Welcome to Foreign Policy’s China Brief.
The highlights of this week: Devastating floods hit central China that # MeToo movement gets a boost when a big Chinese star falls, and the Microsoft Exchange hack is fueling the long-running data wars.
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Floods devastated Henan’s capital
China’s Henan Province has been hit by record rainfall and widespread flooding, particularly the provincial capital Zhengzhou, which has been hit by torrential storms since Monday. At least 25 people have officially died, and the number is likely to increase significantly.
Previous floods in Chinese cities, such as the devastating storms in Beijing in 2012, have often been associated with inadequate and outdated drainage systems. As Zhengzhou expanded, flood peaks increased by up to 30 percent. However, Zhengzhou has spent a lot of money upgrading its drainage system as part of the “Sponge City” concept introduced in China in 2014, which aims to absorb and recycle large amounts of water. The system just seems to have been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rain; The city received its usual annual rainfall within three days – roughly 30 times the normal amount for the season. In one hour alone, nearly eight inches of rain fell.
Social media were way ahead of official announcements in exposing the deaths from the flooding, despite censorship removing the posts. Videos of corpses on subway platforms went viral, as did terrifying images from the flooded subways. Only eight years old, Zhengzhou’s subway system was completely submerged. Ordinary citizens gathered to rescue their roommates while rescue teams were dispatched from other cities and provinces.
The damage from the floods is likely to run into billions. Much of the city has lost power and key components of the supply chain, including Apple and Nissan factories, have been destroyed. Tens of thousands of cars were washed away by the flood. Local dams are threatened by the water: at least one was deliberately breached as part of flood protection, others threaten to collapse.
China’s second worst natural disaster in peacetime after the Tangshan earthquake of 1976 occurred in 1975 when over 170,000 people drowned or starved to death after the collapse of the Banqiao Dam. The country has always had severe flooding, and hydrological control was an important part of imperial rule. (The German sociologist Karl August Wittfogel argued in the Oriental Despotism in 1957 that this was the underlying factor of Asian governance, an argument that is highly contested by area specialists.) But last year’s floods were already the worst and deadliest in decades and caused a rumor that the controversial Three Gorges Dam was in danger of collapsing.
However, the Chinese media discussion has generally discouraged people from drawing attention to the factor of climate change. The Chinese government supports the reality of climate change and is now censoring deniers, but coverage is generally focused on defending key politics. The authorities do not like publicly run environmental movements, which had often led to protests prior to President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on civil society.
Chinese megastar charged with abuse. The hugely popular singer and actor Kris Wu, 30, was accused by a 19-year-old college student, Du Meizhu, of molesting her and other teenage girls. In her open letter, Du described Wu as a serial robber of teenage girls, including allegations of drug-assisted rape that would lead him on criminal charges. (China’s minimum age is 14 years old, making legal rape charges impossible in this case.)
Wu has been a star since 2012 when he made his debut in the mandarin spin-off of the K-pop group Exo and later also became a movie and television star. The letter had immediate effect, and both state media and private companies have condemned and dropped Wu, who has already lost numerous contracts. This likely represents not only the gravity and credibility of the allegations, but also the turnaround on private wealth shifting from tech to broader celebrities.
Past victims of suspected abuse were often censored, charged with defamation and received little media coverage. But feminist activists have worked steadily to open up the online space, despite strong government opposition. In posts yesterday and today, you indicated that he was exposed to threats.
Dus’s letter has been elaborately designed and represents her understanding of both the political environment and the way other victims have been stigmatized. She emphasized her own “good family background” and that she had a personal allowance of 10,000 to 20,000 yuan a month, about $ 1,500 to $ 3,000, to avoid allegations of blackmailing Wu.
She also hit key words for the moment, such as “for-profit capitalism as a distortion of fan culture” in the entertainment industry, a language used in the government’s crackdown. Wu was born in China, but moved to Canada at the age of 10, and you picked up ethno-nationalist sentiments by saying, “You don’t deserve to be in this country, you are Canadian” and asking for a way to go , “The COVID vaccine, this one was made in China, you are not worth having.”
State media picked up the sound, and China News Weekly said, “Even though he’s Canadian, China has jurisdiction.” Many other stars have partly foreign backgrounds and have been forced to performative patriotism in order to defend themselves politically.
Family planning limits completely removed. Family planning authorities announced they would no longer punish couples for having any number of children, extending it even beyond the three-child policy announced earlier this year. China faces a serious demographic crisis that saw birth rates drop 15 percent in the past year – as well as a battle to train a workforce in which 70 percent of workers do not have a college degree. But it is likely that the existing family planning bureaucracy, which is huge, will be geared towards enforcing newborn policies – hopefully child support, not reproductive restrictions.
Lithuania supports Taiwan. Despite warnings from Beijing, Taiwan has opened a de facto embassy under its own name in Vilnius, Lithuania. Lithuania has taken a tough stance on China this year, pulling out of the 17 + 1 initiative between China and Central and Eastern European countries, and urging others to abandon the group. This is part of a general trend against Beijing in the Baltic states, which have relatively little trade with China and do not like its close ties with Russia; as small nations threatened by an expansionist neighbor, they also have a natural sympathy for Taiwan.
China is blamed for attacks on Microsoft Exchange. Based on intelligence reports, the Biden government has accused Beijing of being behind a massive attack on e-mail servers through critical vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange. The Justice Department also announced new charges against Chinese security officials – a regular move for over a decade, but one that has never resulted in actual convictions.
As Zach Dorfman reported for Foreign Policy in December, the data wars between Washington and Beijing have become a major driver of political antagonism and decoupling. In 2015, Xi and US President Barack Obama held talks that allegedly resulted in an agreement to prevent hacker attacks; the US has repeatedly accused China of violating this agreement, although it initially led to a decrease in the number of attacks.
The agreement now appears to be dead, and the United States has released previous Chinese interference such as a large-scale interference with pipeline services in 2011-2013 that was apparently in preparation for potential sabotage. Thomas Reed, a former US security officer, claims the United States successfully conducted a similar operation in Siberia in 1982 that used a Trojan horse to blow up an important pipeline.
Gaming companion. One fascinating piece reveals the world of China’s virtual companions (peiwan) – overwhelmingly young women who make around $ 3 an hour to play online with men. Gaming has increasingly assumed a parasocial role in China, with guilds and other social groups of gaming acting as an important part of friendship. But these rooms – even when between 40 and 45 percent of players are female – are typically male-dominated, and women often avoid voice chat or otherwise disclosing their gender due to harassment and misogyny.
Kodak and Xinjiang. Kodak has profusely apologized to the Chinese government after posting pictures of atrocities in Xinjiang on its Instagram account. This may not be a wise move: companies are likely to face both reputational and legal ramifications from the United States for engaging in Xinjiang. A new report from BuzzFeed shows that China’s network of prisons and other detention centers in Xinjiang can accommodate at least 1 million people – and likely significantly more, given the overcrowding reported by former inmates.
Zhengzhou, Henan: 10.35 million people
Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is located in the heart of China: the central valley around the Yellow River, where civilizations such as Erligang were born over 3,500 years ago. But today Henan is one of the poorer provinces in eastern China, and Henanese are often discriminated against.
Henan’s propensity for natural disasters – most recently the devastating flooding that just struck Zhengzhou – and the Japanese invasion generated waves of refugees across the country, particularly when the nationalist army deliberately broke the levees around the Yellow River to try to slow down the invaders . Even today there are “Henanese” areas in cities like Xian, most of which are inhabited by the descendants of these refugees. Many rural Henan residents are still extremely poor, and Zhengzhou has had large numbers of organized beggars, including children, for many years, who hit their heads violently at a fundraising appeal.
Even so, Zhengzhou is a thriving city – albeit with a relatively small international profile for its size. Aside from its archaeological history, it is also famous for the nearby Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of many Chinese martial arts. Martial arts coaches are piling up near Shaolin, some claiming a false connection with the temple, which attracts millions of tourists every year – and now like other religious organizations, emphasize its patriotism.