Cuban Communists Ban “Patria y Vida”

I highlighted the spirit and courage of those who sang the “Patria y Vida” song in my blog entry on February 22, 2021.

(p. A1) The protesters pouring into streets across Cuba have a common rallying cry: “Patria y Vida,” or “Fatherland and Life.” The phrase comes from a hip-hop song released a few months ago by dissident Cuban artists who set out to challenge the government—and in the process helped spark a wave of protests against the 62-year communist regime.

In the demonstrations that began Sunday, Cubans have called for an end to the regime, protesting the scarcity of food and medicine amid a surge of coronavirus cases. For Cuba’s frustrated youth in particular, “Patria y Vida” has become a danceable protest anthem and a viral sensation, with nearly six million views on YouTube.

. . .

(p. A8) The Cuban regime has banned any playing of “Patria y Vida.” The lyrics respond to Cuba’s revolutionary motto of “Patria o Muerte,” or “Fatherland or Death,” with lines like: “No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines! / Let us no longer shout ‘Fatherland or Death’ but ‘Fatherland and Life.’ ”

. . .

Messrs. Castillo, Otero and about 20 others created the San Isidro Movement to challenge the government by taking art from the galleries and music studios to the street, making performances public and organizing independent exhibits. The name came from the neighborhood where Messrs. Castillo and Otero live in Old Havana.

. . .

“It’s your fault that a whole nation is suffering,” sang Mr. Castillo in a song titled “Because of You, Sir,” and directed to Fidel Castro. The video juxtaposes images of the famed revolutionary leader next to rundown scenes of Havana, with hungry and hopeless residents looking through garbage.

Weeks after the release of “Patria y Vida,” police attempted to arrest Mr. Castillo near Mr. Otero’s home, but hundreds of angry San Isidro residents forced them to retreat. Video that was later shared widely captured him strutting on the street shirtless with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his wrist, while hundreds in the crowd sang “Patria y Vida” . . . .

For the full story, see:

Santiago Pérez and José de Córdoba. “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “‘Patria y Vida’: The Dissident Rappers Helping Drive Cuba’s Protests.” The online version of the article says the print version had the title “The Artists Rattling Cuba’s Regime,” but my print version had the title “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” I think I receive the Central edition, but can’t find where that is stated.)

Chinese Communists Arrest Many Uyghur Muslim Entrepreneurs

(p. A7) In the summer of 2018, Sadir Eli, a Uyghur businessman, was in high spirits. His real-estate firm was pulling in strong profits, and he told his daughter he would buy a house for her in Massachusetts.

Then, Mr. Eli was accused of being a separatist and disappeared into the black box of China’s prison system in the northwest Xinjiang region.

“He did not engage in politics,” said Maria Mohammad, who last heard from her husband in June 2018, shortly before he was detained. Instead, she believes, Mr. Eli was targeted in part because he was a rich businessman, giving him influence that the authorities viewed as a threat.

The Xinjiang government didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Eli’s fate brings to life an overlooked element of China’s suppression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang: the arrests of elite Uyghur business owners whose wealth and commercial interests enabled them to act as a bridge between Chinese authorities and Uyghur civil society. Some scholars saw them as helping narrow the economic gap between China’s Han majority and Xinjiang’s mostly Muslim ethnic minorities—a disparity that has fueled tensions in the strategically vital but fractious northwestern region.

The predecessor of Chinese leader Xi Jinping had envisioned economic development as the “foundation to solving all problems” in Xinjiang, a view more or less held by Beijing for more than a decade. But under Mr. Xi’s drive for national unity and assimilation, Chinese authorities have changed tack, making security and social control the region’s top priorities.

. . .

Nearly one-fifth of 4,572 people tracked in a database of individuals who have disappeared into Xinjiang’s internment camps and prisons made their livings in private business, according to nonprofit Uyghur Hjelp. The research and advocacy group, which shared its data with The Wall Street Journal, compiled the information through interviews with relatives and friends.

For the full story, see:

Eva Xiao. “Crackdown Hits Uyghur Entrepreneurs.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 13, 2021, and has the title “China Locks Up Uyghur Businessmen; ‘In Their Eyes, We Are All Guilty’.”)

Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak

(p. A4) YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Patients with unexplained pneumonias started showing up at hospitals; within days, dozens were dead. The secret police seized doctors’ records and ordered them to keep silent. American spies picked up clues about a lab leak, but the local authorities had a more mundane explanation: contaminated meat.

It took more than a decade for the truth to come out.

In April and May 1979, at least 66 people died after airborne anthrax bacteria emerged from a military lab in the Soviet Union. But leading American scientists voiced confidence in the Soviets’ claim that the pathogen had jumped from animals to humans. Only after a full-fledged investigation in the 1990s did one of those scientists confirm the earlier suspicions: The accident in what is now the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg was a lab leak, one of the deadliest ever documented.

Nowadays, some of the victims’ graves appear abandoned, their names worn off their metal plates in the back of a cemetery on the outskirts of town, where they were buried in coffins with an agricultural disinfectant. But the story of the accident that took their lives, and the cover-up that hid it, has renewed relevance as scientists search for the origins of Covid-19.

It shows how an authoritarian government can successfully shape the narrative of a disease outbreak and how it can take years — and, perhaps, regime change — to get to the truth.

“Wild rumors do spread around every epidemic,” Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel-winning American biologist, wrote in a memo after a fact-finding trip to Moscow in 1986. “The current Soviet account is very likely to be true.”

Many scientists believe that the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic evolved in animals and jumped at some point to humans. But scientists are also calling for deeper investigation of the possibility of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

There is also widespread concern that the Chinese government — which, like the Soviet government decades before it, dismisses the possibility of a lab leak — is not providing international investigators with access and data that could shed light on the pandemic’s origins. Continue reading “Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak”

Communists Imprisoned Lu Yuyu for Four Years for Posting Online Data on Protests in China

(p. A1) On a summer day in 2016, a posse of men surrounded Lu Yuyu on a street in China’s southwestern city of Dali. He said they wrestled him into a black sedan and slid a shroud over his head. His girlfriend was pushed into a second car, screaming his name.

Mr. Lu had for years posted a running online tally of protests and demonstrations in China that was closely read by activists and academics around the world, as well as by government censors. That made him a target.

While China’s Communist Party has long punished people seen as threats to its rule, government authorities under Chinese leader Xi Jinping have engaged in the most relentless pursuit of dissenters since the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, according to academics and activists.

“Over the past eight years under Xi, authorities have become hypersensitive to the publicizing of protests, social movements and mass resistance,” said Wu Qiang, a former politics lecturer at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

“Lu’s data provided a window into social trends in China,” Mr. Wu said, and that made him a threat to the party. China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based group that promotes worker rights, used Mr. Lu’s posts as the primary source for its “Strike Map,” an interactive online graphic tallying worker unrest.

Mr. Xi’s crackdown has snared women planning protests against sexual harassment, human-rights lawyers once given leeway and Marxist students advocating workers’ rights. Many have endured lengthy detentions and various forms of psychological pressure.

“Their goal is to make you feel helpless, hopeless, devoid of any support, and break you down so you begin to see activism as something foolish that doesn’t benefit anyone, and gives pain to everyone around you,” said Yaxue Cao, a Washington-based activist who runs China Change, a news and commentary website advocating for human rights. “In so many cases, they are successful.”

After Mr. Lu was snatched off the street, he spent four years in custody, his girlfriend left him, and, since his release in June [2020], he said he has been kept under close watch by police. He struggles to find steady work, he said, and suffers from depression. His landlord recently asked him to move, he said, citing pressure from authorities.

The experience keeps him far from his past documentation work. “If you’re lucky, they’d detain you within a month, or if you’re unlucky, within a week,” said Mr. Lu, 43 years old. “There’s no point.”

For the full story, see:

Chun Han Wong. “In Xi’s China, There Is Little Room Left for Dissent.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020): A1 & A10.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 24, 2021, and has the title “‘Their Goal Is to Make You Feel Helpless’: In Xi’s China, Little Room for Dissent.” The online version says that the print version had the title “Xi’s China Ramps Up Drive to Squelch Dissent.” My Central Edition of the print version had the title “In Xi’s China, There Is Little Room Left for Dissent.”)

Communists Want Chinese to Forget the Millions Who Starved Due to Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”

(p. A1) Modern lore has it that Mao Zedong’s eldest son, who was killed in a United Nations airstrike during the Korean War, had given away his position by firing up a stove to make egg fried rice.

That story didn’t sit right with the Chinese Academy of History, launched two years ago by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to counter negative views of the ruling Communist Party’s past.

In November [2020], on the 70th anniversary of Mao Anying’s death, the academy served up another version. Citing what it said were declassified telegrams and eyewitness accounts, the academy said in a social-media post that Mao was killed after enemy forces detected radio transmissions from his commander’s headquarters.

“These rumormongers have tied up Mao Anying with egg fried rice, gravely dwarfing the heroic image of Mao Anying’s brave sacrifice,” said the post, which has attracted about 1.9 million views. “Their hearts are vicious.” The academy attributed the egg fried rice story to the 2003 edition of a Chinese military officer’s memoir. It didn’t mention the book was published by the Chinese military’s official press.

The history academy is run by Gao Xiang, a 57-year-old historian turned propaganda official who has mixed traditional scholarship with viral marketing techniques to repackage the past in support of Mr. Xi’s vision for a resurgent China.

Mr. Gao and his academy are part of Mr. Xi’s push to harness history in the run-up to the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary this summer. Those efforts have culminated in a national propaganda campaign to promote party history, launched in February [2021], that experts describe as China’s largest (p. A10) mass-education drive since the Mao era.

. . .

Officials commissioned concerts with orchestral renditions of patriotic songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China.” Bureaucrats and students competed in quizzes testing their knowledge of party trivia. Authorities revised books to play down Mao’s despotic missteps. The education ministry added questions on party history to this year’s college-entrance exams, to “guide students to inherit red genes.”

. . .

At Mr. Xi’s behest, the history academy was set up in January 2019 under the aegis of both the party’s propaganda department and the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, or CASS, giving party theorists direct control over its output.

. . .

Last year, it launched a journal, “Historical Review,” that offers commentary on current affairs and invokes history to counter criticism of Beijing’s policies.

In July, the journal featured two articles by Chinese researchers that promoted party narratives about China’s history in denouncing Georgetown University history professor James Millward, a critic of Beijing’s forced-assimilation campaign against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. One article accused Mr. Millward of having “sinister motives” and smearing “vocational-education training centers” in Xinjiang as “political-training centers.”

Mr. Millward said the criticism distorted his writings and echoed how Beijing often mischaracterized foreign censure of its human-rights record as challenges to Chinese sovereignty.

. . .

Outside the academy, too, party historians are rewriting the past in ways that support Mr. Xi’s views. Past editions of “A Short History of the Chinese Communist Party,” an authoritative text for general audiences, devoted hefty passages to Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” a disastrous economic program that led to one of history’s deadliest famines.

The revised version, published in February [2021], excises the earlier edition’s conclusion about the program and its fallout: “This bitter historical lesson shouldn’t be forgotten.” The new version also dropped detailed discussions of Mao’s mistakes in launching the Cultural Revolution, a series of purges against “counterrevolutionary elements” that ravaged Chinese society and left as many as millions of people dead. Instead, it focuses mainly on China’s industrial, technological and diplomatic achievements during that decade.

Also gone are well-known quotations from Deng Xiaoping, including his advice that China should “hide our light and bide our time,” or keep a low profile while accumulating strength. Another was a remark he made in 1989 as he prepared to relinquish his last official leadership post: “Building a nation’s fate on the reputation of one or two people is very unhealthy and very dangerous.”

Meanwhile, chapters were added that describe Mr. Xi as a visionary statesman whose authority as the party’s “core” leader must be upheld.

“Amid ten thousand majestic mountains, there must be a main peak,” reads the updated book, which devotes more than one-quarter of its 531 pages to Mr. Xi’s policies and achievements.

For the full story, see:

Chun Han Wong and Keith Zhai. “China Repackages History In Support of Xi’s Vision.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 16, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2021, and has the title “China Repackages Its History in Support of Xi’s National Vision.”)

Shi Modified Bat Coronaviruses in Low Biosafety Wuhan Labs

(p. A1) Shi Zhengli, a top Chinese virologist, is once again at the center of clashing narratives about her research on coronaviruses at a state lab in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic first emerged.

The idea that the virus may have escaped from a lab had long been widely dismissed by scientists as implausible and shunned by others for its connection with former President Donald J. Trump. But fresh scrutiny from the Biden administration and calls for greater candor from prominent scientists have brought the theory back to the fore.

. . .

(p. A8) The Wuhan Institute of Virology employs nearly 300 people and is home to one of only two Chinese labs that have been given the highest security designation, Biosafety Level 4. Dr. Shi leads the institute’s work on emerging infectious diseases, and over the years, her group has collected over 10,000 bat samples from around China.

Under China’s centralized approach to scientific research, the institute answers to the Communist Party, which wants scientists to serve national goals. “Science has no borders, but scientists have a motherland,” Xi Jinping, the country’s leader, said in a speech to scientists last year.

Dr. Shi herself, though, does not belong to the Communist Party, according to official Chinese media reports, which is unusual for state employees of her status.

. . .

. . . some of her most notable findings have since drawn the heaviest scrutiny. In recent years, Dr. Shi began experimenting on bat coronaviruses by genetically modifying them to see how they behave.

In 2017, she and her colleagues at the Wuhan lab published a paper about an experiment in which they created new hybrid bat coronaviruses by mixing and matching parts of several existing ones — including at least one that was nearly transmissible to humans — in order to study their ability to infect and replicate in human cells.

Proponents of this type of research say it helps society prepare for future outbreaks. Critics say the risks of creating dangerous new pathogens may outweigh potential benefits.

The picture has been complicated by new questions about whether American government funding that went to Dr. Shi’s work supported controversial gain-of-function research. The Wuhan institute received around $600,000 in grant money from the United States government, through an American nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance. The National Institutes of Health said it had not approved funding for the nonprofit to conduct gain-of-function research on coronaviruses that would have made them more infectious or lethal.

Dr. Shi, in an emailed response to questions, argued that her experiments differed from gain-of-function work because she did not set out to make a virus more dangerous, but to understand how it might jump across species.

“My lab has never conducted or cooperated in conducting GOF experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses,” she said.

. . .

Concerns have centered not only on what experiments Dr. Shi conducted, but also on the conditions under which she did them.

Some of Dr. Shi’s experiments on bat viruses were done in Biosafety Level 2 labs, where security is lower than in other labs at the institute. That has raised questions about whether a dangerous pathogen could have slipped out.

Ralph Baric, a prominent University of North Carolina expert in coronaviruses who signed the open letter in Science, said that although a natural origin of the virus was likely, he supported a review of what level of biosafety precautions were taken in studying bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan institute. Dr. Baric conducted N.I.H.-approved gain-of-function research at his lab at the University of North Carolina using information on viral genetic sequences provided by Dr. Shi.

Dr. Shi said that bat viruses in China could be studied in BSL-2 labs because there was no evidence that they directly infected humans, a view supported by some other scientists.

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin and Chris Buckley. “Chinese Scientist Under Pressure As Lab-Leak Theory Flourishes.” The New York Times, First Section (Tuesday, June 15, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 14, 2021, and has the title “A Top Virologist in China, at Center of a Pandemic Storm, Speaks Out.”)

Entrepreneur Pan Leaves Communist China After Xi Arrests Human Rights Defender and Friend

(p. B1) China’s economy is on a tear. Factories are humming, and foreign investment is flowing in. Even so, the wealthy and powerful people atop some of the country’s most prominent companies are heading for the exits.

The latest are Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, the husband-and-wife team that runs Soho China, a property developer known for its blobby, futuristic office buildings. In striking a deal this week to sell a controlling stake to the investment giant Blackstone for as much as $3 billion, Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang are turning over the company as high-profile entrepreneurs come under public and official scrutiny in China like never before.

. . .

(p. B5) “For big tycoons in China, nowadays they need to be careful in general,” said Ling Chen, who studies state-business relations in China at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

. . .

Mr. Pan was . . . one of the first Chinese business leaders to recognize the power of the internet in marketing and public relations. He wrote a popular blog in the 2000s. Then, when the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo came along, he quickly became one of its most influential voices, amassing more than 20 million followers.

. . .

He was never too pointed in expressing his opinions. But he wanted China to learn from its mistakes, such as its cruel treatment of the moneyed and educated classes during the Cultural Revolution.

After Mr. Xi took office as China’s top leader in 2013, the authorities began going after businesspeople and intellectuals with big online followings. The police that year arrested Wang Gongquan, a friend of Mr. Pan’s and supporter of human rights causes, on charges of disrupting public order.

Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang began selling off property holdings in China and spending more time in the United States.

For the full story, see:

Raymond Zhong. “A Chinese Power Couple Cashes Out.” The New York Times (Friday, June 18, 2021): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 17, 2021, and has the title “As China Scrutinizes Its Entrepreneurs, a Power Couple Cashes Out.”)

To Extort U.S. Firms, Xi Passes Laws that Firms Cannot Obey

(p. B1) Doug Guthrie spent 1994 riding a single-speed bicycle between factories in Shanghai for a dissertation on Chinese industry. Within years, he was one of America’s leading experts on China’s turn toward capitalism and was helping companies venture East.

Two decades later, in 2014, Apple hired him to help navigate perhaps its most important market. By then, he was worried about China’s new direction.

China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, was leaning on Western companies to strengthen his grip on the country. Mr. Guthrie realized that few companies were bigger targets, or more vulnerable, than Apple. It assembled nearly every Apple device in China and had made the region its No. 2 sales market.

So Mr. Guthrie began touring the company with a slide show and lecture to ring the alarm. Apple, he said, had no Plan B.

“I was going around to business leaders, and I’m like: ‘Do you guys understand who Xi Jinping is? Are you listening to what’s going on here?’” Mr. Guthrie said in an interview. “That was my big calling card.”

His warnings were prescient. China has taken a nationalist, au-(p. B3)thoritarian turn under Mr. Xi, and American companies like Apple, Nike and the National Basketball Association are facing a dilemma. While doing business in China often remains lucrative, it also increasingly requires uncomfortable compromises.

That trend raises the question of whether, instead of empowering the Chinese people, American investment in the country has empowered the Chinese Communist Party.

. . .

Mr. Guthrie’s career arc and evolving view of China tell the story of Western industry’s complicated dance with the country over the past three decades. Mr. Guthrie and many executives, politicians and academics had bet that Western investment in China would lead the country to liberalize. It is now clear that they miscalculated.

“We were wrong,” said Mr. Guthrie, who left Apple in 2019. “The wild card was Xi Jinping.”

In recent years, China shut down Marriott’s website after it listed Tibet and Taiwan as separate countries in a customer survey. It suspended sign-ups to LinkedIn after the site failed to censor enough political content. And the Communist Party urged a boycott of Western apparel companies that criticized forced-labor practices in Xinjiang, a Chinese region where the government is repressing Uyghurs, the country’s Muslim ethnic minority.

. . .

In 2014, China’s so-called dispatch labor law went into effect, limiting the share of temporary workers in a company’s work force to 10 percent. From Day 1, Apple and its suppliers were in violation.

At a Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, China, the world’s biggest iPhone factory, temporary workers made up as much as half of the work force, according to a report by China Labor Watch, an advocacy group. After the report, Apple confirmed that the factory broke the law.

Apple executives were concerned and confused, Mr. Guthrie said. They knew the company couldn’t comply because it needed the extra workers to meet periods of intense demand, such as the holidays.

. . .

“‘This is the point. You are supposed to be out of compliance,’” he said he had told them. “‘Not so they can shut you down, but so you’ll figure out what they want you to do and figure out how to do it.’”

Mr. Guthrie, who is often tucking his long, graying hair behind his ears, began giving his lecture on Apple’s risk in China around that time. Its extreme reliance on the country left it with little leverage to resist.

Apple continued to grapple with demands from the government.

. . .

To measure the success of their lobbying, Apple executives looked to the government’s annual corporate social responsibility scores, a proxy for the Communist Party’s view of a company.

. . .

Apple’s score steadily improved. From 2016 to 2020, its ranking among all companies in China rose from No. 141 to No. 30.

Apple didn’t always successfully resist the government’s demands. Over that period, Mr. Cook had agreed to store his Chinese customers’ private data — and the digital keys to unlock that data — on computer servers owned and run by the Chinese government.

For the full story, see:

Jack Nicas. “A Warning On China Is Prescient For Apple.” The New York Times (Friday, June 18, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 17, 2021, and has the title “He Warned Apple About the Risks in China. Then They Became Reality.”)

“We Demand the Right to Have Rights”

(p. A9) An alliance of hip-hop musicians, writers, internationally known artists and Black activists has emerged as a driving force against censorship and government repression in Cuba, prompting a rare Communist government action: to hold talks about freedom of expression.

Hundreds of Cubans, many of them young artists from elite schools, protested in front of the country’s stately neoclassical Ministry of Culture in Havana’s upscale Vedado district, overnight on Friday. Protests of any sort are very rare in Cuba.

“We demand the right to have rights…. The right of free expression, of free creation, the right to dissent,” said Katherine Bisquet, a young poet, reading the activists’ manifesto by the light of cellphones outside of the ministry where streetlights were turned off. Videos posted on social media showed Ms. Bisquet saying that she spoke for all Cuban citizens.

. . .

Jake Sullivan, President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser-designate, in a tweet Sunday said that Mr. Biden supported the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty, called for the government to release peaceful protesters and said Cubans must be allowed to exercise “the universal right to freedom of expression.”

For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba and Santiago Pérez. “Cuba’s Creative Class Crafts United Protest Against Censorship.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 1, 2020): A9.

(Note: ellipsis internal to third quoted paragraph, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 30, 2020, and has the title “Cuban Leadership Confronts a Rare Dissident Movement.” Where the wording in the last quoted paragraph is slightly different between the online and print versions, the passage quoted above follows the online version.)

Chinese Local Governments Run Up $6 Trillion in Debt, Partly to Build Giant Statues and a Full-Size Replica of Titanic

(p. B1) To officials in her corner of China, the statue of Yang Asha, a goddess of beauty, serves as a tribute to the rich culture of the local people and, they hope, a big draw for sightseers and their money. To many others in China, she is another white elephant in a country full of expensive monuments, gaudy tourist traps and wasteful vanity projects that draw money away from real problems.

Those critics point to the statue of Guan Yu, a general from antiquity, in the city of Jingzhou, where he also towers higher than the Statue of Liberty and wields an enormous polearm called the Green Dragon Crescent Blade.

They point to the Jingxingu Hotel, a 24-story wooden building with lots of empty balconies and open spaces but few actual rooms — and it has not accepted guests beyond a few tourists who come to gawk.

They point to the construction of a full-size, $150 million replica of the Titanic in a reservoir deep in China’s interior, 1,200 miles from (p. B5) the ocean.

. . .

Singling out the $38 million Jingxingu Hotel and the $224 million Guan Yu project, which also included an elaborate base and surrounding park, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development ordered on Sept. 29 [2020] that communities may not “blindly build large-scale sculptures that are divorced from reality and the masses.”

Chinese government officials have long prized big projects. China now has four-fifths of the world’s 100 tallest bridges, more miles of ultramodern expressways than the American interstate highway system and a bullet-train network long enough to span the continental United States seven times. Those projects have employed millions of people and helped fuel the country’s breakneck growth.

But local officials borrowed heavily to fund those projects. Estimates put the amount of local debt as high as $6 trillion, raising fears of financial bombs lurking in the ledgers of far corners of the country.

Beijing has doubled down on further investment spending this year in an initially successful bid to shake off an economic hangover from the outbreak of coronavirus in China last winter.

Yet with each passing year, as projects are built in ever-more-remote places, the economic kick from each project becomes less and less. China is on track this year to add debt equal to four months’ economic output while its economy grows by an amount equal to less than two weeks’ output.

Local government borrowing “is still out of control,” said Gary Liu, an independent economist in Shanghai.

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher. “As China Battles Poverty, Colossal Projects Draw Ire.” The New York Times (Fri., Nov. 27, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 26, 2020, and has the title “A Soaring Monument to Beauty in China Is Stirring Passions. Mostly Anger.”)

Li Wenliang Was Not an Outlier: Chinese Communists Punished at Least 587 for Speaking Out on Covid-19

(p. A6) At least seven people over the past week have been threatened, detained or arrested after casting doubt over the government’s account of the deaths of Chinese soldiers during a clash last year with Indian troops. Three of them are being detained for between seven and 15 days. The other four face criminal charges, including one man who lives outside China.

“The internet is not a lawless place,” said the police notices issued in their cases. “Blasphemies of heroes and martyrs will not be tolerated.”

Their punishment might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for an online database of speech crimes in China. A simple Google spreadsheet open for all to see, it lists nearly 2,000 times when the government punished people for what they said online and offline.

The list — which links directly to publicly issued verdicts, police notices and official news reports over the past eight years — is far from complete. Most punishment takes place behind closed doors.

Still, the list paints a bleak picture of a government that punishes its citizens for the slightest hint of criticism. It shows how random and merciless China’s legal system can be when it punishes its citizens for what they say, even though freedom of speech is written into China’s Constitution.

. . .

(p. B3) Perhaps the most depressing items are those about people who were punished for what they said about the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of the list is Dr. Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded on Jan. 1, 2020, along with seven others for trying to warn the country about the coronavirus. He died of the virus in early February last year and is now remembered as the whistle-blower who tried to warn the world about the outbreak. But the spreadsheet lists 587 other cases.

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “Spreadsheet on Censorship Shows China’s Human Toll.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 27, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 26, 2021, and has the title “China Persecutes Those Who Question ‘Heroes.’ A Sleuth Keeps Track.”)