UFOs Over Nanjing: “Not rare but regular.”

For those who follow these things, there’s been quite a bit of UFO news in the Chinese media over the last week. The fun started on June 23rd, with reports that a UFO had been seen and photographed near Congqing – during a laser light show. Following previous practice in covering UFO sightings, Xinhua reported the story straight-up, no commentary. And then left us hanging with this:

Shanghai UFO Research Center confirmed the pictures were not altered. The director of the center said a team will begin to examine the photos to determine if the UFO is genuine, the report said.

The Shanghai UFO Research Center? I’ve spent the last thirty minutes trying to track down these people, but with no luck. If anybody out there has contact info, I’d be very grateful for it. In the meantime, the diligent researchers at the “Above Top Secret” discussion site seem to have determined that the Congqing UFOs is nothing more than a lens flash.

[Update: A couple of helpful folks left comments providing me with the Shanghai UFO Research Center website, which can be found here.]

Which brings me to last Thursday, and the rather curious declaration – by an astronomer at the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing – that UFOs “have been visiting Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu Province, every five to 10 years for the past three decades.” Shanghai Daily, following the above-mentioned just-the-facts approach to Chinese UFO reporting, drops this fabulous commentary-free history: Continue reading

A Gift for BOCOG: An Even Greener Olympics

I’ve derived no small amount of pleasure – and blog posts – from the news releases on the official Beijing Olympic website. So, in thanks for more than a year’s worth of material, I am going to humbly offer (and email!) this tip that I hope will enhance Beijing’s reputation as the host of the best – and greenest – Olympics in history:

The National Stadium, or Bird’s Nest, was made from recycled steel!

Just remember: you read it first at Shanghai Scrap.

Now, I’m not sure why I’ve picked up on this fact before Olympic PR Central, especially because – this week – Olympic PR Central has been going out of its way to tell the world about the high-tech steel used to build the Bird’s Nest. Could be that – unlike me – they don’t spend much time following the ebb and flow of China’s steel recycling industry. If they did, they’d know that Wuyang Steel – the manufacturer of the 110mm Q460 steel used in the Bird’s Nest – is also one of China’s leading consumers of scrap steel. For those interested, a photo of Wuyang’s fabulous scrap piles can be found on the company’s website, here. Somewhat unrelated, but … photos of the largest (and longest!) steel scrap piles in China – or the world, for that matter – can be found in Zhangjiagang, and in this photo:

I’m not going to get into this now, but let the recycled Bird’s Nest Steel serve as one more example of the tight connection between environmentally-sound manufacturing and high-quality manufacturing (more Shanghai Scrap thoughts on that topic, here).

Not Exactly Jesus in China

I’ve long been an admirer of Evan Osnos and the fine reporting that he’s done for the Chicago Tribune and the New Yorker. He has a keen and subtle eye that finds narratives, and details, where other reporters might only find platitudes.

So it was with some anticipation that I awaited his latest work, “Jesus in China,” ambitiously billed as an examination of the transformative effects of China’s ongoing, and explosive, Christian awakening. Developed jointly by the Chicago Tribune and the PBS Frontline documentary series, the project includes two components: a series of articles published by the Chicago Tribune, and a 30-minute Frontline documentary.

Osnos has received quite a bit of praise for this work, with some going so far as to call it groundbreaking. I’m sorry to say that I disagree. In many ways, in fact, I find “Jesus in China” to be a step backwards from the more nuanced understanding of contemporary Chinese Christianity that has developed over the last few years, especially from reporters (like Jim Yardley of the NYT) willing to delve into the complicated dynamics that exist in today’s “open” church communities. Continue reading

State-owned traffic congesters … revealed in time for the Olympics!

It’s no secret that Chinese government purchases have long propped-up the fortunes of Audi and other luxury car brands that market to affluent Chinese (for info on this endlessly enjoyable topic, see here and here). But what’s less well known is the raw number of government-owned vehicles currently clogging Chinese roads. That is to say: just how much of China’s thriving automobile sector is being driven by government purchases? There are rumors, of course: someone who would know once told me that 30% of the cars on Shanghai’s roads belong to either party units, government units, or state-owned enterprises. Seemed a little bit high, but, then again, if it turned out to be true, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Thankfully, the Olympics have lifted the veil – at least, in Beijing.

Here’s the deal: from July 20 to September 20, 70% of government vehicles will be banned from Beijing’s roads in an effort to help clean/whitewash the city’s air for the Olympics. That ban will apply to central and municipal government vehicles, party units, and state owned-enterprises; buses and taxis are exempt (presumably, so are many of the city’s A6s).

Now, according to a spokesman for the Beijing Transport Committee, that 70% figure accounts for roughly 210,000 vehicles. Which means, by my calculation, that the Beijing Transport Committee counts 300,000 government-owned cars in Beijing, alone – or roughly 9% of the city’s reported 3.4 million cars.

[Yes, 300,000 is a bit too well-rounded for my comfort, but you take what you can get in these matters.]

On one hand, that seems like a whole lot of cars. Or, put differently, does anybody doubt that the number would be lower in an economy restrained by political accountability (ie, democracy and elections?)? On the other hand, 9% ain’t bad for an economy that’s a mere thirty years out of the total command mode.

Forgiveness in Unexpected Places

[UPDATE: July 5, 2007: Francesco Liello responds! See comment three, below.]

Via ESPN, I learn that Francesco Liello, a correspondent for the Italian sports paper, La Gazzetta Dello Sport, ran a leg of the torch relay earlier this month in Hubei.

Liello, for those who don’t recall or follow these things, was the Italian reporter who, late last year, conjured up the totally false “Olympic Bible Ban” story – and then – when it became a minor international incident – refused to back down from it. Even after it was shown to be false.

[You can find my complete debunking of the story, here. Scroll down to the November 21 update for an explanation of how Liello's mis-reading of a single sentence in a press dossier set off the whole mess.]

So far as I’ve been able to find, prior to ESPN’s mention, Newsweek’s Melinda Liu was the only English-language reporter to write about Liello’s torch run (on June 2 -I’m late to this, I know). Oddly, though, Liu’s story fails to mention Liello’s Bible Ban story – while ESPN manages to connect the dots (late, like me).

Anyway, for a few reasons, I’m deeply heartened by Liello’s run. Continue reading

China’s Steelmakers to World: We hate market prices.

I’m dealing with a new computer, jetlag, and months of statistics suggesting that Shanghai Scrap’s readers prefer Olympics-related blogging to Iron Ore-related blogging. But, you know, sometimes you have to eat your vegetables before you get to dessert. Or something like that (dessert will be served late tonight or tomorrow).

Anyway. I wasn’t planning on returning to the blog until tomorrow, but yesterday’s reports that Bao Steel and Australian mining giant Rio Tinto have finally settled upon a 2008 iron ore contract price (nearly doubling the 2007 price) have forced an early resumption.

[More Shanghai Scrap posts on iron ore: here, here, and here.]

A very brief backgrounder: traditionally, the world’s three biggest iron ore firms set their annual prices in closed negotiations with their largest customers, thus providing both parties with pricing certainty over what has typically been an unpredictable commodity. Meanwhile, firms not party to the negotiations are left no choice but to purchase ore on the open “spot” market – typically, a much more expensive option (at the moment, a three times more expensive option). Continue reading

Godzilla in Fujian, and more …

I’m on the road for a few days, and unlikely to post anything even remotely sensible before Wednesday. So, in my absence, please consider a couple of the other fine blogs in the blogroll to the lower right, or …