Why China censors banned Winnie the Pooh
China / July 18, 2017

The blocking of Winnie the Pooh might seem like a bizarre move by the Chinese authorities but it is part of a struggle to restrict clever bloggers from getting around their country’s censorship. When is a set of wrist watches not just a set of wrist watches? When is a river crab not just a river crab? Inside the Great Firewall of China of course. Winnie the Pooh has joined a line of crazy, funny internet references to China’s top leaders. The Chinese name for and images of the plump, cute cartoon character are being blocked on social media sites here because bloggers have been comparing him to China’s president. When Xi Jinping and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe endured one of the more awkward handshakes in history netizens responded with Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore shaking hands. And then there was the time President Xi popped his head out of the roof of his special Red Flag limousine to inspect the troops – a photo appeared online of a toy Winnie the Pooh popping out of his own little car. It is not only that China’s censors will not tolerate ridicule of the country’s leader, they do not want…

Chinese gay video ban sparks online backlash
China life / July 17, 2017

A crackdown on a wide range of internet videos by Chinese censors has caused a backlash on the country’s popular micro-blogging site Sina Weibo, with many users objecting to a decision to ban content which features same-sex relationships. On Chinese social media, many were left angry, baffled, and upset: “Aren’t people born equal? … What right do you have to discriminate against others?” said one. Another commented: “Aren’t homosexuals normal? Why do you push them to a corner?” The outcry was prompted a decision by Beijing regulators to censor the portrayal of homosexual activity in online videos. The regulations, which came into force at the beginning of July, classify homosexuality as “abnormal” sexual behaviour and cover not only explicit sexual content but any portrayal of same-sex relationships, positive or negative – for instance in popular online dramas. On Weibo, the hashtag “Online Content Review Discriminating [Against] Gays” was viewed by millions and generated thousands of comments. And while the decision sparked the biggest backlash from Chinese social media users, the censorship extends further. There are 84 categories of material that were banned from online video programmes by Chinese censors, including prostitution, drug addiction, extra-marital affairs and what authorities deem to…

Racist AirBnB host fined for refusing Asian
China / July 14, 2017

A racist AirBnB host who discriminated against an Asian guest has been fined $5,000 – and told she must attend a course on Asian-American studies. Tami Barker cancelled Dyne Suh’s booking, telling her in a message: “One word says it all. Asian.” The fine was imposed due to a new agreement between AirBnB and California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). It lets the DFEH examine hosts that have had discrimination complaints. AirBnB is a service that allows normal members of the public to rent out spare rooms, or entire properties, to travellers. The measures followed research and anecdotal evidence that suggested certain races find it more difficult to book rooms than others. Image captionAirBnB has acknowledged it faces a challenge to combat racial discrimination on the service The fine and demand to attend a course, as well as community service with a civil rights organisation, marked the first time the landmark agreement has been used to punish an AirBnB host. “The host walked into this mediation with an attitude of contribution,” Kevin Kish, director of the DFEH, told the BBC. “That opened the door to a lot of creative thinking.” Cancelled Ms Barker cancelled Ms Suh’s booking shortly…

Djibouti: Chinese troops depart for first overseas military base
China / July 13, 2017

Ships carrying Chinese troops are heading to Djibouti to set up Beijing’s first overseas military base, reports state media. China says the support base will be used for peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and West Asia. It will also be used for military co-operation, naval exercises and rescue missions, Xinhua said. China has ramped up investment in Africa, as well as rapidly modernised its military in recent years. The Xinhua report said the ships departed from the port city of Zhanjiang in China’s southern Guangdong province on Tuesday. It did not specify the number of troops or ships that departed for Djibouti, nor when the base would start operations. The report said the Djibouti base came after “friendly negotiations” between the two countries. Previous reports said construction began last year. The base is widely seen as a move by China to stake its military presence in the region. But an editorial (in Chinese) on Wednesday in the state-run Global Times said that the “essential purpose of China’s development of its military might is to protect ‘China’s safety’, and is not about seeking to control the world”. The newspaper pointed out that the US, Japan and France also have military…

Unesco heritage listing sparks Tibetan resettlement fears
China / July 12, 2017

Tibetan rights groups have criticised the UN’s cultural body for listing a plateau in China as a Unesco World Heritage site. They say the move may embolden Beijing to resettle Tibetan nomads who currently live as herders on the Hoh Xil plateau. Unesco noted that the plateau, located in the western Qinghai province, is the largest and highest in the world. Its unique biodiversity includes the endangered Tibetan antelope. Qinghai province, which borders the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), has a sizeable Tibetan population. When Beijing sent in troops to assert China’s claim to the region in 1950, some areas became the TAR while others were incorporated into neighbouring provinces. What’s the controversy about? Hoh Xil, which is also known as Kekexili, is a part of the larger Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. China says it is a key habitat and breeding ground for Tibetan antelope and holds important migration routes. The area – comprising 4.12 million hectares (15,907 square miles) – is also home to wolves, bears and contains “a vast landscape of extraordinary beauty for the planet”. China’s submission for the listing estimates that 50,000 people roam the area and its buffer zone. Tibetan activist groups say that the Unesco move, announced…

Dalian Wanda deal: Why is China’s ‘Disney rival’ being sold?
China / July 11, 2017

Three Chinese theme parks, intended to compete with US giant Disney’s ventures in the country, are being sold. The operations are among businesses being offloaded by conglomerate Dalian Wanda in one of China’s biggest ever property deals. Developer Sunac is paying $9.3bn (£7.2bn) for the assets, including the theme parks and 76 hotels. Dalian Wanda has not explained its thinking behind the sale, but the firm is heavily in debt. Some analysts believe that, having delisted from the Hong Kong market last year, a smaller debt pile will strengthen the argument for relisting in mainland China. Dalian Wanda said it was selling 91% of 13 tourism projects, which are typically made up of theme parks and leisure complexes. The sale, which is China’s second biggest property deal ever according to Reuters data, also includes at least nine other theme parks and tourist attractions which are yet to be built. Image captionWanda chief Wang Jianlin: not too keen on Disney’s China presence Sunac’s shares were suspended from trading ahead of what it said would be a “very substantial acquisition” announcement. It did not comment further on the deal. Mickey Mouse craze Last year Disney opened a theme park in Shanghai, its…

The love that survived a Chinese labour camp
China / July 10, 2017

Image captionThe couple’s romance has played out in labour camps, prisons and under house arrest, with the Chinese state always a third wheel Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has spent years in prison for calling for political change in his country. For more than half of his marriage to Liu Xia he has been imprisoned, and now he is dying of cancer. The BBC’s Celia Hatton looks back at how the couple’s love survived. They fought to be allowed to marry each other. But when the government in Beijing finally backed down, permitting one of its unrelenting critics to marry his love, problems remained. The camera that was supposed to take the couple’s official marriage picture wouldn’t work. The photographer was left scratching his head. Chinese marriage certificates aren’t valid unless they contain an official portrait snapped at the scene. So, Liu Xiaobo and and his would-be wife, Liu Xia, improvised. They found single photos of themselves and stuck them side by side. The makeshift photo was stamped and finally, they were married. That was in 1996. Getting married was a small victory for the couple. It gave Liu Xia the right to visit her…

Baidu boss investigated for riding in self-driving car
China / July 7, 2017

The head of Chinese online search giant Baidu is being investigated, after riding in one of the firm’s driverless cars on a Beijing ring-road. Robin Li was in the passenger seat when he made a video call to an artificial-intelligence developers conference in the Chinese capital. But while autonomous vehicles are tipped as the future of motoring, they are banned from China’s public roads. Police began an investigation after the video went viral. The footage shows another Baidu executive in the driver’s seat, but with his hands off the steering wheel. Mr Li reportedly told his audience the vehicle was on autopilot and that the journey was smooth. Baidu, which has not commented on the incident, is one of many firms developing prototypes of self-driving vehicles that will use mapping and artificial intelligence technology. Expansion plans At the conference, Baidu announced that it had built an alliance with 50 partners to develop and promote self-driving cars. Image captionBaidu’s main competition is Google’s self-driving ‘Waymo’ platform They include Ford, Daimler, five Chinese car manufacturers, mapping firm TomTom, and chipmakers Intel and Nvidia. Baidu said it hoped to have autonomous cars on China’s roads by 2019 – so long as the law…

Alibaba reveals Echo-like smart speaker
China / July 6, 2017

Alibaba is the latest technology giant to unveil a smart speaker. The voice-controlled Tmall Genie can be used to play music, run third-party apps and buy goods from the Chinese retail giant’s online stores. Like many such devices, it lacks a display. At launch, it will understand only Mandarin and be sold in the company’s domestic market. It will compete in China against devices already launched by Baidu and JD.com. Tencent – China’s biggest technology company by market capitalisation – has announced it has a similar product in development. In the West, Amazon’s Echo range of smart speakers compete against Google Home. Apple and Microsoft have similar products scheduled for release soon. And Samsung is readying a speaker of its own, powered by its new Bixby virtual assistant, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Smarter shopping Alibaba’s new product derives its name from the company’s e-commerce platform – Tmall – and during a demonstration in Beijing was used to order a delivery of Coca-Cola and buy credit for a phone. Tmall allows local and international retailers to run their own virtual storefronts on its platform and says it is China’s third most visited shopping site….

Chinese deities flown on business class to Malaysia
China / July 5, 2017

Image captionChinese sea goddess Mazu went viral after she was seen travelling in business class Images of three revered Chinese deity statues went viral on social media after they were seen travelling in business class on a flight from China’s port city of Xiamen to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. But what is the story behind it? Who are the divine passengers? The first was the Chinese sea goddess Mazu (also known as Matsu), widely worshipped in southern China as well as countries with large Taoist and Chinese Buddhist communities such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. She is a patroness of the sea and is believed to protect fishermen and sailors.      The other two statues are Qianliyan and Shunfeng’er, heavenly guardians of the goddess. Qianliyan is known for his powers of far-sightedness while the demon Shunfeng’er possesses the incredible ability to hear all sounds carried by the wind, a role believed to aid sailors and passing ships from advancing storms. Why were they in business class? The three statues were sent to Malaysia and Singapore as part of an inaugural cultural exchange tour to pay tribute to the sea goddess and celebrate a festival in her name. It was…