TIME China

Five Feminists Remain Jailed in China for Activities the Government Supports

India China Activists Detained
Altaf Qadri—AP Indian women's rights activists wearing masks of five women's rights activists formally detained in China after Women's Day crackdown, hold placards with their names, to express their solidarity and demand their immediate release, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The line between dissidence and social activism grows ever murkier

It was supposed to be a celebration. This year marks two decades since the world came together in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women. Participants in that event — including keynote speaker Hillary Clinton — set an ambitious global blueprint for gender equality and women’s rights. It was a landmark moment for the women’s movement, and a point of pride for China as it stepped, gingerly, toward post-Mao reforms.

But as meetings to mark the “Beijing+20” anniversary close Friday in New York, things are looking bleak. In the run up to International Women’s Day and the Beijing+20-themed conclave, China detained 10 women for planning activities to celebrate the occasion. Five of those women — Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Li Tingting — are still in detention. Their lawyers worry they will be charged with “picking quarrels and creating a disturbance,” an Orwellian turn of phrase used to jail government critics.

The ruling Communist Party has long taken aggressive measures to silence opposition voices, censoring the Internet, banning books, and jailing dissidents. For much of the past decade, though, the line between “dissident” and “critical voice” — that is between prison and the freedom to live your life — was, with exceptions, relatively clear: Do not openly oppose one-party rule. Avoid the “three T’s” (Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen). Don’t take to the street.

However, since coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping’s regime has taken an even harder line, jailing those who speak out on matters not related to party control or the three T’s. (See, for example, the case of Professor Ilham Tohti, or jailed lawyer Xu Zhiyong.) There are new no-go areas, including the politics of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and calls for government transparency that do not originate from the government itself. Until this month, if you kept a low profile and did not plan protests, you could speak publicly on issues like gender equality and LGBT rights.

Now, advocates fear that too has changed. The women arrested in Beijing this month were not advocating for the overthrow of the Communist Party. In fact, they were, separately, and in their respective cities, simply planning to distribute pamphlets and raise awareness about issues the Chinese government supports: gender equality and combatting sexual harassment. These activists did not organize political rallies, but rather used performance art to challenge societal views.

Their arrest in coordinated raids ahead of International Women’s Day “suggests an escalation of Chinese government paranoia,” says Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. “I don’t see how they would have posed any threat to the government in any way — and they did not even carry out the activities. Even under Chinese law, I do not see what they are guilty of.”

That has other feminists worried. The five women are active on a variety of issues, including stopping sexual violence, ending street harassment and promoting gender equality and LGBT rights. Their detentions sent a broad cross section of people, including friends, acquaintances and allies, into hiding, terrified that the merest trifle might now see them caged.

That is not to say people are silent. Their ongoing detention has generated an unusual amount of public support from social groups, students and academics in China, as well as expressions of solidarity from nearly every corner of the earth, and spawned a social-media campaign to #FreeTheFive. Some feminists have floated the idea of a boycott of Beijing+20 events, though there are no firm plans as yet. From the sidelines of the meeting in New York City, Charlotte Bunch, a professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, filmed herself reading a statement in support of the jailed women. “We expect more from China,” she says. “The world is watching and waiting for an end to this injustice.”

Waiting, indeed. Though U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power tweeted her support for the activists, foreign governments and U.N. agencies are, for the most part, staying quiet. Perhaps they don’t want to politicize the matter in the off chance they could still be released. Or perhaps, 20 years after the historic Beijing conference on women, the world no longer expects more.

TIME Aviation

Fading Hope and Little Help for Families of Flight 370 Passengers

A family member cries as she and other relatives pray during a candlelight vigil for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Beijing
Jason Lee—Reuters A family member cries as she and other relatives pray during a candlelight vigil for passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 at Lido Hotel, in Beijing, on April 8, 2014, after a month of searching for the missing aircraft

One year on, the relatives of Chinese passengers face plenty of harassment and grief, but few answers

Just under a year ago, in the parking lot of Beijing’s Metropark Lido Hotel, I met a woman wild with grief. It had been 19 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared and she was looking, hysterically, for her missing son. A relative took her arm and offered water. “Rest,” they told her. “Nothing is certain yet.”

At the time, the words felt hopeful. Many of the families that gathered in Beijing that month held firm to the belief that their loved ones were out there, alive. But 12 agonizing months later, the plane is still missing and the families, suffering.

Of the 239 passengers and crew on MH370, two-thirds were Chinese. Their surviving family members say the trauma of what happened March 8, 2014, has been compounded many times over, first by the airline and the Malaysian authorities and, more recently, by the Chinese state.

In China, initial anger was directed at Malaysia Airlines’ handling of the crisis. At a protest on March 25, Chinese families marched on the Malaysian embassy, chucking water bottles at the gate. Though large protests are usually verboten in Beijing, local police officers let the demonstration go ahead. “Malaysia Airlines you owe us answers,” read one sign.

Chinese authorities were quick to echo this sentiment. Editorials in China’s state-backed press blasted the airline, and its home country, for what it characterized as a slow and ineffective response. When Malaysian authorities announced that the hunt for survivors was over, Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng spoke out. “We demand the Malaysian side make clear the specific basis on which they come to this judgment,” he said.

In the early days at the hotel, plainclothes Chinese officials circulated among the families, keeping a close watch, but letting them vent. A statement issued by relatives on March 28 even praised Beijing’s response. “Fortunately, we are Chinese, and we deeply feel the solid support given to each family members by the Chinese government,” it read. “Our nation has made every endeavor to search for the passengers, and its determination to find out the truth has become a booster for each family member.”

But away from public view, the authorities turned on some of the families. As the months wore on and they continued to press for answers, they started to be treated like other aggrieved and vocal Chinese citizens — that is, with suspicion and hostility.

When Reuters journalist Megha Rajagopalan checked in with the families at six months, they reported being watched and harassed by Beijing police. Two people were beaten for publicly pressing for information, family members reported. (Beijing police have not addressed the charge.) When families gather at the suburban Beijing office set up to handle their quest for answers, they are warned not to gather in large groups, or else face detention.

At nine months, a videographer for the South China Morning Post met family members who were marching to the Chinese Foreign Ministry to ask for answers. “We haven’t received any information,” Liu Kun, brother of a missing passenger, said. “I found the Malaysia Airlines office but they ignored me, we reached the Malaysian government but they also brushed us off, even our own government doesn’t allow us to find our family members.”

The heartbreaking truth, of course, is that they may not be found and the families’ living nightmare will continue. A year on, certainty looks a long way off.

TIME South Korea

North Korea Applauds Knife Attack on U.S. Ambassador

The assailant reportedly shouted "South and North Korea should be reunified”

You can’t see it on television, but South Korean President Park Geun-hye has a scar that runs from her right ear to her chin. In person, up close, it is just visible below her makeup, a smooth cut that follows the curve of her face. She’s had it since 2006, when she was attacked on the campaign trail by a man wielding a utility knife.

On Thursday, in an eerily similar incident, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was slashed on the face and wrist in the South Korean capital. Photographs from the scene showed him holding the right side of his face, with blood visible on his left hand, and his pink tie splattered red. The U.S. Department of State confirmed the attack and said his injuries are not life threatening. CNN reports that he required 80 stitches. (Park’s attack, by comparison, required 60.)

Lippert, 42, was preparing to deliver an early-morning speech at a restaurant attached to the Sejong Cultural Institute in central Seoul when he was struck with a 10-in. blade. The attacker — since identified by South Korean authorities as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong — reportedly shouted “South and North Korea should be reunified” during the attack, and continued to shout anti-U.S. slogans as he was restrained.

Both governments responded quickly. “We strongly condemn this act of violence,” said Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department. President Park called the incident “intolerable,” likening it to an assault on the South Korea–U.S. military alliance itself. But North Korea applauded the stabbing, calling it a “knife attack of justice.”

The U.S. military has a long-standing presence in South Korea, an arrangement that dates back to the end of the 1950–1953 Korean War. There are currently some 30,000 American troops on the ground, and each spring, U.S. and South Korean forces engage in joint military exercises. North Korea considers the war games a dress rehearsal for invasion, and some South Koreans believe the annual exercises hurt the divided peninsula’s prospects for reconciliation.

Authorities are still investigating the incident, though the timing, and the attacker’s comments, suggest his motivations were political. The suspect said at the scene and online that he was protesting against the start of this year’s military drills. In 2010, Kim lobbed a piece of concrete at Japanese ambassador to South Korea. He received a two-year sentence that was suspended for three years, according to Yonhap, a local newswire.

Notwithstanding these incidents, a daylight attack on a foreign envoy is highly unusual for Seoul. The city of almost 10 million is, by global standards, a peaceful, prosperous place, known these days for its vibrant pop-music and fashion scenes, not political violence.

The well-liked Lippert, a longtime aide to U.S. President Barack Obama who arrived in Seoul in October of last year, was often seen out and about in the capital, greeting local people while walking his family’s basset hound, Grigsby (who, it turns out, has his own Twitter account). Lippert’s son was born in the city, and he and his wife Robyn even gave him a Korean middle name.

Questions are already mounting about security, especially in light of the 2006 knife attack on the now President Park. How did a man with a large knife and history of violence get so close to the ambassador? A spokesperson for the group that hosted the event, the Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, has already apologized for the security breach.

And while the attack might mean tighter security at upcoming events, Grigsby won’t be alone in hoping that the gregarious ambassador is back pounding the city’s sidewalks soon.

Read next: U.S. Envoy to South Korea Injured in Blade Attack

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME China

Britain’s Prince William Handles His China Visit With Polish

The Duke Of Cambridge Visits China - Day 2
WPA Pool—Getty Images Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People on March 2, 2015 in Beijing, China.

Pretty impressive, when you consider the diplomatic line he has to tread

Diplomacy is full of awkward moments. But the fact that an English prince met yesterday with “red princeling” Xi Jinping, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and the President of the People’s Republic of China, is still, if you think about it, strikingly odd. What could the symbolic heir to the British empire and China’s avowedly anti-imperialist new leader have to talk about?

Not history. Since coming to power in 2013, Xi has spoken at length about the great “rejuvenation” of the nation. The message is that after suffering centuries of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, the country, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, is once again on the rise. So while Prince William toured Beijing’s Forbidden City, his handlers probably did not mention the fact that the British burned the city’s other great palace, Yuanmingyuan, on Oct. 18, 1860. Or that Anglo-French forces looted its treasures.

Nor can they talk about Hong Kong. The fate of the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 might be old news by now, if not for the months-long protests that shuttered parts of the Chinese Special Administrative Region last fall. Many, including the protesters themselves, say the movement was a grassroots push for genuine universal suffrage. Beijing blamed “hostile foreign forces.” A British delegation sent to look into the protests was turned away, prompting a rather pointed editorial from the Chinese ambassador to the U.K.

And they certainly can’t talk about family. Prince William and Xi Jinping are both royalty in their own right — the former, a Windsor, the latter, a scion of China’s red royalty. (Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun was a contemporary of Mao and a hero of the Long March.) But don’t expect either to bring that up. Xi rarely trades on his pedigree, at least publicly, preferring to cast himself as just another cadre. And William, if he’s wise, will know that royalty is a touchy subject in China, not least because his grandfather, the racist-gaffe-prone Prince Philip once warned an exchange student about “slitty-eyed” Chinese, and his father Prince Charles once called China’s leaders “appalling old waxworks.”

It’s safe to guess that absolutely none of this came up during the first two days of the tightly choreographed three-day tour. After landing in Shanghai, the prince opened a festival and met with business leaders including Alibaba’s Jack Ma. On Tuesday, local time, he watched Chinese students play soccer (football) to mark the addition of the sport to the Chinese curriculum. “I also gather you’re quite a football fan,” the prince reportedly told the President. On Tuesday evening, he will take in the premiere of Paddington, a kid’s film about a stuffed bear.

So how did young Prince William do? “Defter diplomat than Dad,” judged NBC.

And that, really, is all there is to say.

TIME China

A Viral Video Urges Chinese Parents to Welcome LGBT Kids Home This Lunar New Year

The short film has become a holiday hit in China

This week, hundreds of millions of Chinese will crowd on to planes, trains, cars and motorbikes to make their way home for chun jie, or spring festival. It is a celebration — cue the fireworks — and a chance to reunite with loved ones after months, even years, away. It is also a time to eat, a time to rest, and, for many, a time to field a whole lot of questions from family members: Where’s your girlfriend? When are you getting married? Don’t you know we want a grandchild?

For LGBT folks in China, those questions can be particularly tough. Though China decriminalized gay sex in the late 1990s, stigma and discrimination persist in the workplace and at home, as documented in a report by the UNDP released last year. Though many find a degree of freedom and acceptance in China’s big, booming cities, some struggle to discuss their gender and sexual identities with their parents — a fact that prompted the Chinese branch of PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to make a short film about the issue.

The video, Coming Home, tells the story of a young man who summons the courage to talk to his mom about being gay, only to be criticized and cast out. After a long period of heartache and estrangement, his mother comes around, tearfully welcoming him home. As the credits roll, real mothers speak directly to the camera, offering words of encouragement and advice to young people facing the journey.

The message to parents: “Accept your children, welcome them home.” And for children: “Don’t give up. Your parents might not understand today, but maybe they will tomorrow.” It’s a sentiment that obviously struck a chord: the video has already racked up 100 million views.

Read next: New Google Doodle Honors Chinese New Year

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME China

Watch China’s Creepy Musical Tribute to Its Online Censors

All together now: "The Internet strengthens the country"

Is this a good song about the glory of online censorship? Or is this the greatest song ever about the glory of online censorship?

The ode, written by Wang Pingjiu, is a rousing choral tribute to the Chinese system of online surveillance and censorship known as the Great Firewall — and the government department behind it. In recent weeks, the wall has been rising as the ruling party cracks down on virtual private networks (VPNs) and online speech.

As well it should, the song suggests. Here is a translation courtesy of China Economic Review:

在这片天空日月忠诚的守望

The moon and stars guard us loyally

为日出东方使命担当

Undertaking the duty of the sun rising from the East

创新每个日子拥抱着清朗

Creativity, every day clean and fresh

像一束廉洁阳光感动在心上

Like a bundle of honest sunshine that moves the heart

团结万物生长的力量

The power of all things growing in unity

奉献地球村成为最美的风光

Dedication to the global village becomes the most beautiful scene

在这个世界百川忠诚寻归海洋

Every river in this world loyally seeks the sea

担当中华文明的丈量

Undertaking the measurement of Chinese civilization

五千年沉淀点亮创新思想

Five thousand years build up, illuminating creative thought

廉洁就是一个民族清澈荡漾

Honesty is the lifeblood of a people

我们团结在天地中央

We unite at the center of Heaven and Earth

信仰奉献流淌万里黄河长江

Faith and devotion flow immeasurable distance alongside the Yellow and Yangzi rivers

网络强国 网在哪中国界碑在哪

The Internet strengthens the country, wherever it goes there too stretch China’s borders

网络强国 从遥远的宇宙到思念的家

The Internet strengthens the country, from the distant universe to one’s longed-for home

网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华

The Internet strengthens the country, telling the world the Chinese dream is rising in Greater China

网络强国 一个我在世界代表着国家

The Internet strengthens the country, every one of us is representing our country for the world.

There are signs, however that the censors are perhaps a little embarrassed by the attention. As the video began circulating, links to it started going dead — because in China, even the songs about censorship are censored.

With reporting from Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Education

China Hit by Another SAT Cheating Scandal

Testing sheet
Getty Images

Another round of tests, another set of allegations of organized cheating in China

Here we go again.

The test scores of an unknown number of international students who took the SAT in January are being withheld and reviewed, officials from the College Board and its global test administration and security provider, Educational Testing Service (ETS), tell TIME.

Citing concern for “current and future investigations,” ETS declined to disclose details about the breach. “Individual test-takers whose scores are being held have been impacted by the delay have been informed,” writes ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing in an email. “This review process may take up to five weeks.”

Ewing emphasized that the College Board and ETS remain “committed to ensuring all students have access to a fair testing environment and to fulfilling our responsibility to deliver test scores with integrity to colleges and universities.” A key part of that, Ewing says, is “identifying, stopping and mitigating security breaches.”

This is the latest in a series of apparent security breaches involving the international administration of the SAT. In October 2014, TIME broke the news that ETS was reviewing the scores of all students from China and South Korea—and right in the run-up to early admission, or early action, deadlines. Students in Asia also complained about delays in scores from the November and December tests.

Though ETS will not comment on the nature of the alleged cheating, their email to students in October pointed a finger at “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit.” Multiple sources in the test prep industry say unscrupulous agents in China and South Korea have been selling test questions ahead of the SAT.

That may well have been the case in January. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) on Jan. 22 published a statement saying they were emailed a copy of one of the Jan. 24 tests. FairTest said the questions appeared to come from an international SAT administered in June 2014. The organization had initially said incorrectly that the test had been used in the U.S.

Fair Test and others are calling on the College Board and ETS to stop re-using test questions. “Recycling test forms that were previously administered in the U.S. is the root cause of this ongoing scandal,” says Robert Schaeffer, FairTest’s public education director, in the statement.

But the exact cause of the January test score suspension is still unknown. Thousands of students are waiting for an answer—and their scores.

Update: The original story was updated to include clarification about the exam obtained by FairTest. It was the international exam from June 2014.

TIME China

See China’s Migrant Scrap Peddlers Eke Out a Living on Booming Beijing’s Edge

“These people make the city work,” says Getty photographer Kevin Frayer. “Beijing needs them”

Mrs. Zhou avoids the city. In the seven years she’s lived and worked in Beijing’s vast northern suburbs, she’s ventured only once to the capital’s peak-roofed core. Raised in a village in Henan province, she never learned to read or write much. Subway maps and street signs are impenetrable. She frets about getting lost.

But Zhou, 36, knows the capital. It appears to her each day in the fragments of plastic she sorts. Garbage collectors from across the city lumber in with waste stacked high on their motorbikes. Zhou spends her days picking through twisted tubing, abandoned appliances, and take-away containers still splattered with sauce.

From the hearth of her brick and concrete shelter, she’s also learned a little about the world beyond Beijing. The ever growing city sheds plastic like snakes shed skin, yielding no shortage of waste. But her livelihood depends on the worth of the material, which is linked to the global price of oil. The past two months have been brutal: what once earned her two yuan, or 32¢, now earns 80 jiao, or about 13¢. “More plastic, less money,” she says.

Big cities produce a lot of trash. In Beijing, home to more than 21 million people, the task of collecting, sorting and recycling it falls primarily on migrant workers. In a place that is constantly rebuilding, they clear away the old to make way for the new. Some, in turn, will save enough to make the leap to more comfortable urban life. Others will stay on the margins, making just enough to send a little back home.

It is these links between city and country, core and periphery, that drew Getty photographer Kevin Frayer to Dongxiakou, where Mrs. Zhou lives. The district was once home to tens of thousands of recyclers, but as Beijing bulges northward, the land is being developed. Though half-built apartment blocks now loom in the distance, a few hundred have stayed to keep toiling until the last trucks roll through. “These people make the city work,” says Frayer. “Beijing needs them.”

Yet the city offers little by way of welcome. Though they work about 10 minutes by motorbike from the closest subway station, they live a world apart. Their kids are not eligible for Beijing’s public schools and they often can’t afford private tuition. On a Monday afternoon in January, several children traipsed about the trash heaps in padded jackets and fuzzy slippers, digging for treasure with chapped, blackened hands.

Beijing’s dry, cold weather makes living and working in Dongxiakou tough. Some families give about half of their net income to the local laoban, or boss, for a place to stay and a shot at incoming scrap. (The boss also advised them not to talk to visitors, which is why we’ve withheld their names.) Others simply squat in temporary shelters built from the discarded lumber, scrap metal, and plastic sheets they sort.

Mr. Zhao, a 60-year-old from Sichuan province, more that 1,000 miles away, built his own hut of particleboard, reclaimed bricks and old cement bags. When the camp closes, it will be sold off piece by piece. Then he, and Beijing’s leftovers, must move somewhere, anywhere, else.

TIME China

See China’s Internet Dilemma in One Screen Grab

Can the country really hope for entrepreneurial innovation while restricting Internet access?

Chinese state media today announced a plan to lure more “entrepreneurial” expatriates to China. The goal is to get people into startups and promote innovation, according to a site-leading story Wednesday on the English-language edition of the China Daily.

Running just below that article, though, was a piece headlined “VPN Providers Must Obey Rules.” VPN (virtual private network) providers are the companies that help people jump over China’s Great Firewall. In recent weeks, the government has targeted several such firms, slowing or stopping their services altogether.

The thing is, the “innovative” foreign entrepreneurs China seeks will almost certainly want unfettered access to the Internet. You know, crazy stuff like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube (all of which are banned in China). What’s a startup-loving Communist Party official to do?

TIME China

Watch This Haunting Seven-Minute Film About China’s Insane Air Pollution

It's haunting and eerily beautiful

Greenpeace East Asia today released a seven-minute film by director Jia Zhangke about China’s toxic air. The impressionistic piece, Smog Journeys, follows two families — one rural, one urban — as they live, play, and work in the country’s polluted northeast.

“When it comes to smog, no matter what jobs we do, it is still a problem we all face,” says Jia in an interview released online.

Jia is one of China’s most renowned filmmakers. His work is famously gritty, filled with tales of alienation and strife, and shot in shades of brown and gray. His last feature, A Touch of Sin (2013), was a critical hit abroad, but was considered too politically sensitive to be shown on the Chinese mainland.

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