As we take a look back at the last year of our reporting, Shanghaiist brings to you a list of the most important news events of 2009. Whether they be political, cultural, or social, these were the things that happened that changed our lives and perceptions of the world around us, for the better or worse.
Of course, it could be argued that the month of December… especially the last two weeks brought about some absolutely huge news stories itself – Liu Xiaobo, the jailing of a “living Buddha”, the execution of a mentally ill British man, and the failure of Copenhagen… but heck, if we were trying to list all the big China news we encountered this year, we’d have to fit in the Chongqing corruption trials, Deng Yujiao, the TVCC building burning down, internet addiction camps, and probably something about Somalian pirates. That would make for much too long a post.
So to keep both you guys and us sane, we’ve limited it to the top five news events from around China. Without further ado, here they are:
Though it seemed that China had done a pretty good job keeping the Swine Flu away from its borders for the first half of the year, the epidemic surged towards the end of the year: the last few weeks before the holidays saw a threefold increase in reported cases. Although Shanghai was H1N1-free until September, we had already caught the swine flu fever, and spent the rest of the year tracking the multiple confirmed and unconfirmed cases, including the mysterious, human generated Avian/Swine Flu superstrain that could wreck more havoc on the world than a massive, radioactive half-bird half-pig worthy of a Godzilla movie could. As we watched the government’s reaction, however, we were pleased with the amount of social outreach and open reportage from the government, which is a testament to lessons learned in the wake of SARS (although it did cause us more strife with obtaining visas).
As China becomes increasingly interconnected within its own borders and with the outside world through the internet, many social and political ramifications have become manifest in the government’s heavily expanded crackdown on the web, lovingly referred to as “The Great Firewall“. Though the government has faced setbacks in their campaign to subvert internet freedom on all new computers with the controversial “Green Dam” software, they’ve done a great job at restricting or blocking access to a plethora of popular social media sites like Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and many of their Chinese counterparts. With additional crackdowns on mobile pornography on China’s new 3G networks, as well as China’s internet ban throughout Xinjiang after July’s riots, the internet can be a pretty desolate place.
Yet despite the Governments efforts, blocked networking sites remain popular (the world expo has both Facebook and Twitter accounts, and let’s not forget the Reaganesque “Tear Down This GWF” protest that took over the Berlin Twitter Wall), and continue to be pivotal tools for both individual protests and massive ones.
With China’s internet users now totaling more than 360 million, the battle for individual rights and free speech has found its new home on the internet.
Riots in Xinjiang
Needless to say, racial tension is always making headlines in China: with a massive Han population almost exclusively in power, ethnic minorities can become estranged and ostracized from society very easily. This was proven in spades when a rumor spread by a Han factory worker in Shaoguan, Guangdong resulted in the death of two Uighur coworkers, triggering a massive series of riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, which left scores dead and many more injured. President Hu was forced to return from a G8 summit to help quell the rioting, which lasted for a number of days.
In the course of the affair, thousands of people were detained: many Uighurs and Han Chinese were arrested, and some have already been put to death for their roles in the riots. The aftermath was perhaps worse: Mosques were closed, people were shot dead by the police, and a string of ethnically charged syringe stabbings against Han Chinese spawned more protests that nearly ousted Xinjiang Regional Party Secretary Wang Lequan. Ethnic tensions remain high to this day, the internet is still blocked, and little progress seems to have occurred in the past half-year that might prevent future strife. At the most basic level, the Xinjiang riots have drawn attention to the many racial issues rife throughout China, which will only get worse in the near future.
Barack Obama Visits China
It says a lot about the state of the world when a US president visits China in the first year of his term, and newly inaugurated Barack Obama just so happens to be the first one to do it. The excitement, of course is mutual: Obama’s charasmatic presence seems to be the perfect heralding of America and China’s beautiful, beautiful relationship to come. Moreover, the Chinese have a certain fascination/reverence for Obama and his youthful good looks that has found many interesting and bizarre expressions of their adolation: Obama eggs, Obama hair statues, and let’s not forget the quintessential mash-up ObaMao, have all had us laughing and cocking our heads in confusion over the past year.
Of course, the visit was mostly diplomatic, and nothing of much significance happened (discounting, of course, great photo ops of the president on the Great Wall, or in the Forbidden City). Of course, we were hoping for something a little more newsworthy, but as Obama tends to inspire inordinately great hopes for things like progress, or, well, hope, we’ve somewhat learned to curb our enthusiasm. After all, Obama did get a couple jabs in for free speech in his “town hall” meeting in Shanghai, and isn’t that enough?
The Rise of China
China is booming- if you somehow don’t believe us, ask the Global Language Monitor. Yeah, it’s a bit of a cop out, but at the same time it’s an undeniable truth that lies at the core of our reasons for being expats in Shanghai in the first place. Though in its infancy, China is the place to be for up-and-coming world leaders, businessmen, scholars, and anyone interested in the international state of affairs to come. It’s daunting, intimidating and exciting, but most importantly, it’s coming: hold onto your fashionable coolie hats, because it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Photo by FrasSmith @ flickr