My Work is Done Here: Blogger’s Holiday Through September 4

After six increasingly lengthy posts on the subject, I am pleased to announce that Yi Jianlian has finally signed with the Milwaukee Bucks. Congratulations to the Bucks for waiting out their spoiled brat draft pick: you will soon recoup the cost (financial and psychological) of having to send a senior US senator to Hong Kong to finish the deal. In fact, that new Chinese-language Bucks page suggests that you are already well on your to recouping. As for Yi, bulk up: 100 yuan says that there’s a long line of NBA players ready to knock you flat on your back if you try any of those loping, elegant drives to the basket that you pulled when I saw you in Guangzhou last winter. And another 100 yuan says that Yao Ming – a class act – is at the front of the line.

With that, this blog goes on hiatus until Spetember 3. I’ll be traveling, and responses to emails may be spotty. But I promise to catch up early next week.

“Design flaws” Responsible for Shandong Aluminum Explosion

The August 19th explosion of the Shandong Weiqiao Group’s aluminum plant in Zouping County, Shandong Province has received far less media attention than the Xintai mining disaster. But, at least from the standpoint of China’s industrial modernization, it is far more consequential. As I noted in a post to this blog on Monday, the Weiqiao aluminum plant is one of the largest aluminum manufacturing facilities in China (and, by extension, the world). The description posted to the company’s website suggests a technologically modern plant (built in 2003) capable of meeting modern manufacturing standards. I wrote on Monday:

Large, modern aluminum plants don’t explode because someone failed to replace a liner. If worker error was responsible for the accident, that error could only have occurred if there was a fatal design or safety flaw in the plant itself.

This was not, however, an opinion shared by the Shandong safety authorities. According to an early story in China Daily:

Workers’ negligence has been blamed for the molten aluminium spill that killed 14 and injured 59 at a factory in East China’s Shandong Province on Sunday, the provincial work safety watchdog said on Tuesday.

Now, thanks to a late-breaking report from Xinhua, we learn that China’s national State Administration of Work Safety has a different perspective on the issue. According to the English-language Interfax report on the disaster, “project design faults” were behind the explosion. The slightly more in-depth Chinese-language story from the Jinan Times reports that the plant suffered from design and construction flaws (in addition to lacking a proper emergency contingency plan). Continue reading

China’s Recycling Economy … Defined! Sort of.

China Daily is reporting that China’s draft “circular economy” law has been submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (danwei reports that the Beijing News is also carrying it). As a translation, “circular economy” is not only awkward, it is also regularly substituted by “Recycling Economy” and “Sustainable Economy.” For the purpose of this post, I’ll use “Recycling Economy,” while noting that translation really depends upon context.

In either case, for the last three years I’ve been covering the slow development of this important legislation as it pertains to China’s recycling industries (thus, “Recycling Economy”). And over the course of those three years it became increasingly clear that the legislation would cover much more than recycling and – if the China Daily story is to be taken seriously – it is being set-up as a catch-all solution to of China’s environmental problems.

In late May the China National Resources Recycling Association [CRRA] held its annual conference in Tianjin, and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance when Feng Zhijun, member of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, vice-chairman of that body’s Environment & Resource Protection Committee, and – most important for the purposes of this post – Coordinator of the Circular Economy legislation, presented the conference’s keynote address.

It’s quite rare that a high-ranking national official like Feng will publicly discuss long-delayed and much-debated draft legislation. But that’s precisely what Feng did – in a sense – on that May afternoon, providing the first hints as to the philosophy and means that China will apply to the development of a Chinese Circular Economy. I covered the speech and the conference for Recycling International, a trade journal based in the Netherlands, and the complete article can be found in the current issue. Below is the section relating to Feng Zhijun’s speech. I note – from the outset – that it was one of the most bizarre presentations that I have ever witnessed by a government official in any country. It was also one of the most frank that I’ve ever heard from a Chinese official, and though the colorful language is both distracting and entertaining, it suggests (to me, at least) the absurd scale of China’s environmental crisis as observed from one of Beijing’s pinnacles.

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Oriental in Minnesota

I purchased several books during my recent visit to the United States, but none was more interesting (or cheaper) than this 63-page booklet, published in 1949 and found in the inventory of a small bookshop in Moorhead, Minnesota.

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Based upon that title, and that cover, I wasn’t expecting much. And, considering the sad state of race relations in much of the United States in 1949, I was expecting even less. But lurid historical interest got the better of me, and I purchased it. Several days later, when I actually bothered to read the text, I found myself on the receiving end of a blunt lesson in books and whether one should judge them by their covers:

Many of the existing prejudices against the Orientals in Minnesota would disappear if the members of the majority group would try to get to know members of the Oriental group personally. Such contacts are excellent dissolvents of race prejudice. During the last war the Chinese and Filipinos were our allies. And during the same war many Japanese young men served valiantly in the American armed forces despite the fact that their parents had been despoiled of their property by the military government.

If a Minnesotan now discriminates against the Chinese, Japanese, or Filipinos, the logical inference is that he has the ethics and moral code of Stalin. He will use a group one day and destroy it the next.

Well!

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Shandong to Dead Workers: Blame Yourselves.

It seems like we’re going through another round of Chinese industrial accidents, each worse than the last. In fact, they are becoming so common that an accident which might be judged major under normal circumstances, now receives almost no coverage due to the much larger accidents. Case in point: on Sunday, an aluminum plant exploded in Shandong, yet most of the day’s disaster coverage was focused on the Xintai mine tragedy.

The essence of the aluminum disaster, according to Shanghai Daily, is this: 9 workers were killed, and 64 injured [the numbers have since risen], when (what sounds like) a cauldron of molten aluminum encountered a cooling pond at a factory owned by the Shandong Weiqiao Group in Zouping County. An additional Shanghai Daily story, filed on the same day, reported:

“The flow shattered windows of the 45-meter-long, 27-meter-wide and eight-meter-tall workshop, lifted the building’s roof and left cracks on the walls …”

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The photo and the dimensions quoted in the second Daily story do not suggest the small, wildcat operations typically involved in Chinese industrial accidents (and subtly hinted at in the Daily story). As it happens, I have been covering extractive and secondary metal industries in China for several years now, and the Shandong plant – as described and photographed – immediately struck me as being a large, modern facility.

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Traffic and Weather, Beijing-style

Over the weekend, and into Monday, Beijing pulled roughly one million cars per day from its roads in a test of pollution (and traffic) control strategies in advance of the Olympics. According to the Beijing Environment Protection Monitoring Center, Beijing’s air quality received scores of 91, 93, 95, and 95 over the last four days on something called the “index of inhalable particular matter.” Now, I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing that the referenced index is the same as the US EPA’s Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution. If so, the scores claimed by Beijing are at the upper end of the “moderate” air quality rating (yellow). According to the EPA, under such circumstances: “Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.” So, assuming that the Beijing numbers were reported truthfully, the Beijing authorities can reasonably claim that air quality during the test was “fairly good.”

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How to Write an Olympics Story

A few months ago I recommended a hysterical post entitled “How to write a China Article” over at Sinocidal. It’s a great piece, and the underlying point is still relevant: namely, there’s a whole lot of bad, hackneyed journalism about China being produced by first-time visitors with large expense accounts. Now, this sort of comment can come off as sour grapes by journalists with lesser expense accounts (ahem). And, admittedly, that’s what it’s usually about. But even if you don’t obsess over foreign media coverage of China, it’s still possible to appreciate a ringer like this from Sinocidal:

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