TIME Aviation

5 Days, 5,000 Miles, Fueled Only by the Sun: Solar Impulse Readies for Pacific Crossing

Relying entirely on solar power, the aircraft will attempt to travel from China to Hawaii

On Tuesday morning local time, a Swiss man named André Borschberg will take off from an airport in Nanjing, China, and fly for roughly 120 hours straight. He will travel east and south across the vast Pacific, spending days and nights over deep, dark sea as he hurtles toward Hawaii in an airplane powered by the sun.

An airplane powered by the sun? It’s the type of thing we dreamed about as children — running with our arms outstretched, circling like birds on the breeze. Kids love airplanes and astronauts — even airports, the bane of adults. Grown-ups tend to prefer our feet firmly planted. We’ve lost sight of the magic: a plane is a plane.

Borschberg and fellow pilot Bertrand Piccard want to restore our sense of wonder, which is why they’ve spent more than a decade preparing to fly their fuelless aircraft, Solar Impulse 2, around the globe. There will be 12 flights total, with the pilots taking turns at the helm of the single-seater. The goal of the trip, which started March 9 in the United Arab Emirates, is to inspire interest in clean tech.

“Adventure is where when you learn to be more open to the unknown,” says Piccard. “There is normal life, where we live automatically, we reproduce what we have learned, and [there are] moments of rupture and crisis. It is in these moments that you have to get rid of your certainties and habits.”

Once Solar Impulse leaves Nanjing, there will be few certainties. A flight like this has never been done.

The 5,000-mile leg will be a technical and physical test. Priority No. 1 is marshaling the sun, Borschberg says. During the day, Solar Impulse will fly high while capturing energy. When darkness falls, the engines will be cut and the plane will soar for several hours, losing altitude. At some point, the engine will start drawing on battery power. Then, at daybreak, the cycle begins again.

The flight will not be easy on the pilot. Seated in tiny cockpit, the 62-year-old will be awake for most of the flight, resting only for 20 minutes at a time. The conditions in the plane will be far from first-class comfort: the space is small, and the temperature and air pressure will vary dramatically through the trip. At some points, he will be able to communicate with mission control in Monaco. If things go wrong, he could be on his own.

For Borschberg, this is the flight of a lifetime. He started flying at 15, studied engineering, and spent decades as a pilot in the Swiss Air Force reserves. He is detail-driven and aviation-obsessed, brought to life by talk of aerodynamics. “I feel at home up there, at ease,” he says. “You get access to something that human beings on earth can’t access.”

Flying a plane like Solar Impulse, which is incredibly light, means working with the elements, not racing through them — a change of mind-set for a fighter pilot. “The more extreme the airplane, the more you have to have nature on your side and not the other way around,” Borschberg says. “You can look at the wind as a problem — turbulence, downdraft — or you can ask, how can I make it my ally? How can I integrate with nature instead of fearing it or trying to change it?”

His partner, Piccard, is the dreamer. Also born in Switzerland, the 57-year-old spent part of his childhood living in Florida during the U.S.-Soviet race to the moon. “The entire country was living for the conquest of the moon, and I had the chance to witness the most extraordinary human adventure,” he says. “When this was finished I had the impression that there was nothing else.”

Perhaps to prove himself wrong, he took up hang gliding and ballooning. He also studied psychiatry and hypnosis, fascinated, he said, by how being pushed to the limit could affect the mind. He went on to become, with Brian Jones, the first to complete a nonstop balloon flight around the world. He met Borschberg about 12 years ago and they have been planning, and fundraising, ever since.

Now they face the most difficult and dangerous part of the journey. Both pilots have trained hard for this — even dropping into water, blindfolded and strapped into parachutes, to simulate one possible worst case. They admit to nerves but prefer to talk about planning, preparation and the professionalism of the team that will guide them from Monaco.

Besides, they say, flight is about facing fear — taking a leap. When Borschberg sets out over the ocean, he will be sitting in a cockpit adorned with photographs of his family — a midair reminder of all that awaits him when he, and Solar Impulse, return to ground.

TIME North Korea

Gloria Steinem’s North Korea Peace Walk Draws Ire Despite Lack of Any Better Ideas

Remember, the status quo sure ain't working

There’s a lot written about North Korea: reports on the country’s nuclear program, speculation about its leadership, and gossip about its dictator’s hair, height and weight. But parse the streams of text the country generates each week and you’ll notice a word conspicuously missing: peace.

Though the 1950–53 Korean War ended without a treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula divided, the question of peace has faded from view. Exasperated by Pyongyang’s intransigence on nuclear issues, tired of its propagandists’ vitriol, the international community has, for the most part, disengaged. Young South Koreans are less and less interested in their hermit neighbor. The U.S. is all about isolation — and sanctions galore.

The deepening standoff is what inspired a group of 30 female activists, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem, to plan a walk for peace at the border. The plan is to set out on May 24 across the demilitarized zone, or DMZ (which, despite its name, is among the most militarized places on earth). They will walk from the north side to the south, they hope, a gesture meant to break the standoff — symbolically at least.

There are still questions as to whether the women will make it through. They say they’ve been granted permission from authorities on both sides to walk across on May 24, although they are not sure which crossing they will use. They told Reuters that they had yet to hear back from U.N. Command, which runs the Panmunjom crossing. (There are two others.)

While in North Korea, the group’s itinerary includes meeting North Korean women and touring a maternity ward and a factory. The point is to be present, listen and engage, Steinem told the Washington Post in a pre-departure interview. “There is no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are,” she said.

Not everybody agrees. In a Post editorial headlined “Empty Marching in North Korea,” Abraham Cooper of Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, blast Steinem and her colleagues for giving North Korea a chance to engage in “human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.”

Responding to an item in TIME about the march, North Korean exile Shin Dong-hyuk (more on him here) also blasted the women for “smiling” at Kim Jong Un’s “evil” face. “How can they so easily find the ability to be comfortable with smiles on their faces to this dictator when so many are suffering at his hands?” we writes on his Facebook page. He wonders, he says, “if these people know the meaning of peace.”

While Cooper, Scarlatoiu and Shin are right to put the spotlight on North Korea’s appalling rights record, it’s quite the leap to say these veteran activists are ignoring it. “We have no illusions that our walk can basically erase the conflict that has endured for seven decades,” Christine Ahn, the Korean-American coordinator, told the press.

The group is pushing for empathy — not for the regime but for those suffering under it. They want to make us care about North Korea by showing us that North Koreans are people, not Hollywood caricatures. Yes, Kim Jong Un could spin this as good press. But surely outside observers will realize that a visit by peace campaigners is not an endorsement of his death camps.

The world needs to stand up to North Korea. Its record on human rights is appalling, its leader cruel. But the current strategy — isolation, condemnation and mockery — is not working. As such, it’s hard to condemn a walk for peace.

TIME Nepal

China Rushes Aid to Nepal After Deadly Earthquake; Taiwan Is Turned Away

Even with survivors still being pulled from the rubble, geopolitical ramifications loom large

China this weekend rushed a 62-person team to Nepal to help with the ongoing search rescue operation after Saturday’s 7.9-magnitude earthquake. They landed in Kathmandu early Sunday and set to work immediately, according to Chinese state media. The rescuers and a second group from the People’s Liberation Army are both well-equipped to help in the desperate search for survivors of a disaster that has already claimed more than 3,600 lives: Some are veterans of the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which had a 70,000 death toll, and they bring much-needed supplies.

Not making the trip just yet: a team from Taiwan. Though dozens of Taiwanese were still missing in Nepal, and Taiwan has strong capabilities in disaster recovery and relief, the island was not asked to participate, Vice Foreign Minister Andrew Kao said Monday. (Taiwan NGOs and religious groups do plan to go and Taiwan people have already raised a large sum of money to support the recovery effort.)

It’s still uncertain whether Taiwan’s exclusion is an oversight or a (very poorly timed) slight. But it is clear that a mere two days after the quake, as Nepalis dig barehanded for their loved ones, and families sleep outside in the pouring rain, geopolitical questions loom large. Chief among them is how China’s involvement in the recovery effort could further change the balance of power in the region, challenging India and potentially putting Nepal’s Tibetan exile community at risk.

Tiny, landlocked Nepal is a foreign policy priority for China. Located at the edge of Tibet, the nation of 30 million is a buffer state between regional superpowers China and India. Though India has long seen Nepal as part of its sphere of influence, China has in recent years stepped up efforts to increase its role across Central and South Asia, an effort President Xi Jinping calls the “One Road, One Belt” initiative. (The China-India proxy fight is also playing out in Sri Lanka, as TIME’s Nikhil Kumar recently wrote.)

The “One Road” portion of the project will bolster China’s existing investment in infrastructure and trade. With better road links between Tibet Autonomous Region and Nepal, Beijing will be better placed to access markets in South Asia. China is now the largest player in terms of Foreign Direct Investment in Nepal, overtaking the previous claimant, India. All this, along with China’s massive investment in Pakistan, no doubt has New Delhi nervous.

Another sticking point: exiled Tibetans. Since the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, Nepal has traditionally been both a way-station and a refuge for Tibetans fleeing Chinese rule. But as China’s influence has grown, Nepal’s hospitality has waned. A U.S. embassy cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010 noted that “Beijing has asked Kathmandu to step up patrols,” and was providing “financial incentives” to those who apprehended would-be exiles.

Indeed, multiple reports suggest things are getting tougher for the estimated 20,000-strong exile community in Nepal. In April 2014, Human Rights Watch issued a 100-page report, Under China’s Shadow, documenting what they called, “a de facto ban on political protests, sharp restrictions on public activities promoting Tibetan culture and religion, and routine abuses by Nepali security forces.” (In a statement, Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced the findings as “unnecessary meddling into the friendly relationships between the two close neighbors,” but did not rebut specific claims.)

If neighborly sentiment means more aid for those still waiting in the ruble, few will complain. But Nepal has reason to wonder if this assistance will also bring a push for greater control.

Read next: Where Will the Next Big Earthquake Hit?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME North Korea

China Has Reason to Be Worried About North Korea’s Nukes

This video grab taken from North Korean TV on March 20, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's overseeing a live fire military drill.
AFP/Getty Images This video grab taken from North Korean TV on March 20, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's overseeing a live fire military drill.

The two countries were once as close as lips and teeth, but Beijing is increasingly wary of Pyongyang and Kim Jong Un

In the U.S., North Korea often feels more like of a punchline than a political threat. Coverage of the country skews heavily toward humor, whether it’s news stories about Kim Jong Un’s gravity-defying hair, or Hollywood films that milk North Korean misery for laughs. Have you heard the one about Pyongyang’s weapons program? North Korea’s nuclear missile is almost ready—just a few more trips back to Radio Shack. (Thanks for that, Twitter.)

In East Asia, North Korea is less of a joke than a policy imperative—as we were reminded this week. Reporting published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal suggests that China may be worried—or more worried than normal—about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Citing “people briefed on the matter,” the paper reported that Chinese experts privately advised American nuclear specialists that Pyongyang may have up to 20 warheads, as well as enough weapons-grade uranium to double that number within a year.

If the figure is indeed accurate, or even close, it is significant for several reasons. First, the figure—20—is considerably higher than recent U.S. estimates, which put the number of warheads in the 10 to 16 range. Second, the revised estimate is reportedly based on China’s belief that North Korea has improved its capacity to enrich uranium. This, if true, would make it easier and faster for them to build-out their arsenal, potentially allowing them to produce up to 20 new warheads per year.

It is hard to say if the number is accurate—we don’t know how the intelligence was gathered and it is an estimate to begin with. What’s perhaps more significant to the non-nuclear scientists among us is the fact that it could put the North Korea nuclear question back on the agenda in the United States. Several U.S. publications, including the WSJ’s editorial board, are already using the news to critique Washington’s approach to the issue, and to compare the handling of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea. Will the threat gain currency heading into 2016?

It also puts the spotlight on China. U.S.-based observers have a habit of underplaying—or outright forgetting—China’s role in all this. In May 2014, the foreign press was aflutter over reports leaked to Japanese media that appeared to outline China’s planned response to a North Korean collapse. South Korea and China-based observers were hardly surprised. Of course the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army have contingency plans in the event of something going very wrong across the Yalu River. China is North Korea’s neighbor. It knows that a problems in Pyongyang will likely spillover.

And this is an interesting time for Sino-DPRK ties. North Korea and China were once brother-at-arms, as close as lips and teeth, as Mao famously said. They fought together in the 1950-1953 Korean War and China has long been considered Pyongyang’s only real ally. (That may change as Putin’s Russia cozies up.) Trade with China, both official and unofficial, has helped keep the Kim regime afloat amid escalating rounds of sanctions. The last thing China wants is destabilizing conflict, or, worse, a collapse that could send North Koreans streaming to the border—or so the thinking goes.

This latest wrinkle reminds us that China is also very much concerned with nuclear weapons, especially nuclear weapons in the hands of a blustery young dictator that they don’t quite trust—and, that this is an area where China, the U.S., and South Korea could find common ground. Will they make it a diplomatic priority going forward? Or will North Korea have the last laugh?

TIME China

Yushu: A Tibetan Town Rebuilt in Beijing’s Image

A Tiben woman teaches her son to ride a
AFP/Getty Images A Tiben woman teaches her son to ride a bike beside their new house in Yushu, northwest China's Qinghai province on Nov. 13, 2011

After a massive earthquake destroyed 90% of Yushu's buildings and claimed more than 2,000 lives, the price of recovery has been sacrificing identity

The monk leans forward and flips through the pictures. They were taken in the autumn of 2009, before the earth shook and the city fell, when we met at his monastery on an ordinary October day. Former students. Old classrooms. A friend that moved away. He lingers on a close-up of his face, as it was that day, sunlit and smiling. He shakes his head in disbelief. “Do I look so different?”

Everything does. It’s now been five years since a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit this county — known as Yushu in Chinese and Jyekundo in Tibetan — high on the Qinghai plateau. The county seat was then a small, Tibetan city, a place of dusty markets, monasteries, and low-slung courtyard homes. The tremor toppled almost every structure and trapped thousands in the wreckage. When the valley stopped shaking, the monk and his students emerged from their still-standing school to dig, barehanded, for what remained.

Owing to distance, bad roads and altitude, it took days for rescue workers to make it to the town. But when they did, they arrived in force. Convoys of green army trucks rolled south from the provincial capital, Xining, bearing tents and blankets, cement and soldiers. Before local and foreign press, the central government promised to rebuild the city — and they did, though it is difficult, at times, to recognize the city that they built.

Beijing has poured more than $7 billion into transforming this county. Visitors no longer arrive exhausted from a 17-hour ordeal on the overnight bus. There is an airport and miles of fresh-paved roads. The main street has a brand new school with a spacious, spotless playground. And every family was given enough money to build a new, 80 sq m home.

There are also, at every turn, reminders of this. There are signs thanking the People’s Liberation Army, state-owned enterprises, and Communist Party officials. “Gratitude. Self-strengthening. Innovation. Harmony,” reads one banner. “Develop activities to promote national unity,” reads another. On the road into town, Xi Jinping, Chairman of the Communist Party and President of the People’s Republic, waves at motorists from a massive red billboard: “Unite all Chinese. Realize the China Dream.”

The ruling party’s dream for this region is, and has always been, at odds with what many ethnic Tibetans want. This is the edge of Chinese empire, a contested space where everything has two names and two histories. What Tibetans call colonization, the ruling CCP calls “serf liberation.” Even as monks burn themselves alive to protest Chinese rule, state media trumpet campaigns to improve Tibetan livelihoods through road building and water treatment.

In this sense, the story of Yushu/Jyekundo feels like the story of contemporary Tibet told in fast-forward. The earthquake’s destruction sped the influx of non-Tibetans to the once isolated town. These CCP-backed soldiers, officials and fortune seekers brought money and resources — first shovels and water, and then scaffolding and cranes. But the help was not offered without condition and has resulted in heightened state control.

Take housing. With almost all the city destroyed, the Party vowed to help every family build a new home. Generous. But they did so according to their own logic, and their own plans. Over the last five years, local residents have taken to the streets to protest what they call widespread land confiscation. After losing their homes in the quake, they said, they were evicted to make way for the new, grand city plan.

There are questions, too, about whether this construction boom benefits Tibetans. The locals had little experience in airport building, highway paving or the rapid construction of imposing government offices. The government and state-owned enterprises are experts. In the past, visitors stayed at family-owned inns. Today, there is Gesar Palace, “a boutique five star hotel” run, according to the brochure, by the Hong Kong Evergreen Hotel Group. It has “18 private Chinese dining rooms,” 13 Karaoke machines, and very few guests.

For all the talk of unity, for the shiny new buildings and smooth roads, the gap between China’s avowedly atheist government and ordinary Tibetans seems as wide as ever. You can see it in the monk’s face. The trauma of the earthquake, the influx of outsiders, and the wholesale reimagining of the town where he’s lived for 26 years have aged him, as he knows well. Though he has just entered middle age he is walking more slowly, and talking more cautiously, than he did before.

He asked that I not use his name and I will not post his pictures. This is a sensitive time for his school. The trouble started when he offered free religious education to local students on winter break. Five hundred showed up, spooking local authorities taught to see crowds of Tibetans as a threat. He spent seven days in jail, but plans to keep teaching.

He continues to live as he always has, frugally, in monk’s robes. Asked about the future, of the city and his school, he seems less concerned with matters of politics than questions of faith. The person he loves more than any other, the Dalai Lama, recently conceded that he may be the last to fill the role, a sentiment that many here are still struggling to understand. Looking down at his rebuilt city, the monk ponders somberly, “My only wish is that he’s reborn someplace free.”

—with reporting by Gu Yongqiang

TIME China

No, Ikea Hasn’t Banned Customers From Sleeping in Its Chinese Stores

Chinese Shoppers Make The Most Of IKEA's Open Bed Policy
Kevin Frayer—Getty Images Chinese shoppers sleep on a sofa in the showroom of the IKEA store on July 6, 2014 in Beijing, China.

They're as comfy as ever

It turns out the Great Ikea Crackdown of 2015 was greatly exaggerated.

For Ikea, adapting to the Chinese market has meant embracing the fact that customers quite like to lounge in the store, taking enthusiastic advantage of the comfy beds and free air-con. But earlier this week, state media shocked the capital by reporting that the Swedish retailer planned to stop shoppers from sleeping in display rooms and stretching out on sofas.

News of the nascent ban spread quickly, from state media to the foreign press. (“Rude awakening” chuckled the Daily Mail.)

But an Ikea rep says there is no new policy on in-store power napping. Margaret Ma, a Beijing-based marketing manager, declined a phone interview, but in an email reply to questions from TIME, denied recent reports of a ban. “In terms of any impolite behavior that will affect other customers or cause inconvenience to other customers, our staff always stops that behavior politely,” she writes. “The measure you mentioned is not a new rule.”

Trips to both Beijing locations confirmed that loungers are still legion, and very much at ease. At the store’s Xihongmen branch, a young couple lay curled up on the lower reaches of a bunk bed, headphones in, watching TV on a tablet. Nearby, an older gentleman was relaxing on a sofa, pants high, feet up, and eyes closed. Around the corner, aunties with empty Ikea bags watched over toddlers tossing stuffed toys to and fro. Pretty much business as usual.

So if you’re a Beijinger looking for a place to unwind, Ikea is still your happy place.

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.

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