Archives For China

By James Sullivan, The Boston Globe


Joanne Rathe/Boston Globe

BOSTON — While in Shanghai last year, Boston College professor Jeremy Clarke heard a strange tale that could have sprung from the pages of a classic mystery novel: Nearly 100 scale models of []\, exquisitely crafted by Chinese orphans a century ago, had seemingly vanished.

Clarke, a China scholar and Jesuit priest, returned to BC with a challenge for his China history class. Armed with their curiosity and the Twitter hashtag #findthosepagodas, the students embarked on a virtual odyssey to find the missing relics.

It took them from Shanghai to Chicago to an anonymous art collector in New York. They did extensive research online and queried art dealers and museum curators around the globe. They unearthed photos of the models.

The global pursuit ended last fall — of all places — just a few miles from campus, in a warehouse in Somerville, where the pagodas were being stored. Initially, Clarke’s students admitted they were by turns intrigued and annoyed by the project.

“A lot of us thought it was interesting,” said Sarah Malaske. “But we also thought, ‘Gosh, that sounds like a lot of work.’?”

The outcome was gratifying. Three of the 86 models, including two nearly 6 feet tall, are on display this month in the atrium of BC’s O’Neill Library. For Clarke, the successful search is a happy convergence of his Jesuit commitment and his lifelong interest in Chinese culture.

“I see my role as a bridge between the Chinese Catholic communities and the outside world,” he said.

The project also carries special meaning for Damien Zhang, an exchange student who was part of the 25-member undergraduate sleuthing team. While growing up in China, he said, he and his friends would sometimes visit one of the great pagodas that inspired the models.

“I’m not Buddhist, so it was more of an architectural trip,” Zhang said recently as a few classmates and Clarke met at the library to see the newly installed models.

For Buddhists, he explained, the pagodas — some built a millennium ago — were designed as houses of worship, to get a little closer to heaven.

The students’ pursuit began in September. They pooled their talents — some were finance students, some studying international relations — and spent dozens of hours online to research the history of the pagodas.

They learned that the scale models were built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco by children living in an orphanage that once sat on the site of the present-day Tushanwan Museum in Shanghai. Made of balsa wood, the miniature pagodas are delicately carved, with pinpoint effects. One on display at BC features a detail from the classical Chinese novel “Journey to the West.”

Clarke said the models were first purchased “for a bit of a song” by a representative for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History after the 1915 exposition. That much was clear, but the trail went cold after a sale to a private investor.

After decades of ownership, the Field Museum quietly put the pagodas on the market in 2007. The Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem was among the institutions that expressed interest. The Field kept three; the mysterious collector, who is said to have development ties to Boston, bought the rest.

After tracing the photos of the models, the students in the class, “From Sun Yat-sen to the Beijing Olympics,” tried to contact the Sotheby’s broker identified in the book.

“It was a little odd for her, I’m sure, getting e-mail from a college student,” said student Madeline Walsh. “How many college kids could afford to buy a piece of art?”

Through the grapevine, the broker eventually learned that the students’ search was legitimate. She helped persuade the collector, who wishes to remain anonymous, to permit the students to showcase three of the pagodas during the run-up to BC’s spring Arts Festival.

“The owner was actually very keen to display them,” said Clarke, who noted that the collector wants to bring the pagodas to San Francisco International Airport next year for the centennial anniversary of the 1915 exposition.

The four-year-old museum in Shanghai, where Clarke spoke at an international conference last year, hopes that at least some of the pagodas could be displayed permanently there as a way to honor the orphanage and its place in Chinese cultural history.

Such a decision, Clarke and the students acknowledge, would be up to the collector, because this is not a case of stolen art, like the pilfered European works chronicled in the film “The Monuments Men.” Still, the class debated whether the Field Museum or the current owner owed a debt to the people of Shanghai.

“The students have had to think it through: Who does own world culture?” he said.

Clarke’s students can graduate into the world knowing they shed a little light on a cultural mystery, like the Six Harmonies Pagoda, which has doubled for centuries as a lighthouse.

“These are cool things,” Clarke said of the models. “They shouldn’t be spending all their time in a warehouse.”

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Wang Zhao / AFP – Getty Images

People wearing face masks walk along a street in Beijing on Thursday.

By Ed Flanagan, Producer, NBC News

BEIJING – Air pollution readings spiked across China’s capital Beijing on Thursday, prompting residents to don air masks and offices and homes to put electric air purifiers on overdrive.

Commuters across Beijing found themselves cloaked in a thick, gray haze as air pollution monitors across the city registered readings over 20 times the recommended exposure levels suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau readings Thursday for PM 2.5 – air particulate smaller than 2.5 microns blamed for a range of severe respiratory ailments – registered over 500 micrograms per cubic meter. The WHO recommends no more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Officials in Beijing issued a severe air warning and urged residents to wear protective masks while outdoors, and said the elderly and schoolchildren should stay indoors until conditions improved.

Alexander F. Yuan / AP

A tourist takes photos during a heavily polluted day on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Thursday.

The winter months in the north of the country tend to be periods of extended bad air pollution. Biting cold forces the region’s coal-burning power plants to meet heating demands, while increased car usage and relentless construction chokes the skies with dangerous particulate.

Beijing’s topography – with hills surrounding much of this city of 20 million people – can also keep the capital immersed in dirty air unless strong winds blow it out.

Certain at-risk residents who find themselves exposed to the bad air over extended periods of time complain of watery eyes, difficulty breathing or other respiratory issues. Long-term exposure can lead to asthma, heart disease and cancer. Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 has also been tied to knocking years off people’s life expectancy.

Despite ideal conditions for poor air quality, the air warning issued Friday was just the first of 2014. In January 2013, China suffered through a weeks-long “Airpocalpyse” of sustained poor air quality that finally forced China’s ruling Communist Party to acknowledge and address serious environmental issues.

In the last year China has worked to address air pollution across the country, offering billions in economic incentives for provinces and municipalities to cut emissions.

Artist's rendition of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 by DARPA, image from

Artist’s rendition of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 by DARPA, image from

China has successfully tested its first hypersonic missile delivery vehicle capable of penetrating US missile defense system and delivering nuclear warheads with record breaking speeds, Pentagon officials have confirmed.

The new hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), dubbed the WU-14 was allegedly spotted flying at record-breaking speeds during a flight test over China on January 9, an anonymous Pentagon official told the Washington Free Beacon.

The new weapon delivery system is reportedly designed to be launched as the final stage of China’s intercontinental ballistic missile, which would approach its target at a velocity of up to 10 times the speed of sound. Hypersonic speed range lies between Mach 5 and Mach 10, or 3,840 to 7,680 miles per hour.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the Chinese test launch but declined to provide details.

“We routinely monitor foreign defense activities and we are aware of this test,” Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool, a Marine Corps spokesman, told the Washington Free Beacon.

“However, we don’t comment on our intelligence or assessments of foreign weapon systems,” Pool said in a statement. “We encourage greater transparency regarding their defense investments and objectives to avoid miscalculation,” he added.

Hypersonic vehicles, which are also being designed by the US, India and Russia, are developed for precise targeting, rapid delivery of weapons, and are being tested to outmaneuver hostile missiles and space defenses.

“A boost glide missile theoretically would be intended to counter existing mid-course missile defenses,”Mark Stokes, a former US Air Force officer told the Washington Free Beacon.

Strokes explained that China is developing two hypersonic flight vehicle programs – one believed to be of a post-boost vehicle designed to be deployed from a missile that pursues its target from near space, or some 62 miles from earth. Basing his hypothesis on emerging reports from China, Stokes believes that hypersonic glide vehicles could reach Mach 12 speeds of up to 9,127 miles per hour, potentially compromising a US missile defense.

“The beauty of the HGV is that it can perform hypersonic precision strikes while maintaining a relatively low altitude and flat trajectory, making it far less vulnerable to missile defenses,”
 Rick Fisher, an analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Washington Free Beacon.

“With the integration of strategic analysis and planning into technical research, China’s pursuit of hypersonic and high-precision weaponry promises to be faster and more focused than that associated with its previous [anti-satellite] and [ballistic missile defense] related research and programs,”
 Lora Saalman, a specialist on Chinese strategic systems with the Carnegie Endowment Saalman said in an email to the publication. “This recent test is a manifestation of this trend.”

The Chinese are “actively seeking global military power to challenge the United States, and it is not yet in any mood to talk, or engage in arms control, about it,” Fisher said.

In May, the Pentagon’s assessment of Chinese capabilities suggested that China built the world’s largest shockwave hypersonic wind tunnel capable of generating test flying conditions of up to Mach 9 speeds.

Two Chinese technical papers from December 2012 and April 2013 revealed that the country is developing precision guidance systems designed to be directed via satellite. The second Chinese paper concluded that hypersonic weapons pose “a new aerospace threat.”

Current American hypersonic research is being conducted through the FALCON program in association with the Pentagon and Air Force. The US is in the process of perfecting Lockheed HTV-2, an unmanned, missile-launched aircraft capable of gaining speeds of up to Mach 20, or 13,000 miles per hour. The US Air Force is also testing the X-37B Space Plane, which has been orbiting earth since December 2012.

At the same time Boeing is working on the X-51 WaveRider, a jet-fueled, air-breathing hypersonic rocket developed for the Air Force to be used for hypersonic attack and reconnaissance missions.

Russia too has confirmed the development of similar ultrasonic technology. The Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center said in its annual report that Russia is building “a new class of hypersonic vehicle” that would “allow Russian strategic missiles to penetrate missile defense systems.”

“We are experiencing a revolution in military science,” Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin said last June, after the 4th test of an advanced road-mobile ICBM, a “missile defense killer” called the RS-26 Rubezh (‘frontier’). “Neither current nor future American missile defense systems will be able to prevent that missile from hitting a target dead on.” Moscow is also developing the S-500 air and space defense system, with interceptors capable of shooting down hypersonic missiles.

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On Sunday, Apple and China Mobileannounced a deal to bring the iPhoneto the Chinese carrier, the largest wireless network in the world, on Jan. 17.

An agreement with China Mobilecould, at least initially, give Apple a big lift into the vast Chinese market, analysts say, increasing its worldwide sales.

China is an extremely important market for Apple and our partnership with China Mobile presents us the opportunity to bring iPhone to the customers of the world’s largest network,” Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in a statement.

But the company will face many challenges in capturing the Chinese market.

While Apple’s smartphones are dominant in the United States and a major player in Europe, the company has struggled to gain much traction in China, where phones using Google’s Android operating system dominate for several reasons, particularly price.

In China, some smartphone makers, like Huawei, Coolpad and ZTE, offer Android phones for less than $100, while Apple lists the iPhone 5C at $739, and the 5S at $871. Apple said that it would reveal pricing of the iPhones for China Mobile customers on a later date.

Apple is the No. 5 smartphone player in the country, behind Samsung and the Chinese handset makers Huawei, Lenovo and Yulong.

The slow sales of the iPhone in China are reflected in the overall shrinkage of the company’s share of the global smartphone market — to 12.1 percent in the third quarter, down from 14.3 percent in the same period a year ago, according to the market research firm Gartner. Meanwhile, Lenovo, the No. 3 player, which sells the vast majority of its smartphones in China, had 5.1 percent of the global market in the third quarter, from 4.1 percent a year ago. Samsung’s global share remained flat at 32.1 percent.

Still, analysts were optimistic that Apple would sell a lot of phones through China Mobile, though they offered wide-ranging estimates for how many more. William V. Power, an analyst for Robert W. Baird, said Apple could sell as many as 30 million more iPhones in 2014, while Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein research, offered a more conservative estimate of 15 million iPhones.

Apple sold about 23 million iPhones in China over the last year, Mr. Sacconaghi said.

Apple has long pursued a deal with China Mobile. The carrier showed signs of warming up to Apple only after it began losing customers to competitors that offered the iPhone. The second- and third-largest carriers in the country, China Unicom and China Telecom, have had longstanding arrangements with Apple, but they are much smaller than China Mobile.

In addition to cost, another reason Android phones have proved so popular in China is that, unlike in the rest of the world, there is a wider variety of mobile applications for Android phones than for iPhones. While the Google Play store is not officially available in China, Android users can turn to dozens of alternative app stores offering licensed and pirated applications.

Analysts expect the vast majority of smartphone growth in China to occur at the lower end of the market, as the phones become more widely available to lower-income consumers in smaller cities and rural areas. Those consumers will presumably be more attracted to the lower-cost Android phones.

Also, in China fewer handsets are subsidized by mobile carriers than in the United States, Europe or Japan. More than two-thirds of Chinese phones are sold unsubsidized by third-party retailers, often over the Internet.

Chinese operators are reluctant to subsidize phones too heavily in a market where many customers are happy with smartphones that cost under $100. Both China Unicom and China Telecom have been cutting back on subsidies.

Apple surprised some analysts in September with its aggressive pricing of the iPhone 5C, which has fewer features and costs less than the 5S, though the two were introduced on the same day. The company had been expected to try to appeal to Chinese customers with the lower price, but the 5C was introduced at a level that remains high in China.

Analysts say Apple may have to cut the price further, or introduce another, less expensive model if it hopes to broaden its appeal in China.

The cost-consciousness of Chinese consumers extends to their choice of mobile networks. Only 176 million China Mobile customers, less than a quarter of the total, subscribe to the company’s high-speed wireless data service, using 3G technology.

Apple and China Mobile announced their partnership a few days after China Mobile introduced an upgrade to a newer, faster system — 4G — for parts of its network. The existing 3G subscribers, not the overall customer base, will provide the main target audience for the new phones and services.

The deal with China Mobile has been rumored for a while, and potential customers for the iPhone are already lining up. Among them is Wang Xiaocong, who works in the marketing department of a law firm in Beijing. Ms. Wang, 31, said she had a BlackBerry for work and a Samsung smartphone for personal use, but was looking for something different.

“I am not a big fan of high-tech products,” Ms. Wang said. “But I would love to have an iPhone next time, with the 4G network, maybe next year. It looks very fashionable.”

Shanshan Wang contributed reporting from Beijing.


Nap time in China

Paramilitary policemen take a break at the site of a coal mine explosion in Yichuan county, Henan province, April 2, 2010.
See all of the nap time pictures by clicking here:

CREDIT: Carlf Zhang/Reuter


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