HIV-positive villagers form gangs to collect debts, enforce demolitions

For debt collectors in Henan Province, being HIV-positive can be a useful weapon in their arsenal. These people, who have few ways of making money due to the taboo over the virus, can earn a healthy income by joining gangs. However this “industry” is declining as the government cracks down on debtors and debt collectors.

Photo: IC

Every time Zhao Yi showed a debtor his medical record, they became terrified of him. The virus which had been a burden to him for years became a useful weapon for the debt collector.

In Shangqiu, Central China’s Henan Province, it has become common for people like Zhao, who is living with HIV, to take advantage of the fear people feel toward them to earn a living.

But Zhao tries to be reasonable. He always tries to talk sense to the debtor before scaring them into handing over what they owe. But not everyone is like him, and harassment is a regular occurrence in the industry.

Police in the city’s Yucheng county recently arrested Li Jianmin, who is himself HIV-positive, for organizing a gang to help collect debts.

Police said that they suspect his gang – made up of HIV-positive people, the elderly and the disabled – of being involved in around 50 criminal cases.

This phenomenon is not specific to Shangqiu. Across the country, people use the general ignorance about HIV as a form of psychological warfare, to do everything from collecting debts to facilitating demolitions.

Once these debt collectors are hired to get money from someone, they follow them wherever they go for days on end, usually brandishing their medical record. If debtors are stubborn, a vial of red liquid is sometimes used as a weapon of intimidation.

Experts have claimed that many of these HIV-positive debt collectors fall into this shady industry because society has abandoned them, and called for more attention to be paid to these vulnerable people. As these calls have gradually been heeded by the authorities, the “industry” has begun to shrink.

A well-played card

In November 2015, Jiang Fei’s Yucheng county photography studio was visited by over 20 unexpected guests, including several with disabilities, elderly people and others waving medical records revealing their HIV status. Some of them yelled “I have HIV,” and one even urinated on her front door.

“Someone paid us to curse you and you must close the studio right now without delay,” they told Jiang. This ragtag group, who Jiang suspected had been hired by her competitors, accosted her in her studio every day for two weeks.

Jiang later learned that they are not from Yucheng, but live in other parts of Shangqiu. Jiang said she learned that the HIV-positive harassers take orders from Qiao Si, a local who is also living with HIV. Jiang heard a rumor that Qiao “has no family and injected himself with HIV-carrying blood out of fear of being bullied.”

These stories frightened Jiang, and she decided to track down Li Jianmin, a well-known HIV-positive resident of Yucheng. She offered Li 1,000 yuan ($150) to negotiate, but Li demanded 30,000 yuan for his services. While she was considering his counter-offer, the troublemakers turned up again, which led Jiang to decide that “they are in league with each other” and she called the police.

According to the local procuratorate, Yucheng police received many similar reports during the two-week period Jiang was being harassed and many of the cases – before and after – involved Li.

Jiang learned that Shangqiu is actually a hotbed for this kind of gang, as in the 1980s selling blood was very popular in the area and across Henan more generally. Often, the people collecting the blood didn’t follow proper hygiene protocols and many people contracted HIV. Shuangmiao village in Shangqiu’s Zhecheng county is particularly notorious for its debt-collecting gangs.

As reported by Intodeepthoughts, a WeChat public account run by the Beijing Youth Daily, the majority of the HIV-positive people in Shuangmiao don’t regard debt-collecting as a big deal, but some say that “those who do it are shameless.”

Zhao Yi, who is in his 60s, said they “don’t earn as much as is reported, and we are reasonable.” To him, collecting debts is a righteous act and sometimes he doesn’t even ask for payment.

Most people find Zhao through word of mouth. Zhao’s latest job was last year when a friend of his had his wages withheld. Zhao teamed up with two other people living with HIV and went to the construction site at which his friend had been working, taking along their medical records.

They surrounded the foreman and persuaded him that it’s only fair to pay one’s debts. Zhao’s usual tactic is to tell the debtor that he is a friend of his client and that the money owed is going to go to his treatment.

Zhao found that most of the time, people who find out he has HIV quickly adopt a look of disgust and are “eager to get you out of their house.”

Though the foreman said he would pay, he then hid out at his relative’s house after saying that he needed to go there to borrow money. In a fit of anger, Zhao then “cut the electricity to the debtor’s factory,” Intodeepthoughts reported.

Eventually, Zhao succeeded, but did not ask for a share of the cash because the client is his friend. His friend simply treated him to a nice dinner and some good cigarettes.

A good job

Collecting debts is one of the few ways HIV-positive Chinese people can earn money.

In Shangqiu, HIV-positive residents like Zhao get 260 yuan for “living expenses” from the local government and a 115 yuan subsidy. For many, this is their only income.

Due to the effects of the virus, few locals living with HIV are strong enough to do the kinds of jobs for which they are qualified. Some HIV-positive women work in local clothes factories, but their efforts earn them a meager 10 yuan a day.

On the other hand, Zhao rakes in up to 100 yuan a day collecting debts. While some admire him for his money-making, others see him as unethical.

Several years ago, when Zhao was relatively healthier, he received more jobs. Before accepting these missions, he would first figure out if the debt was legitimate, demanding to see IOUs. For his own safety, he only accepted jobs where the creditors “have a reason,” because if the debtors call the police he has to justify his actions to them.

Zhao’s jobs are not all local. In 2015, he and five HIV-positive fellow villagers went to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to collect a 3 million yuan debt. Even though they had to travel thousands of kilometers there and back, and spent eight days arranging an agreement, they only made 400 yuan each.

Withering business

Besides HIV-positive people, other vulnerable Shangqiu residents collect debts. Chen Li, who has problems with his legs, joined a debt collecting company a few years ago with other Yucheng locals living with disabilities.

“Even though there were not many business opportunities, we had a high rate of success,” said Chen. Later, his company was shut down by the government during a crackdown on this sector. However, they simply went underground before disbanding last year. Chen now sells soft drinks.

According to Ren Chunhua, the head of the company at which Chen worked, many disabled people he knows have stopped collecting debts and have found alternative employment or set up their own small businesses.

Chen revealed that he quit the industry because he craved stability. He said that in the last two years, the government has been cracking down on both debtors and debt-collecting gangs.

Recently, in Shangqiu’s Suiyang district, several elderly women were given jail terms from two to 11 years for getting involved in debt and demolition disputes.

Zhao too, says that he is being offered fewer jobs since last year and the number of people willing to join gangs is shrinking. Zhao himself now only collects debts for his friends.

The number of HIV-positive locals is also dwindling. In Shuangmiao, there used to be more than 600 HIV-positive residents, but now there are only around 200, aged between 40 and 60.

The people who contracted the virus in the 1980s are gradually getting older and dying. Zhao’s grandchildren are nearly grown up now and the time at which he needed money the most is in the past.

Zhao stressed that both selling his blood and collecting debts were simply ways for him to support his family.

Source: Global Times

Chinese village boasts 100-year history of birdcage making

Huilong is a village with a 100-year history of birdcage making, with most villagers now experts at this art. Expensive birdcages made by top craftsman go for as much as over 100,000 RMB ($14,989).

The village is located in Kunming, southwestern China’s Yunnan province where birdcages are found in almost every household.

All birdcages in the village are handmade. They are quite popular with both domestic and foreign customers because of the fine craft and engraving.

As a result, birdcage making has become a featured industry for villagers to augment their incomes.

Yang Chun, a major birdcage craftsman in the village says they are generally divided into two categories: plain and engraved cages. According to him, each process of birdcage-making is a crucial step that challenges craftsmen’s skills.

Birdcages made by masters such as Yang are normally customized rather than being massively produced. But birdcage-making already went industrial in the village in 2006. A cooperative was set up with over 100 craftsmen.

Extracurricular courses occupy most Chinese students’ summer vacation time

Extracurricular courses have occupied the bulk of Chinese student’s summer vacation. The two-month holiday, which is supposed to be the happiest time of year for children, has now become a burden for students and toddlers alike.

A woman surnamed Xue said that her 2-year-old daughter can now recite over 30 pieces of Tang poetry and recognize nearly 300 Chinese characters. “I’m planning to sign her up an English course in the second half of the year,” she added.

“Children are all studying very hard nowadays, especially in megacities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou,” Xue noted, explaining that she just wants her daughter to be more competitive in this very environment and forcing her to study at such a young age is not what she really wants.

Sixty percent of the randomly interviewed parents said they would interfere with their children’s plans for summer vacation, and extracurricular courses have become the choice for over 70% of them.

However, data shows these courses are not likely to meet parents’ high expectations.

Mei Limin, an education expert in central China’s city of Wuhan noted that children are forced to learn but studying should be unprompted. She suggested that parents have a long-term perspective and improve the quality of their children’s summer vacation.

‘Priceless’ king-size lobster caught in Fujian province

A gorgeous giant lobster was recently caught by a fisherman in Fuding, southeastern China’s Fujian province. Weighing more than 3 kilograms, the creature is 1.4-meters-long in antennae.

The fisherman surnamed Guo said he caught the lobster with his friends on August 11 while netting fish out in the sea. “We have never seen such a giant lobster,” Guo said. He later posted the photo of the lobster on social media.

The picture shows the eye-catching coloring of the lobster, quite different from ordinary ones.

Many of Guo’s friends said the creature was an ornate spiny lobster worth hundreds of thousands of RMB. A man from Fuzhou, capital city of Fujian even offered 350,000 RMB for the lobster.

A similar lobster was captured more than two years ago in Wenling, Zhejiang province, and later sold for 600,000 RMB.

Veteran craftsman fears for the future of his traditional profession

A double swallow kite once given as a gift at weddings in China Photo: IC

If you watched the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, you may remember that one of the five Olympic mascots was a swallow-shaped kite named Ni Ni. This particular shape was chosen for the mascot because the kites are one of the most popular type of kites flown in Beijing.

One particular type of swallow-shaped kites are called Cao kites, named after Cao Xueqin (1715-63), the author behind the famous romance novel Dream of the Red Chamber.

Cao once wrote an eight-volume book illustrating different professions that ordinary people could make a living with, one section in particular showed how to make swallow-shaped kites. Although the book was apparently never published, it turned up again during the 1940’s in the hands of a Japanese businessman. At the time, kite maker Kong Xiangze managed to copy the book and began making kites based on Cao’s designs, thus establishing the Cao school of kite making.

Eighty-nine-year-old Fei Baoling, who has been making kites for more than six decades, is an inheritor of this Cao school.

Hobby to career

During his childhood, Fei loved to fly kites. During the 1950s, however, there were few people selling kites in Beijing due to the turmoil brought about by the Chinese civil war (1946-49). Unable to enjoy his favorite hobby, the then 20-something Fei decided to learn how to make kites on his own.

It was during his time as an amateur kite maker that Fei met Kong Xiangze. Impressed with the young man’s talent at kite making, the experienced kite maker decided to take Fei under his wing.

Kong began to share with Fei his skills in creating Cao kites. For the next 30 years, the two would work together making Cao kites. They also continued researching the chapter on kites that Cao had written. This would lead to them publishing two modern analyses on Cao-style kites.

When Fei first began making kites under Kong’s instruction, he still saw it mainly as a hobby that he did during his off time from his job at a bank. However, a big break in 1972 ended up changing his life.

According to Fei, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) many folk arts were regarded as the “four olds” (old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits), and so many young Chinese decided to abandon folk arts. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when diplomatic relations between China and the West were improving, a large number of foreign visitors arrived. These visitors were smitten with traditional Chinese handicrafts, helping to increase demand for them. To further promote the creation of these traditional handicrafts, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai organized an arts and crafts exhibition in Beijing in 1972.

Since he did not come from a professional background, Fei didn’t think he would have a chance to attend the exhibition, but he knew he had to try. He brought his kites to a State-owned arts and crafts store and asked the managers to show his kites to the organizers. They liked his kites so much they decided to give him a stall at the exhibition.

“After that I was constantly asked by government departments to attend overseas exhibitions,” Fei said.

Fei later resigned from the bank in order to concentrate on making kites full time.

A dying tradition

While Fei has four children who all love kites, none of them wanted to become a kite craftsman since they felt it paid too little. Even most of Fei’s students, who range between the ages of 20 to 60, mainly make kites as a part-time job.

Considering this situation, Fei is worried that the skills he has spent a large part of his life acquiring will soon disappear from the face of the Earth. He noted that modern mass-produced kites have also been a challenge for the industry.

While a modern kite from the assembly line is simple to make, easy to carry and costs only a little more than 10 yuan ($1.50), a handmade kite will cost at least 500 yuan and cannot be folded up.

He pointed out that in today’s big cities there are not many open spaces left for flying kites.

Fei remains unfazed. He said he is more than willing to pass on his knowledge to others so long as they love kites and are not only focused on making money.

Source: Global Times


Chinese firms suffer from N.Korea sanctions

Businesses in China are facing losses after the Chinese government banned imports of seafood, coal and iron ore as well as workers from North Korea as part of sanctions passed by the United Nations Security Council in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile program, business owners and experts said on Thursday.

Local officials in Hunchun, a city in Northeast China’s Jilin Province bordering North Korea, are currently negotiating with North Korean authorities to send trucks headed to China carrying seafood back to North Korea.

“The seafood that can’t enter China is ready to be gradually shipped back to North Korea,” an official from the entry-exit inspection and quarantine bureau in Hunchun told the Global Times on Thursday.

The trucks carrying seafood from North Korea to China were stuck on the bridge between China’s Quanhe customs port and North Korea’s Wonjong customs port, according to a Chinese trader, who runs a WeChat account called Dali Shijiao in Hunchun.

The trader told the Global Times that the trucks passed through North Korea’s port on Tuesday morning, but by then, China’s Quanhe port had stopped customs clearance services for seafood trucks from North Korea.

“We have passed North Korea’s customs, so if we ship the seafood back to North Korea, we need to declare for imports. We have not handled the relevant procedures [yet],” the trader said.

According to the trader, the hot weather has caused some frozen seafood to defrost and drip water through cracks in the trucks.

China’s Ministry of Commerce on Monday announced the decision to ban imports of coal, iron ore, lead and seafood from North Korea starting from Wednesday.

China’s decision is based on the new sanctions passed on August 5 by the United Nations Security Council, which not only banned North Korean exports of a number of products, but also prohibited North Korean laborers from working abroad as well as disallowing countries from setting up new joint ventures with North Korea. The sanctions act as punishment for North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July.

The new sanctions will “slash by a third” North Korea’s annual export revenue, Reuters reported on August 6.

Lü Chao, a researcher with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said that the sanctions wouldn’t have too much impact on China’s economy in general, but of course, some Chinese traders with North Korea will bear some losses.

China has already halted imports of North Korean coal earlier this year, and a large amount of coal imported from North Korea was also shipped back to the country, media reports said.

The official from Hunchun said he was not sure whether North Korean companies or institutions can compensate for the loss stemmed from returning the products.

Big impact on North Korea

Lü said that the Chinese government should help minimize the losses for Chinese traders, by efforts such as hastening the speed of notifying them of policy changes, he told the Global Times on Thursday.

China’s imports from North Korea slumped by 13.2 percent year-on-year to $880 million in the first half of 2017, customs data showed on July 13.

According to Lü, sanctions from China as well as from other countries on North Korea will have a relatively big impact on North Korea’s economy.

“China’s sanctions on North Korean seafood will greatly hurt the country’s seafood exporting business, as most of North Korea’s seafood exports target the Chinese market. But in a bigger sense, sanctions on North Korea’s coal exports are more damaging for the country as coal accounts for the majority of North Korea’s exports,” Lü said.

Lü said North Korea can still seek other ways of earning foreign currency.

“But their channels for generating foreign currency are already very limited. With a slump in the export, their foreign currency reserves will be rather inadequate,” he noted.

According to Lü, North Korea needs foreign currency to get overseas products, some of which the country is very reliant upon. “For example, they rely on imports of pesticide from China in their agricultural sector. They also import things like cars, construction materials and industrial machinery from China,” Lü said.

Source: Global Times

Xi stresses importance of China-US military ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that the military relationship between China and the US should be a significant part of Sino-US relations, and that cooperation between the armies could play a positive role in developing bilateral ties.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks in a meeting with visiting Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

“You are the first US senior military official to visit China since President Donald Trump took office,” Xi told Dunford.

Xi said although the visit was brief, it was quite comprehensive, indicating that military-to-military relations between China and the US have substantially moved forward, Xinhua reported.

According to Xinhua, Xi said that the Chinese and US armies have upgraded the communications on different levels, promoted the building of military trust and deepened the practical cooperation.

“The military relationship has always been the significant and unique dimension in Sino-US relations,” Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Since the strategic distrust between the two countries usually involves the military, strengthening military trust could lead to the relations’ long-term stability, Li noted.

During Dunford’s visit to China, the two sides signed a framework document on a communication mechanism between the joint staff departments, a move Li said could further heighten cooperation and trust between the Chinese and US militaries.

“Next, the goal would be to overcome the distrust between the two armies and avoid misunderstandings in some areas, in order to avoid it damaging overall Sino-US relations,” Li said.

He also noted that building and upgrading military trust would be gradual.

Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, also met with Dunford in Beijing on Thursday.

In recent years, relations between the two militaries have seen a healthy development, with friendly exchanges between top officers and various other communication mechanisms operating smoothly at all levels, Fan said.

However, the US’ “wrongful actions” such as meddling in Taiwan, establishing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense around China, spying in Chinese sea and air territory, and constant activities by US planes and ships in the South China Sea have had a negative effect on mutual trust and military-to-military ties, Fan noted.

Remain restrained

Fan and Dunford also discussed the Korean Peninsula crisis.

Fan said that related parties should remain restrained, and avoid actions or words that could intensify the situation. He said “military action cannot be an option.”

Dunford said Thursday that a military solution to the missile threat from North Korea would be “horrific,” but allowing the country to develop the capability to launch a nuclear attack on the US is “unimaginable,” USA Today reported.

“Dunford’s visit to China and China’s restating of its stance to peacefully solve the Korean Peninsula issue shows that, at least in China’s view, the current situation might get out of control,” Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

“From China’s point of view, the US and North Korea are reaching for the red line and could spark a military conflict,” Zheng noted.

Zheng said that the US is pushing China to take more actions by implying use of military action against North Korea.

“Of course, China will try to avoid a military conflict and friction with the US over North Korea,” Zheng said, “but tensions on the Korean Peninsula were created by the US, which should take responsibility.”

“The US should take a step back to lower the possibility of a military conflict,” he said.

Source: Global Times

Indian hegemony shaken by Doklam standoff: expert

India’s regional hegemony has been shaken by the Doklam standoff, as South Asian countries, some of which have been under India’s control, remain neutral or even speak up for China this time, experts said.

“India always has strong influence over many South Asian countries’ decision-making on foreign policy, including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. However, when India provokes China in the border area, the interesting reactions from these countries show that India’s hegemony in South Asia is not that firm, and these countries also want to take the opportunity to shake off India’s control,” said Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

China and Nepal agreed Wednesday to boost bilateral pragmatic cooperation, especially under the framework of the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative, to further strengthen friendly ties between the two countries, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

At a meeting with visiting Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari expressed appreciation for China’s consistent support and assistance for Nepal’s national development and post-disaster reconstruction.

Bhandari also noted that Nepal and China have maintained frequent high-level contacts and bilateral cooperation in various fields has continued smoothly. She also pledged that Nepal will stick to the one-China policy and will never allow any anti-China activities to take place on Nepalese soil, Xinhua reported.

Nepal’s eastern border is only dozens of kilometers away from the Doklam Plateau.

Ankit Panda, senior editor at The Diplomat magazine, told New Delhi Television on Wednesday that “China knows that its checkbook diplomacy with the smaller Asian states is a sore point with India, which simply cannot afford to put up this kind of capital outlay that the Chinese promise.”

Chinese experts said there is no surprise that Indian elites will show their jealousy.

“India has never treated its small neighbors equally and it even used its overwhelming military strength and political influence to annex its neighbor Sikkim in 1975. India used an oil embargo to bully Nepal because Nepal implemented a new constitution in 2015,” Hu said, adding “Bhutan doesn’t even have independent diplomacy due to India’s hegemony.”

Bhutan has no diplomatic relations with China or with any other permanent member of the UN Security Council due to India’s control, and there is no Belt and Road investment in the country so far.

Except for Pakistan, no South Asian country dares say no to New Delhi, but it does not mean these Indian neighbors do not want to shake off India’s control. They know how to pick a reliable partner between China and India, Hu said.

The Belt and Road initiative has benefited many South Asian countries. Pakistan will reap the benefits of the flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives also welcomed investments and infrastructure projects from China. These countries are all keeping a neutral stance on the Doklam standoff, and Pakistan has clearly expressed its support to China.

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain Monday expressed concern over the reported Indian incursions into the Chinese territory and said that Pakistan fully supports the stance of China on the issue, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

Hussain, while talking to Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang at the President House, appreciated China for its adept handling of the issue and reiterated that Pakistan stands by China on the issues of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and South China Sea, a statement from Pakistan said.

Groundless confidence

India has very strong confidence on its own power, especially after Narendra Modi became the prime minister. Although Indian economic growth is faster than China’s in the past few years, the Indian economy still ranks only seventh in the world, one-fifth of the Chinese economy, Ye Hailin, director of the National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.

India’s groundless confidence will make it pay a heavy price, Ye said.

“India’s global influence cannot compete with China’s, even in South Asia, and if China has identified India as a rival, the difficult times for India are just beginning,” Ye noted.

Source: Global Times

Shanghai elderly face soaring care cost, insufficient facilities

Shanghai had about 4.58 million people aged over 60 by the end of 2016. This accounted for 31.6 per cent of the city’s population, official statistics say.

The information was disclosed in a newly released book compiled under the leadership of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, detailing how Shanghai tackled the issue of elderly care in the past 40 years.

Shanghai in 1979 had 50 nursing homes for aged people in both urban and rural areas, the book says. By the end of 2015, the city had 126,000 beds for the elderly, while an estimated 160,000 beds will be needed by 2020.

The rising costs of land, commodities, and labor have made senior care even more challenging in Shanghai.

In 2008, a nursing home with 66 beds was rented out for RMB 180,000 ($26,700) per year. But in 2016, the price surged to RMB 1.8 million, said the owner of a nursing house in Xuhui District, southeast of the urban center.

Meanwhile, compared with soaring rents, elderly people’s willingness and ability to pay have not changed much. A survey carried out amongst Shanghai’s elderly this year on how much they are willing to pay per month for care indicated that 77.7 per cent wished the price remained below RMB 3,000 and only 2.7 per cent were willing to pay RMB 5,000 and above.

Shanghai in 2000 became the first city on the Chinese mainland to propose home-based care for the elderly. The city the same year launched pilot centers with only 305 employees.

Under the campaign, elderly people holding special certificates can ask helpers to clean their homes, cut their hair for free, as well as enjoy other preferential services.

By the end of 2016, Shanghai had 213 home-based elderly care centers with nearly 26,000 employees serving 313,000 people.