China’s Cyber-Militia, Coco Wang’s Comics

I’m traveling through next week, so posting might get spotty. In the meantime, might I suggest National Journal’s current cover story, China’s Cyber Militia (h/t to Marc Ambinder), by Shane Harris?

[UPDATE 6/03: My friend Mara Hvistendahl, who knows a thing or two about Chinese hackers, points me to this devastating Wired response to the National Journal piece.]

And … also of interest are the Sichuan earthquake comics being drawn by Coco Wang in Beijing.

The Chinese E-Scrap Evolution

Currently, China throws away roughly 120 million waste appliances per year, including computers, televisions/monitors, washing machines, refrigerators, and air-conditioners. Yet, for the better part of two decades, most environmental activists concerned with China have taken a far greater interest in how foreigners dispose of their wastes in China (for example, attention devoted to the e-scrap exported to China by the developed world), than in how the Chinese will dispose of the products of their rapid economic development. I’ve long argued, on this blog and elsewhere, that the emphasis is misplaced. Today, and long-term, the far more serious threat to China’s environment comes from China.

So the question arises: What is China doing about it?

Believe it or not, there are some very smart and well-intentioned people who are not only devising solutions, but beginning to implement them. Some are simple, like the vibrating water tables that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Others are more complicated, as outlined in my feature-length treatment on the subject, “An Evolving Approach to Electronics” in the May/June issue of Scrap Magazine (I know – I’m late in posting this).

The story focuses on three e-scrap facilities, two in Linyi (Shandong), and one in Qingyuan (Guangdong) that have begun to apply low-tech, profitable, and environmentally sound approaches to the recycling of e-scrap in China – all with the support and investment of local and national government. The systems are far from perfect – some of their byproducts still are sold into the old system – but they’re better than what was available even two years ago. This summer, hopefully, China will finally issue its long awaited rule on the recycling of appliances. If and when it does, these companies will be at the forefront of China’s e-scrap recycling evolution.

After the jump, an excerpt with some photos. The full text won’t be available online for a few months. But, when it is, I’ll post a link. Continue reading

Big Dumb Recycling Machine.

[12 September 2008 - Suddenly, this post is generating several hits per day from Venezuela. Could someone explain why?]

A couple of weeks ago Shanghai Daily reported that China’s first automatic “drinking bottle recycling machine” had been installed on Nanjing Road for RMB 30,000 (US$4290). The idea is simple: after finishing your canned or bottled beverage, you stick it into the machine, which then reads the bar code, accepts it, and pays you RMB .1 (US$.015)

Now, one might reasonably ask: why does China need machines to collect bottles and cans when there are tens of millions of hard-working scrap peddlers who’ll do the work for less than the cost of the new machine? Well, according to Shanghai’s city fathers, as reported in the Shanghai Daily, the idea is to put the scrap peddlers out of business because, quoting Shanghai Daily, “they have a negative impact on the city’s image.”

As longtime readers of this blog know, I love and respect China’s hard-working entrepreneurial scrap peddlers; they are my scrap brothers. But, being fair minded, I thought it only right that I give the machine a chance to prove itself. Perhaps it could make an argument for its superiority? So, late on a recent afternoon, I donned my Scrap hat (see photos, below), and ventured onto Nanjing Road to give this new contraption the Shanghai Scrap Once Over. Let’s have a look, shall we?

A couple of quick, off-the-bat observations. First, if the city’s goal was to achieve something environmentally friendly, this phone booth-sized metal device packed with electronics is an abject failure. Second, unless you actually go up to this device and read the instructions, there’s absolutely nothing self-evident about its purpose or function. That is, it fails the ‘what is it?’ test. And, on a related note, “Reverse Vending Machine” doesn’t help, and isn’t nearly as clever, or self-evident, as the manufacturer obviously thinks.

But – you must be asking – how does it work? Fear not: Shanghai Scrap arrived with plastic bottles and a couple of aluminum cans to determine just that. Continue reading

Images from Sheshan – May 24

Last year, in his landmark letter to China’s Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI declared May 24, 2008, an international day of prayer dedicated to China. And, specifically, he dedicated it to “the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christian, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.

Ever since, Chinese religious authorities have been trying to figure out how to handle the massive crowds expected at the Shrine (roughly an hour outside of Shanghai), not to mention the implications of Chinese Catholics praying in unity with Rome. As noted here, and elsewhere, prior to the pilgrimage, the authorities placed restrictions on groups traveling to Sheshan, and even announced the closure of roads going into the Sheshan area.

Well. I spent last night in the Sheshan area, under the assumption that I wouldn’t be able to reach it this morning via car. I was wrong. As I set out on a 3km walk to Sheshan hill, I was passed by cars, trucks, buses and many, many police cars. At the gate to the stairs, which climb the 100m mountainside, there was also a security presence, but nobody was being stopped (I could see metal detecting batons in a tent behind the gate, but they were idle).

Roughly half the way up the mountainside, there’s a small church, and – today – a growing crowd of Chinese pilgrims. This photo was taken two hours before the mass was to be said in the basillica:

After the jump, some additional images and commentary … Continue reading

A Year of Total Scrap

Happy birthday to Shanghai Scrap. One year, today.

Last May, exactly 301 blog posts ago (!), I wondered who – if anyone – would bother reading this business. That is to say, would I have a readership that extends beyond the small group of Pakistani metal traders attracted to the Shanghai Scrap domain name (for further information on that topic, please see this post)?

Yes is mostly the answer. Readership is better than I had any reason to expect, and – in a related surprise – the audience for this blog is mostly located outside of Asia.

In either case, as any blogger knows, and I’ve quickly learned, readership flows from links, and this blog’s expanding readership is largely courtesy of the blogs that have been kind enough to link to the posts, and add Shanghai Scrap to their blogrolls. Special thanks (in alphabetical order) is due to China Law Blog, Danwei, James Fallows, New Advent, and Shanghaiist – all of whom have larger audiences than Shanghai Scrap, but have linked to it, anyway, resulting in readership spikes that stick.

So. We laughed, we cried, we somehow managed to write only one post that we really regret (a free copy of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music for the first reader to email the title of the offending post). After the jump, the top five most viewed (read?) Shanghai Scrap posts from the last year: Continue reading

About that giant pile of dollars in Beijing …

This morning we learn that China’s all-powerful State Council has ordered an across-the-board 5% spending cut to government agencies for the purposes of creating a US$10 billion fund for quake reconstruction.

Now, if China were the United States, this would make a certain amount of sense: after all, the US government has been running an international line of credit on its ongoing operations for years (Hurricane Katrina relief, by definition, was financed with T-bills). But this is not the United States. This is China, where the government holds more than US$1.4 trillion in foreign currency reserves, and where – last year – the central government, at a flick of a pen, set aside US$200 billion of that for higher-earning investments under the auspices of the China Investment Corporation. That same China where state-owned steel company executives talk about acquiring overseas companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars with the help of the central government.

With that in mind, why on Earth would they slash spending to finance a measly US$10 billion recovery fund? Why is the State Council acting like it’s in debt, rather than up-to-its-ears in cash? Why is it spending more on the Olympics (without, presumably, requiring parallel cuts elsewhere) than on earthquake recovery? Continue reading