The Oxford China Forum’s China Dispatch is an original newsletter that seeks to summarize the fast-changing situation in China and in Chinese communities across the world in accessible, timely stories. To be the first to receive our next edition, subscribe here.
Demographic Decline: Single Women Challenge Traditional Family Model
After the government announced a “Three Child Policy” amid falling birth rates in May of this year, debates around family planning have taken centre stage in China. This policy, which became law in August, has been followed by a complex and controversial new plan issued September 27 for women’s health which seeks to “reduce” abortions for “non-medical purposes” along with providing better family planning services.
Amidst these changes, one woman, Teresa Xu, is arguing that China should expand the reproductive rights of unmarried women. After being denied the opportunity to freeze her eggs in 2018, Xu decided to sue the Beijing hospital where a doctor suggested she have a child instead and wanted to see her marriage licence. On September 17th of this year, she finally had her second hearing in court after months of waiting and pandemic-related delays.
The timing of Xu’s case comes at a critical moment for Chinese women, many of whom already face significant economic barriers to childbearing. Since the 1990s, the average age of marriage for both men and women has been increasing, with more remaining single altogether. Costs of living and raising children have compounded this demographic crisis.
While Chinese millennials increasingly shun traditional family models, the government continues to endorse having children after marriage. Women like Xu are thus left with few options to take control of their reproductive choices. Although medical procedures abroad exist, Xu noted their exorbitant costs as a barrier. Likewise, the delays in getting a hearing have become another source of anxiety: as she put it, “my eggs are getting older with me”.
Alongside the “Three Child Policy”, the government has committed to making raising children more accessible, especially for working women. Although it will be a while before the success of the policy can be measured, if China’s birth rate continues to fall, perhaps cases like Xu’s will gain renewed attention as another way to sustain the population.
The Oxford China Forum will be further exploring the challenges of raising children in today’s China in an upcoming article on our blog. Stay up to date by subscribing to our mailing list or following our socials.
US-China Relationship on Centre Stage at COP26
The months leading up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity as countries seek to resolve impasses before arriving in Scotland. The conference, which will be held from November 1st to 12th, has been billed as a critical moment in the fight against climate change, especially after a year of intense storms, fires, and catastrophic weather across the world.
One of the biggest issues to be discussed is ending the use of coal. Earlier in July of this year, a G20 summit ended with nations, including China, unable to reach an agreement on banning coal, diminishing hopes for Glasgow. However, China, still the world’s biggest emitter and user of coal, pledged at the United Nations General Assembly in September that it would cease building coal power plants overseas. Along with renewed commitments from the Biden administration, prospects for an agreement at Glasgow are increasing again.
However, fraught China-US relationships could be the greatest obstacle to climate action. Despite a high-profile trip by John Kerry, US special envoy on climate, to China, talks between the two countries have broken down due to their already weakened relationship. The recent AUKUS pact to provide Australia with nuclear submarines could prove to be yet another barrier in climate-related talks. After the pact was announced, UK Green MP, Caroline Lucas tweeted that “reaching a positive outcome at #COP26 […] just got a whole lot harder”.
The past weeks have also seen Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s embattled CFO, enter a deferred prosecution agreement with the US, leading to her return home to China after three years of house arrest in Canada. While it is unclear what effect Meng’s release will have on China-US relations, Glasgow will bring new scrutiny to bilateral tensions.
Views from Weibo: Shang-Chi
While Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has become a box-office sensation across the world and garnered acclaim for its casting’s Asian representation, the latest Marvel movie is yet to be released in mainland China. Still, Chinese netizens have taken to social networks to comment on the film and its surrounding controversies.
Lead actor Simu Liu has been the source of several of these due to the resurfacing of a 2017 interview and old Reddit posts. In said interview with CBC (Canada’s national broadcaster), Canadian Liu talked unfavourably about his parents’ experiences growing up in China, describing it as “Third World”, which drew the ire of some netizens. While Western sources have criticized Liu’s old Reddit posts likening paedophilia to homosexuality, the former debate has resonated more in China.
The film has also been criticized for the racist stereotypes stemming from the original comics. In the comics, Shang-Chi’s father, Fu Manchu, represents the racist “Yellow Peril”, an idea that Chinese people along with other East Asians were a threat to the ‘West’. However, the film completely reinvents this character as ‘Xu Wenwu’ and tries to do away with harmful, racist stereotypes of an ‘evil mastermind’.
While some netizens referenced Liu and his controversies, most of the discussion of Shang-Chi on Weibo has focused on Tony Leung and Fala Chen. Whereas Liu has been the focus of press coverage in North America for his role as the first Chinese hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chinese netizens have been more occupied with the performances of familiar talent as well as the film’s homages to Hong Kong martial arts cinema.
Despite the backlash Liu has faced from some corners of Weibo, many seem excited about the film, and one user noted it shows “a version of Chinese culture that doesn’t include strange Americanized aesthetics”. Although its release in China remains uncertain, Shang-Chi has proven popular on Weibo.
Entertainment Industry: Crackdown and Moral Reforms
After weeks of crackdowns on the entertainment industry, China has turned to cartoons and animation as the next target for reform. A notice from the National Radio and Television Administration posted on September 24 advises cartoons to avoid “bad plots” with “violence, blood, or vulgar pornography” among others.
This latest reform comes after celebrities have had social media accounts shut down and government advisories that “sissy idols”, namely effeminate men, be avoided. A September 7th meeting of China’s entertainment industry saw the Nation Radio and Television Administration stress the importance of demonstrating “morality” in stars’ public and private lives.
However, the entertainment industry isn’t the only sector to face new regulations. Tech and online gaming have also had new restrictions imposed, including the “three-hour-a-week” limit for online gaming imposed on minors. Even the Evergrande crisis gripping global markets and headlines can be traced back to the government’s tightening up on private industry. After new limits were imposed on developers last year, Evergrande began selling properties at a discount which provided short-term cash but have since led to their current financial crisis.
Broadly, these reforms are part of the government’s drive to undo some “neoliberal” reforms in the country’s economy. Rana Mitter, Professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford, told Reuters that such reforms have “made China much less equal”. While the reforms targeted at rich developers and celebrities have a clear impact on the government’s control over the economy, the moral reforms are part of the government’s plan to guide the country’s development over the coming years.
社交牛逼症 (Shèjiāo niú bī zhèng)
Literal translation: “socially incredible disorder”
Trending since the summer, 社交牛逼症 afflicts the polar opposite of your socially anxious friends. Symptoms include calling everyone “dear” indiscriminately or using their nicknames regardless of familiarity, befriending colleagues and take-out delivery drivers alike, spilling endless topics at the water cooler, and commanding magnetic attention in every room.
凡尔赛文学 (Fán’ěrsài wénxué)
Literal translation: “Versailles literature”
A term which became popular late last year, it describes a genre of internet posts that package their authors’ luxurious lifestyles into supposedly relatable daily frustrations. Someone who is an expert in decoding 凡尔赛文学 is a 凡学家 (Fánxuéjiā) or “Versailles-literature scholar”.
Example: A post from Weibo user @蒙淇淇77 reads, ‘last year for a while I was unbearably sad and badly wanted to cry, so I called [my boyfriend], and he told me to just let it out. I said, “crying by myself at home is too pathetic; I need to go cry at Victoria Harbour”. He said “okay” and booked the next flight. We got to Hong Kong that evening. Victoria Harbour’s scenery at night was sparkly and warm. He held me from behind and I cried to my heart’s content like never before. It was then that I vowed to myself that I’ll make lots of money, so that when he’s sad I can also take him to cry in Paris, New York, London!’
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