Thursday, 1 September 2016

Taiwan's Fears of War with China Grow

Ever since Nationalist forces retreated to Taiwan in 1949, the island has been confronted with the permanent risk of Communist invasion. In the 1950s the People's Liberation Army (PLA) launched two attacks against the last bulwark of Chiang Kai-shek's regime. The last major crisis in the Taiwan Strait dates back to the mid-1990s, when the People's Republic of China (PRC) conducted missile "tests" dangerously close to Taiwan's shores. This display of military strength was aimed at then-President of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui, who had publicly refuted Beijing's territorial claims on the island. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Hundreds of People Rush to China's "Ruby Village" Hoping to Make a Fortune

Over the past few days hundreds of people rushed to Houzhang, a small village in China's Zhejiang Province, in search of precious rubies. About a thousand people went to the village on June 20th carrying with them equipment including hoes, shovels and flashlights. 

Houzhang's "ruby rush" began a few days ago when a netizen wrote on his WeChat account that residents of Houzhang village had found small rubies in the earth, some of which were allegedly worth up to 25,000 RMB (around 3,800 USD). Local villagers began excavating the ground, hoping to make a fortune overnight, but as the news spread, they were soon joined by scores of people from outside the town. 

According to local reports, over a thousand people rushed to the village on June 19 alone, digging not only at daytime, but also during the night: they have heard that in the darkness the rubies are easier to spot because they reflect the flashlights. Whether young or old, male or female, all take part in the treasure hunt.  

Monday, 13 June 2016

Chinese Passengers on Chongqing-bound Flight Attack Flight Attendant

Hainan Airlines aircraft
(photo by Aero Icarus, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On June 12 a Hainan Airlines flight from Taiyuan to Chongqing was delayed after two male passengers assaulted a flight attendant.

Flight HU7041 was scheduled for departure at 1:30 from Taiyuan Wusu International Airport. After the completion of boarding and safety check procedures the plane reached the runway and was taxiing, but the pilot stopped the aircraft shortly before take-off. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Stuck In Macau For One Night

Senado Square

On Friday I decided to go to Macau, a city which in my opinion - as I wrote in the past - is one of Asia's most charming travel destinations. I was planning on staying there for just one day, taking a walk in the afternoon and later meeting an old friend of mine, before returning to Hong Kong at around 11 p.m.

The original idea was to take a ferry in the morning, but because I slept miserably the previous night I ended up leaving home at 3 p.m. The weather was hot and humid, the sky grey. Around one hour later I arrived at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. After buying a ticket and going through the immigration control, I joined the unavoidable long queue largely consisting of mainland Chinese tourists: young and old, fancy and sporty, all invariably holding shopping bags with names of fashion or food brands written on them. 

Riding a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau may seem like an enjoyable and relaxing experience - to those who have never taken one. The reality is quite different. Ferry pilots in Hong Kong either love speed or they are always in a hurry, which is alright as long as the sea is calm, but when it is rough, the unaware passengers suddenly find themselves trapped on a boat which, rocked by the powerful waves, restlessly pitches and yaws.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Launching A New Website -

In this post I would like to introduce my new website:, in which I will be writing about Chinese culture, history and society. 

I had been thinking for quite some time about starting a new website, since I was very unhappy with how this blog has developed over the years. At the beginning "My New Life In Asia" was supposed to be a platform where I could write about my personal experiences and thoughts - which is what blogs have been invented for. Instead, I started to write about Confucianism, politics, culture etc. In the end I totally abandoned my original purpose. 

This created two problems: first, many posts I published on this site are out of place; second, I have no space for a "public diary" as I had envisioned it. The only way to solve this issue was to separate blogging from more "serious" writing by creating an entirely new website. Let me now briefly explain the concept and structure of

First of all, I decided to reject the logic behind most websites we see on the internet nowadays, which is to attract as many viewers as possible in order to monetize traffic. Of course, this is probably the only viable business model in the internet age, but to be honest, this tends to generate a lot of superficial content whose main purpose is to stir emotions, prompt engagement, and ultimately lead to precious clicks. As a result, whenever I visit my Facebook profile and other social media I am bombarded with videos of cute animals, with articles about uncivilised Chinese tourists or about collapsing roads. One either has to accept the mainstream trends and write similar stuff, or one simply has to reject them, forget about statistics and traffic, and focus on what matters: on trying to share knowledge and to create a community of people who want to think, learn and debate (whether this is possible on the internet, I do not know). 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Should Supporters Of The Chinese Communist Party Be Allowed To Stage Demos in Taiwan? A Few Thoughts On The Limits Of Freedom Of Speech

On May 15 Taiwanreporter published a video (see below) showing people demonstrating against Taiwan independence and in favour of "peaceful unification" with Communist China. In Ximending one usually sees scores of supporters of Taiwan independence waving flags and banners, but apparently pro-Communist forces are now trying to counterbalance those demonstrations by staging their own. 

The video shows a number of protesters waving flags of the People's Republic of China (PRC). They seem to belong to the so-called Chinese Patriotic Association (中華愛國同心會), a group that supports the incorporation of Taiwan into the PRC according to the "one country, two systems" (一國兩制) framework that Beijing already used for Hong Kong and Macau. This is not the first such demonstration organized by "Chinese patriotic" groups. Taipei 101 used to be one of the patriotic association's favourite spots, before an incident involving peaceful Falun Gong demonstrators led Taipei mayor Ke Wenzhe to intervene.   

Taiwan-based blogger Jenna Cody argued that pro-Communist protesters have the right to demonstrate just like anyone else. "That's not a reason to deny anyone freedom of speech, of course," she wrote, "and they have the right to do this in public as much as, say, any of us have the right to demonstrate for Taiwanese sovereignty. I'm also not going to join the calls to 'deport them back to China' because, well, they are citizens too. I'd love to deport Ted Cruz to Canada but he is as much an American as I am. Every country has its jerks".

I am not a big fan of Taiwan independence and all the fuss people make about identity, flags and names - as I believe that state-sanctioned identities, whether Taiwanese or Chinese, are per definition anti-democratic (I will explain this point in another post). 

But while the Taiwanese independence movement is legitimate because it's peaceful, the Chinese Patriotic Association and the like are not legitimate because they are violent. Their violent attitude is demonstrated by the incidents they provoke - like the Falun Gong incident I mentioned earlier or this one. Furthermore, they are violent because they justify Beijing's threats to use force, instead of condemning them. What these groups want, is the subversion of the Republic of China (ROC), the incorporation of Taiwan into the PRC, either by force or by the threat of the use of force. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Law In Imperial China – Confucianism And Legalism

Killing the scholars and burning the books (anonymous 18th century Chinese painting depicting the alleged burning of books and killing of scholars under China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang; source:Wikipedia
The legal system of imperial China developed from two schools of thought: Confucianism and Legalism. Although both of them exerted a deep influence on China’s state-building as well as on its moral and legal traditions, at the beginning these two philosophies were bitterly opposed to each other, as they were based on entirely different principles (see: Xin Ren: Tradition of the Law and Law of the Tradition: Law, State, and Social Control in China, 1997, p. 19).
Confucianism (儒家) originated from the teachings of Confucius (551 – 479 BC), a Chinese scholar, politician and philosopher who lived in the Spring and Autumn period. The main body of the Confucian canon comprises the Four Books and the Five Classics (四書五經), texts which have been traditionally attributed to Confucius himself, although their authorship is not ascertained beyond doubt.
Confucius’ philosophy revolved around two concepts: the nobleman and the establishment of a well-ordered society. The nobleman (君子, pinyin:  jūn zǐ  , also translated as “gentleman” and “superior man”) is a term that in ancient China referred to the son of a feudal lord. Confucius, however, gave this word a new meaning. For him, a nobleman was such by merit and not by birth. The nobleman is a righteous individual, an example of filial piety, humane behaviour, virtue and propriety (Ren 1997, pp. 19-20;  Lee Dian Rainey:Confucius & Confucianism: The Essentials, 2010, p. 42). Ideally, a well-ordered society is constituted of noblemen who put righteousness and propriety before selfishness and pettiness.
In the philosophy developed by Confucius and his followers, the law played a secondary role in shaping human behaviour. Instead of the legal system, early Confucian scholars emphasized the concepts of morality and ritualism. The term “ritual propriety” (禮, pinyin: lǐ), describes the “proper” social relationships and the set of rituals which regulate them. The fundamental social relationships are those between the emperor and his ministers, between father and son, between husband and wife, between brothers and between friends. Li “governs relationships between the ruling and the ruled, the senior and the junior, man and woman, and the blood-related and the acquainted” (Ren 1997, p. 20). Confucius placed great importance on language. He believed that for a society to function harmoniously all social relationships had to be named properly. This means that society needs social ranks and rituals so that each individual will constantly be made aware through language and rites which position he occupies in the social fabric and which behaviour is proper in dealing with others.
Confucian scholars believed that human beings were inherently good and nature endowed them with four fundamental virtues: humanity (仁), righteousness (義), propriety (禮) and wisdom (知). According to Confucian thought, men’s wrongdoing and bad behaviour are the consequence of negative environmental influences and lack of proper education. Wrongdoers could be taught to feel ashamed of their improper actions through education and moral persuasion. If men were brought up in a system in which social roles and ranks were clearly defined through language and rites, they would naturally internalize proper social relationships and society would function harmoniously. From this viewpoint, human beings do not exist as free individuals, but they are only small parts of a complex network of social relations in which everyone must fulfill their duties as subjects of the emperor, as fathers and mothers, as husbands and wives etc.  (see Ren 1997, pp. 20-21). Confucians believed that if men acted according to ritual propriety and if the sovereign possessed all four fundamental virtues, then society would be prosperous and harmonious.
Contrary to Confucian belief in human beings’ inherent goodness, the Legalists assumed that men were by nature evil and that consequently they would commit crimes if state authority did not discipline them. Since human beings are selfish and greedy, the only way a state can function is by issuing laws and by severely punishing those who violate them. According to the Legalists, men are by nature unequal, since they differ in wealth, strength and status. However, the law should apply equally to all, so as to punish the guilty and reward the innocent (Ren 1997, p. 20). In the Book of Lord Shang, a classic of Legalist thought from the 3rd century BC, one reads:

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

China’s Legal System – Communist or Feudal?

Emblem of the People's Court of the People's Republic of China (source: Wikipedia)

On October 13, 2014, Yu Wensheng, a lawyer from Beijing, was arrested and detained by the police for 99 days . He was interrogated approximately 200 hundred times by 10 officers who worked in shifts night and day. Yu's wrists were fastened behind his back with handcuffs. "My hands were swollen and I felt so much pain that I didn’t want to live", he told Amnesty International. "The police officers repeatedly yanked the handcuffs and I would scream". Two days before his arrest, Yu had submitted a request to Beijing Fengtai Detention Centre for meeting one of his clients. The authorities had rejected Yu's request without reason. As an act of protest, he stayed in front of the detention centre and later published a post online describing the incident. At around midnight the police forced him to leave, and on October 13 the Beijing Daxing District Public Security Bureau arrested him on charges of "disorderly behaviour" (寻衅滋事罪). Yu was denied access to his lawyers and his family. According to Albert Ho, chairperson of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, in the People's Republic of China (PRC) "it is not uncommon for a lawyer to be made captive as a result of conducting his legal duties". Cases of lawyers arrested without due procedures and tortured by state organs are numerous. It is estimated that since last year approximately 250 human rights lawyers have been detained or mysteriously went missing.

On 17 October 2015, 51-year-old Gui Minhai disappeared from his home in Pattaya, Thailand. Gui was a shareholder of Hong Kong-based publishing house 'Mighty Current', which published salacious gossip books about high-rank officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Gui was born in China's Zhejiang Province and studied history at Beijing University. In 1988 he moved to Sweden and earned a PhD at Gothenburg University. After the Communist Party put down the Tiananmen student protests in 1989, Gui remained in Sweden and became a naturalised citizen. As the political climate relaxed in the 1990s, he returned to China and worked there for a few years, before entering the publishing business in 2012. A camera in his Thai condo showed him on October 17 as he came back home carrying groceries. Shortly afterwards, he drove away together a man who had been waiting for him in the garage.