit of the revolutionary martyrs, study hard, work hard, and join the socialist construction," a middle school headmaster tells them.

In recent years, China's patriotic education push seems to be bearing fruit. Chinese youth not only accept the ideas, but are often quite passionate about them. The emphasis on patriotism has produced a kind of national self-confidence among young people, but with it come expressions of extreme nationalism and xenophobia. There are often discussions on Chinese social media platforms: "Should I break up with my boyfriend if he wears Nike? Should I keep away from a friend who hates Huawei?" Such ideas often have a large number of advocates online.

The constructed atmosphere gives Zunyi a real place on the map of China, both politically and commercially. And it's no surprise that during the Red tourism boom, it has become a city to which party and government agencies from all over China flock, especially in 2021.

"This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party," one elderly man explains. "It makes Zunyi even more special, so more people are coming."

Society
Tse Tsz Fung

Death Of Apple Daily, What It Really Means For Hong Kong

Was this the last media ready to take on the regime in Bejing?

HONG KONG — After the National Security Police raid on its headquarters on June 17, Hong Kong's biggest pro-democracy paper, Apple Daily, had announced its closure and published its final edition on Thursday, ending its 26 years of publication. But what exactly does the death of Apple Daily mean?

First, some history: Ever since its creation in 1995, it is the first full color paper in Hong Kong, and the only high-profile paper that published political dissent. Achieving commercial success with erotic entertainment content in its early days, Apple Daily has become the third most credible newspaper in Hong Kong by gaining public recognition with its firm stance against the total regime. Its final chapter has brought about a sharp narrowing of Hong Kong's mainstream discourse toward a moderate middle ground, where political dissent has been shut out of the public discussion.

Apple Daily was a successful business being a market driven paper, but for the founder Jimmy Lai it was never only about business. Lai escaped from the mainland when he was 12, built himself up from nothing in Hong Kong and became firmly anti-communist. In recent years, he has been actively involved in Hong Kong's democratic movements. Upon founding Apple Daily in 1995, two years before the UK's handover of Hong Kong, Lai wanted to create a newspaper that defies the power, supports democracy, and of course, belongs to Hong Kong.

Apple Daily was founded with a clear pro-democracy stance and became an important public opinion forum for Hong Kong residents.

At the end of British colonial rule, many Hong Kong citizens were nervous about the handover in 1997, and there were growing calls for democratization. The last British governor, Christopher Patten, had reformed the electoral system and introduced general elections, with the growing development of civil society. Apple Daily was founded with a clear pro-democracy stance and became an important public opinion forum for Hong Kong residents.

This made Apple Daily an anomaly. Before the handover, Beijing had been eagerly reaching out to Hong Kong media, hoping to dilute critical attitudes towards the China Communist Party and the handover. Such projects are still ongoing, even while hiccups such as the pro-democracy movements disturb society: the central government has continued to codify and regulate the media, and it has worked effectively to date.

Parallel to the political codification, Hong Kong media has been under economic pressure to move closer to Beijing in terms of attitude and content. As Hong Kong's economy has become more intertwined with China before and after the transfer of sovereignty, the influence of mainland companies operating in Hong Kong has increased. As a result, the business community as a whole had to rely on the Chinese market. To avoid irritating the Chinese government, the business community avoided "China-unfriendly" media when placing advertisements. This in effect makes the media, which relies on advertising revenue, more politically cautious and conservative.

People line up to buy the final edition of Apple Daily newspaper at newsstand in the Central district of Hong Kong — Photo: Ivan Abreu/SOPA Images/ZUMA

But Apple Daily has remained pro-democracy and anti-CCP, not only because of Lai's stands, but also thanks to its early commercial success and demands from a loyal readership that keeps the paper going. The political critical nature of Apple Daily has had important implications for the press, the public's right to know, and for the democratic movement in Hong Kong, maintaining a critical voice in Hong Kong society.

In the 2010s, social conflicts under the "One Country, Two Systems' began to erupt. Hong Kong has experienced major political events such as the Anti-National Education Movement (2012), Umbrella Movement (2014) and the Anti-Extradition Law Movement (2019). In addition, the culture clash between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders has intensified, even while Hong Kong society itself has entered an era of political polarization, where various ideologies and political claims are competing with each other.

We are at a crossroads of history, as the regime blatantly rewrites laws and norms.

The upheaval naturally affects media coverage, making it difficult for newspapers to maintain an objective and neutral posture. In times of political turmoil, when social consensus is fractured and the public itself is on the verge of collapse, it is not uncommon for the media to have difficulty in maintaining credibility in the minds of the general readership.

Entering the 2020s, Hong Kong society is standing at a crossroads of history, as the regime blatantly rewrites the laws and norms that the society relies on: Legislative Council, right to civic participation, the right to protest, civil associations, education, media… layers of institutions are being loosely reconstructed, and the foundations of Hong Kong's civil society, the space for freedom, are rapidly collapsing. The public's choice to endorse Apple Daily — not meaning ignoring its problems —is both a political statement and a defense of freedom of the press and speech.

The end of Apple Daily means the loss of a critical edge in Hong Kong"s public discussion space. The remaining mainstream press is generally pro-establishment or moderate, while the suppression of voices like the Apple Daily is bound to induce self-censorship. Will other traditional media carry on political dissent in Hong Kong? The answer: not likely.

Society
Sze Ngai Lam

Chinese Millennials Defend Their ''Lying-Flat'' Doctrine

With real estate prices high and job prospects low, a growing number of young Chinese say they choose to both work and spend less in order to escape the pressures of contemporary life.

It's called the "lying flat" doctrine, increasingly popular among young people in China who choose to both work and spend less as ways to lighten the pressures of contemporary life. Recently, a professor from Tsing Hua University criticized this approach, and chastised the youth for letting down their parents and the country's "hard-working taxpayers."

BEIJING — On May 26, an internet user going by the name "Lying Flat Master" posted an article titled "Lying Flat is Justice" on the Chinese social media Baidu. This post of just over 200 words set off a heated discussion in the Chinese online world.

"For more than two years, I have not worked at all, but just played around all the time, and I felt there was nothing wrong with this," the internet user begins. "While the pressure mainly comes from people around you, who don't have any real life directions of their own, and follow the traditional mentality of the elders. Every time you look for news stories, they are more or less about fertility, relationships, having kids, etc. It is like an invisible creature posing a mindset on you, but we do not have to be like that."

In the post, the author also declares that Chinese society has never attached importance to the subjectivity of human beings, and doesn't allow people to control their own destiny rationally, powerfully and autonomously. Therefore, he advocates the philosophy of "lying flat," reducing materialistic desires, refusing to spend and compare and focusing instead on one's own life.

A state of having no desire for life, having nothing to do and refusing to move forward.

Even though the article was deleted by Baidu four days after its posting, Chinese internet users have been re-posting it with such fervor that it has drawn a response from official Chinese media. The Southern Daily posted an article titled "Where is the sense of justice? Shameful to be lying flat." While the first half of the article implicitly acknowledges the unprecedented difficulties faced by young people in China, such as high housing prices and long work hours, it concludes that "lying-flatism" is a state of having no desire for life, having nothing to do and refusing to move forward.

The second half of the Southern Daily article emphasizes that there are still great opportunities in the mainland market, young people are still working hard to advance and that "lying flat" is definitely a "poisonous doctrine."

An associate professor from Tsinghua University wrote an article on May 28 criticizing youths who practice "lying-flatism" as "failing their parents' and "hundreds of millions of hard-working taxpayers." That article made it to the Weibo's top 10 searches, drawing overwhelming criticism from young people saying that "it is easy to criticize from the sidelines."

With the rapid economic development of mainland China over the past two decades, various social problems have arise that disproportionately affect young people. The working system of enterprises is mostly "99,6" i.e. working six days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Here's how one blogger put it: "Waking up at six o'clock to take the bus or subway, relying on coffee to refresh and dealing with the same old job, catfighting with colleagues over meaningless things, struggling to get a taxi after working overtime and only having to ride a bike home, not even taking off makeup and falling asleep."

The "lying flat" doctrine is increasingly popular among young people in China — Photo: Pxfuel

On the one hand, young people want to break into large companies, such as Tencent, Meituan, NetEase and Pinduoduo, and to achieve upward social mobility; but on the other hand, they are extremely tired of this kind of life.

Coupled with a serious lack of labor protection, the average age of employees in large enterprises is around 30 years old, and many cite extreme pressure to work hardere and harder. At the beginning of this year, a 23-year-old employee, Fei Zhang, died suddenly on the road due to overwork, triggering criticisms that companies "use and discard" their young employees.

The "demotivational culture" is therefore popular. Many young Chinese adults are drawn to Vladislav Ivanov, a Russian model with a cold, lazy face and a "world-weary" vibe. One Tsing Hua University student used a university online platform to publish: "A brief introduction on how to mess around," teaching students how to be mediocre at work, develop "mess-around" software schemes, such as using Excel to read novels and to follow stocks via your browser status bar.

It's seen as a non-violent way to resist the system.

But "lying-flatism" also further incites youth to refuse to enter the labor market at all. Some in Hong Kong even describe the "lying-flat movement" as a non-violent, non-cooperation movement against capitalist exploitation: "We will all stop giving birth, and see who is left to be controlled (by the government)." But others point out that unless all wage earners work together, the "lying-flat" movement will fail when additional incentives are offered to encourage consumption and work.

Lying-flatism also brings out the controversy between the sexes, especially as influencers show off their wealth on Weibo, Tiktok and various platforms. "With car, with estate" is becoming the mainstream criteria for future husbands. "All those who were opposing lying-flatism are women, criticizing men as unmotivated and lazy," one man declares in an online forum. "Are these men in your debt?" Still, others refute the idea that there is a divide between the sexes in this generational battle.

One commentary sums up "lying-flatism" being "neither wanting to kneel, nor able to stand, so they have to lie down." It is seen as a non-violent way to resist the various demands imposed on people by society; to break free from the physical and mental constraints such as marriage and children, career promotion and buying a house by greatly reducing both your consumption and your life ambitions.

Geopolitics
Ho Wai On

Politics Helps Explain Hong Kong's Low Vaccination Rates

Think about what other *advice the government is giving people...

HONG KONG — Vaccine hesitation here is not only about science, but also related to Hong Kong's history, identity and current politics. The widespread mistrust toward the Hong Kong administration and the central government in Beijing, false information about China's own SinoVac vaccine is constantly circulating online among those from Hong Kong.

There is misleading media coverage about adverse side effects after vaccination, as well as the slowing down of the epidemic have also further weakened the existing low willingness to vaccination, creating a vicious circle.

First Draft, a research agency tracking disinformation, recently released a study on the challenges of vaccine hesitancy in Hong Kong. It concludes by stating that if the government wants to achieve its goal of a 70% vaccination rate by the end of 2021, it must carefully analyze the types of information circulating and understand people's fundamental concerns before it can improve its public health campaigns and vaccination.

A printed sign indicating SinoVac vaccine at the Community Vaccination Centre —Photo: Ivan Abreu/SOPA Images/ZUMA

"Due to its colonial history, Hong Kong sees vaccine options from the east and the west," said Esther Chan, editor of First Draft's Australian office who wrote the report. On Feb 26, Hong Kong started the vaccination campaign for SinoVac, which is developed and produced by China. This follows the introduction of the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, starting on March 10.

However, despite the fact that vaccination is free for Hong Kong citizens and there are sufficient supplies, vaccination rates remain low. According to the Hong Kong government, as of June 9, over 2.74 million vaccines were delivered, with about 1.14 million citizens out of the total 7.5 million population receiving both injections, with the vaccinated rate of only 17.4%.

Opinion polls from YouGov, a UK based poll agency, also showed a similar trend: the number of people in Hong Kong who wish to be vaccinated or those who have already been vaccinated, has dropped from 51% on December 13, 2020, to only 37% on May 10, the lowest in the Asia-Pacific region. Other Asian countries such as Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam all have more than 70% interviewees who wish to be vaccinated, for Taiwan it was 40%.

While the Hong Kong government is pressing ahead with vaccination, First Draft came to the conclusion that Hong Kong's skepticism about vaccines comes not only from safety and efficacy concerns, but also derives from a deeper distrust of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. Hong Kongers are not convinced that the government in Beijing is acting in the interest of the people, but for pure political considerations instead.

It's a classic "feedback loop," mixing science, emotion and political anxiety.

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in late 2019 and early 2020, Hong Kong saw months of protests and unrest over a new law to prosecute locals on mainland China. Even though the movement has cooled down since the virus outbreak, the political situation in Hong Kong had undergone dramatic changes within the pandemic: China enacted the new law, the comprehensive National Security Law; the Hong Kong administration launched a massive probe and prosecution of key pro-democracy figures in January, and revised its electoral system in March to emphasize "Hong Kong is ruled by patriots." In the latest move, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in early May that a law to combat "false information, hatred and lies' is currently under development.

First Draft points out that Hong Kong's vaccination hesitancy is becoming a classic "feedback loop," mixing science, emotion and political anxiety: as people are worried about the safety, efficiency and the government's stance on the pandemic, vaccine reluctance rises, as does an overall mistrust for the government.

The evidence that political mistrust contributes to vaccine hesitancy in Hong Kong is the fact that most of the disinformation and concerns are around SinoVac. The First Draft study notes that most of the misleading statements were about the safety of the Chinese-produced vaccine, rather than Pfizer BioNTech.

One example is that, after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was injected with SinoVac in live streaming, Facebook, Twitter and LIHKG social media platforms immediately circulated with postings and comparison photos in English and Chinese, questioning whether she was actually secretly taking Pfizer or AstraZeneca. Later, a fake YouTube video of "man develops epilepsy after SinoVac vaccination" went viral.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam getting the Second Jab of SinoVac — Photo: Vernon Yuan/NurPhoto/ZUMA

In addition, incomplete or inaccurate headlines or reports in the media about adverse reactions to vaccinations may further discourage people from getting vaccinated. First Draft found that from February to the present, headlines such as "Vaccine Victim — Another Death from SinoVac" and "12th Person Dies from SinoVac" were widely shared on social media platforms.

With the slow progress of vaccination in Hong Kong, the current Pfizer vaccination has been opened up for 12 year olds and above, while SinoVac is accessible for adults. In order to encourage vaccination, the Hong Kong government has exhausted its efforts, including offering new "vaccine bubble" measures at the end of April, allowing vaccinated groups to attend banquets with more than 20 people, re-entering bars, pubs, nightclubs and karaoke; the Hong Kong Airport Authority announced on May 26 that it will give away 60,000 air tickets in a lucky draw to Hong Kong residents and airport staff who have been vaccinated.

The most sensational of all is the "Get a Free House with Vaccination" lottery announced by Sino Group and Chinese Estates Holdings on May 28th, in which one Hong Kong resident who has completed two injections of vaccination will be selected to receive a 449 square feet (135 square meters) luxury house worth HK$10.8 million ($1.4 million)

In its report, First Draft quotes executive chief Carrie Lam's open criticism that "a small group of people distorts the intention of the community testing program and smears Chinese-made vaccines; (and there were) people stigmatizing and politicizing the vaccine procurement." In this regard, First Draft emphasizes that disinformation is successful because it usually stirs up emotions.

In the case of Hong Kong, it is because people are already concerned about vaccines and the political uncertainty. The report concludes: "Vaccine skepticism does not stay in a bubble, but rather interacts with and plays into existing issues."