Peeps – December 2008

February 25, 2009

The European parliament awarded jailed Beijing dissident Hu Jia the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, despite warnings from the Chinese government. Sure enough, shortly after the announcement Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao denounced the decision as a “gross interference in China’s domestic affairs.” Activists had hoped that Hu, whose own domestic affairs had been strictly confined to his apartment prior to his incarceration, might be released as a byproduct of the award, but so far that possibility does not seem to be in the offing. Still, Hu has since been transported to a more hospitable facility in Beijing, where his family was allowed to visit him. Interestingly, just a week after the result came out, a Chinese official announced an unprecedented “human rights action plan” that will seek to improve the rights of Chinese citizens over the next two years. 


Dissidents weren’t the only ones running afoul of the law this month. Bayunfeng Sichuan Restaurant is on trial for bribing customers to forego taxable receipts in exchange for goods. Ms. Hu, a writer who spent just over a hundred yuan in the restaurant in early October, has filed a suit for 10,000 yuan against the restaurant for emotional damages, claiming infringement of her right to monitor the collection of national taxes. The restaurant’s offense? Offering Hu a bottle of Sprite in lieu of a receipt, which the manager alleges Hu suggested in the first place. The offer of goods or discounts to keep a transaction off the books is fairly common practice in Beijing, despite the State Administration of Taxation’s efforts to promote taxation as an act of moral uprightness. The manager of the restaurant claims Hu is sensationalizing the issue, and sneers that if she wanted to do the right thing, she would have simply filed a complaint, rather than chase renminbi. The court has not yet announced a date for its decision.


The global financial crisis is beginning to reverberate through the capital city, if only in the form of meetings. The seventh Asia-Europe meeting, held in Beijing on October 24 and 25 amid the requisite event florascaping in Tian’anmen Square, centered on the unfolding financial crisis, though China’s role as one of the world’s largest economies remained undefined. “We swim together, or we sink together,” European Commision President Jose Manuel Barros declared at the summit. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who has declared the impact of the crisis on China “limited and controllable,” offered his agreement, but little in the way of advice. Chinese officials are expected to attend a meeting of world leaders on November 15 to further address the crisis.


Just a few steps away, at the Forbidden City, a new world is opening up – a virtual one. IBM and the Palace Museum recently launched “The Forbidden City: Beyond Space and Time,” a computer application in which avatars can don period costumes and wander around the pristine paths of the online palace. The stated purpose of the project is to give users unable to actually visit Beijing access to the world heritage site, but Beijing residents are likely to benefit more from it. Gone are the daunting crowds and limited descriptions. Forbidden City avatars – officials, eunuchs, and the like –  can wander the grounds at leisure, without the threat of pesky vendors or sunstroke. Navigationally-challenged users can consult a handy map that also links to historical information, then visit the actual Forbidden City to test their new knowledge.

Participants at the World Health Organization Congress held Nov. 8 in Beijing called for the integration of acupuncture, cupping, and other forms of traditional medicine into national health care systems worldwide. This legitimization means practitioners would be accredited professionals responsible for keeping their skills up with the times. Traditional medicine has frequently been dismissed as “soft” medicine carried over from a less informed age, but that may soon change. Plans are currently underway to modernize traditional medicine through research and innovation under the accords of the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property adopted earlier this year.


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