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We’ve got five things at the top for you, starting with a sexual harassment allegation at a major player in the tech industry: the on-demand bike company Mobike. The subject line of this email is taken from our second story about the controversial “Real Bodies” exhibition taking place this month in the U.K.
Recently I’ve had complaints that we’ve been too negative on China, and too negative on Donald Trump. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts — just hit reply.
—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief
1. #MeToo at Mobike — executive suspended
An anonymous female software engineer at Mobike, China’s biggest bike-sharing company, has published an open letter accusing her supervisor, Zhang Yaochun 张耀春, of sexual harassment and abuse of power.
Zhang is the manager of the firm’s client-facing division, a husband, and the father of a six-month-old son.
The anonymous complaintshared on Youdao Cloud Note (in Chinese) alleges that Zhang leveraged his position to sexually harass three female employees and to hire women with whom he saw the potential of developing sexual relationships.
The alleged victim, who joined Mobike in August 2017, said that Zhang solicited selfies from her, asked her out late at night, and demanded that she work on his personal projects over weekends. She says that when she declined his demands, she faced blatant retaliation, including insulting language and discrimination in the workplace.
The open letter also alleges that after Zhang hired “Qiulian,” a former colleague of his at Didi Chuxing, he told her on multiple occasions that promotions and raises were associated with her willingness to develop a romantic relationship with him. After Qiulian declined, Zhang bullied her in the office and forced her to leave the company.
Mobike has not yet issued an official response to the allegations. But according to iFeng.com (in Chinese), Zhang has been suspended from his post.
Listen: In the second episode of the NüVoices podcast published today, hosts Alice Xin Liu and Joanna Chiu interview Yuan Yang, the Beijing-based technology correspondent for the Financial Times, on how #MeToo has gained momentum in mainland China despite online censorship and university officials reportedly putting pressure on students to stay silent.
2. Where do the bodies come from?
The Guardian reports that “the bodies of 20 Chinese people featured in a U.K. museum exhibition could be those of prisoners once detained in labor camps, and victims of the death penalty in China, according to a leading doctor.”
The exhibition is called Real Bodies, and runs until August 19 at a large event and exhibition venue in Birmingham.
“The bodies were provided to the event organizers, Imagine Exhibitions, through the Dalian Medical University” (大连医疗大学 dàlián yīliáo dàxué), according to the Guardian.
“The university’s facilities in the city of Dalian were within driving distance of labor and prison camps” is the reason given by campaigner Dr. David Nicholl for his suspicion. That is a very flimsy reason, but the Guardian adds, “Coupled with the large number of bodies of the same age and gender, and the lack of any identity information, Nicholl suspects the bodies could be those of executed inmates.”
All of which reminded me of earlier exhibitions of human bodies that also stirred up controversies and also had a Dalian connection. In 2006, NPR reported:
For two years now, exhibitions of human cadavers have been traveling the country, shown in science museums and other spaces. The shows, featuring corpses that have been preserved and solidified through a process called plastination, have been wildly successful. But they also have been dogged by criticism.
One delicate ethical concern stands out above all the others: whether the bodies were legitimately obtained. Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the inventor of plastination and the impresario behind the Body Worlds exhibitions, says that every whole body exhibited in North America comes from fully informed European and American donors, who gave permission, in writing, for their bodies to be displayed.
Dr. Gunther von Hagens, according to Wikipedia, “has been visiting professor in Dalian, China, since 1996, where he runs a plastination center, and also directs a plastination center at the State Medical Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.”
Bo Xilai 薄熙来 was mayor of Dalian in 1998 when the doctor registered his Von Hagens Plastination company, as noted by Chinese Wikipedia.
Chinese and Western journalists have been questioning the source of the corpses shown at exhibitions around the world organized by von Hagen since as early as 2003. If you are curious, see this 2012 post on ChinaSmack (includes photos of von Hagen and his plastinated corpses) for some of the history in China, or do a Google search for Dalian corpse or 大连尸体 dàlián shītǐ. There’s also this piece on the Weekly Standard: Bodies at an exhibition.
I could not find evidence online that Von Hagens Plastination provided the corpses for the Real Bodies exhibition currently under way in Birmingham, but whether the doctor is involved or not, the questions asked about earlier such exhibitions remain:
Whose bodies are being put on display for profit, and how did they get there?
3. Trade war, day 35: Beijing tries to limit backlash from Washington
A day after the latest move from the U.S. to raise the stakes in its trade war with China — a second tranche of tariffs on $16 billion in imports added on top of the $34 billion already in place — news continues to come out on China’s changing strategy.
Chinese state media became less restrained in its criticism of the U.S. and President Trump this week, as we noted in our Monday Access newsletter (paywall). On Tuesday, the People’s Daily published an op-ed that threatened Apple with “anger and nationalist sentiment” — basically, a boycott — if the trade hostilities continued.
But, interestingly, signals from Beijing policymakers are pointing in the opposite direction: less nationalistic, more conciliatory, and more open to foreign companies.
Wang Huning, the ideology chief and strategist for President Xi Jinping, is “in trouble for mishandling the propaganda and hyping up China too much,” according to sources close to Chinese leadership that are cited in Reuters.
“China’s current stance has been too hard-line and the leadership has clearly misjudged the situation,” an anonymous academic at a Chinese policy think tank told Reuters, indicating that the strategy in Beijing was now shifting to limit backlash from Washington.
A “triumphalist” academic, Hu Angang of Tsinghua University, came under intense criticism last week by alumni of the university and social media users. The Chinese policy think tank source confirmed to Reuters that some in official circles shared the critical view of Hu’s boosterism of China’s rise.
A plan to create a Chinese competitor to Silicon Valley in the Greater Bay Area of southern China has been delayed, a source told the South China Morning Postyesterday. The source said that Beijing was taking a lesson from the backlash to Made in China 2025, the manufacturing upgrading plan that China toned down propaganda about back in June.
China is even considering making concessions on Made in China 2025, as we noted yesterday, but so far, they appear somewhat small.
Courting foreign investment, to counter the image of China as a closed-off market, has been a key part of China’s strategy during the trade war. In July, China signed $23.5 billion in deals with Germany, including an agreement for a BASF chemical plant worth as much as $10 billion, and for the first majority-foreign-owned auto plant in China by BMW.
Trade war: Analysis of tariffs Opinion: How China wins the trade war / NYT (paywall) Economist Mary Lovely argues, “China will win because it is playing this game more skillfully. The tariffs imposed by the United States will mostly be paid by American companies and consumers...about 60 percent of China’s exports to the United States are produced at factories owned by non-Chinese companies.” “China is retaliating with moves that soften the blow for companies in China, including those that are foreign-owned.” Trump's planned duties on Chinese art panned by dealers, museums / Bloomberg (paywall) “‘If everything is slapped with a 25 percent tariff, it’s actually going to do a disservice to people here in the U.S.,’ said Daniel Chen, director of Chambers Fine Art gallery in New York. ‘Who are they trying to punish?’”
Why was oil omitted from Chinese tariffs? US carmakers hit with Chinese tariffs as trade war changes gear / SCMP “China has added automobiles to its revised list of US$16 billion worth of US goods targeted by its retaliatory tariffs, removing crude oil in favour of items that could do more damage to the US economy.” China's tariff turnaround: US crude oil drops off the target list / WSJ (paywall) “‘China would be shooting itself in the foot if they tax [crude oil] imports,’ Shane Oliver, an analyst at AMP Capital Markets, said. ‘China’s economy is heavily dependent on oil.’” “Another explanation that industry executives glean is that China is laying the groundwork to continue importing Iranian crude oil, even after U.S. sanctions on Iran are restored in November.” An analyst added, “Adding a tariff to U.S. crude reduces the chance of the U.S. issuing them a waiver to buy Iranian crude.”
A week ago in this newsletter, I wondered if a critical essay about Xi Jinping that was circulated widely marked peak Xi, or the zenith of the Xi Jinping cult. It appears I am not the only one:
“We may have reached peak Xi Jinping,” says author Richard McGregor to Bloomberg TV. His view is similar to mine: There’s no open rebellion against Xi nor is his power under any immediate threat, but we are seeing “the start of people beginning to articulate a pushback against Xi.” (You can listen to a Sinica Podcast with McGregor here.)
“Five months ago, when the Communist Party of China freed President Xi Jinping from term limits, the conventional wisdom was that his dominance within the Chinese party-state was so strong that his authority could not possibly come under attack. How things have changed.” That’s how Minxin Pei sees it, in an essay titled China’s summer of discontent.
“‘It’s the hardest time for Xi since he assumed power,’ said Zhang Lifan 章立凡, a Beijing-based historian and prominent critic of the Chinese Communist party,” according to Tom Mitchell of the Financial Times (porous paywall). Mitchell says there is “a growing chorus of sotto voce criticism that Mr. Xi should not have so casually discarded Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of ‘hiding your strengths and biding your time’ during his first term in office, when he made clear his determination to replace the US as the region’s leading military power.”
Xi Jinping’s roommate “from the days when the president was an adolescent toiling in an impoverished village in northwest China has said hype over their former cave home is doing the Chinese leader no good,” according to the South China Morning Post.
Four sources “close to the government”told Reuters that the trade war with the U.S. “is causing rifts within China's Communist Party, with some critics saying that an overly nationalistic Chinese stance may have hardened the U.S. position.”
The Economist sums up some of the discussion in an article titled How to read summer grumbles about China’s swaggering leader (porous paywall). It concludes: “One Western expert reflecting on this febrile summer wrote an essay asking whether we have reached peak Xi Jinping. Nobody knows. But China may have reached peak boasting.”
5. Are China-Russia ties a serious threat to American interests?
Jamil Anderlini of the Financial Times says (paywall) that “the West ignores the alliance forming between Moscow and Beijing at its peril.” He likens the Western intelligence community’s failure to grasp the significance of the warm relations between Moscow and Beijing to their “failure to notice the Sino-Soviet split in the frigid depths of the cold war.”
A strong Sino-Russian alliance is often dismissed as impossible — Anderlini cites U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis talking “about a ‘natural non-convergence of interest’ between Russia and China and his belief that both countries had more in common with America than with each other.”
However, according to Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping “is the only foreign leader he has celebrated his birthday with — over a glass of vodka and a plate of sausage. For his part, Mr Xi recently called the Russian president his ‘best, most intimate friend’ while presenting him with China’s inaugural friendship medal.” Xi and Putin have met 26 times since 2012.
“Russia was China’s biggest supplier [of crude oil] last year and Beijing has lent tens of billions of dollars to Moscow to secure future oil and gas supplies.” But Anderlini says the two countries’ close military relationship is “even more significant than their economic entanglement.”
The “tightening embrace” between Xi and Putin “is as much about antipathy toward the U.S. and the U.S.-dominated global order as their rapidly growing common interests,” argues Anderlini, warning the U.S. to “recognize how serious a threat the nascent Sino-Russian alliance is to U.S. interests — and the current world order.”