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Monday morning China roll call

Happy Monday all! Below are some of the stories and trends we’re following here at Behind the Wall today.

1. China working to legalize “secret detentions”

Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times had this alarming article in Sunday’s edition about a proposed change in the Chinese criminal code disclosed last week. The amendment would enable police to forcibly detain citizens for up to six months in a secret location without formal charges being filed.  Under the provision, government officials would also not be legally obligated to notify lawyers and family members of the detention.

As we have documented in the past, China has stepped up its use of “forced disappearances” and “residential detentions” to muzzle human rights activists crossing the Communist Party.  The new proposal comes as Beijing undertakes reforms of its criminal code for the first time since the 1990s, with other released proposals actually garnering praise from human-rights activists and lawyers.

2. Ai Weiwei writes about his own personal prison: Beijing

Peter Parks/AFP

Artist and human rights activist, Ai Weiwei

Recently freed artist and human rights activist, Ai Weiwei penned an essay for Newsweek that serves as a nice foil to the aforementioned article on detentions.  Ai, who was released from custody in June before being promptly placed in home detention, is dark in his writing and certainly not subtle in expressing his dissatisfaction with the current state of civil affairs in China.

Of his own ordeal in detention, the stunted prose and seeming rapid fire emotions of the excerpt below will transport you to what was assuredly a nightmarish time in his life.

The strongest character of those spaces is that they’re completely cut off from your memory or anything you’re familiar with. You’re in total isolation. And you don’t know how long you’re going to be there, but you truly believe they can do anything to you. There’s no way to even question it. You’re not protected by anything. Why am I here? Your mind is very uncertain of time. You become like mad. It’s very hard for anyone. Even for people who have strong beliefs.

Ai’s has written similarly toned script before in Chinese, but what makes this piece all the more surprising – and significant – is that it comes so soon after an explicit warning from officials following his release to keep silent on sensitive issues like human rights. His travel is restricted by the government and they put a gag order on him for at least one year.

So the fact that Ai chose to write this in English for a major foreign publication like Newsweek makes this feel like that proverbial line in the sand. Will China cross that line or turn another cheek?

3. Bride imports to China blamed for growing gender imbalance


Imported brides from poorer provinces and abroad are helping to temporarily alleviate the problem of gender imbalance in some areas of China, but over time single men from lower income areas will suffer the most.

The Times of India published this story yesterday on the slow-growing but approaching social implications of China's gender imbalance.  One way this is being manifested is in the growing trend of young brides-to-be from poorer Chinese provinces as well as nearby countries like Vietnam, Laos and North Korea being imported to China to help correct the imbalance.  In the relatively well-off coastal province of Zhejiang alone, an estimated 36,000 brides are brought in every year.  This may alleviate the issue in Zhejiang but only amplifies the problem in poorer areas where the gender imbalance only gets worse as women flee in search of more affluent marriage partners elsewhere.

Although Beijing has been successful in narrowing the gap through education and restrictions – albeit loosely enforced – on ultrasounds and abortions of female fetus, this problem is likely to plague China’s future generations: the country currently counts 23 million more boys than girls between the ages of 0-19.

4. Meanwhile in the rest of Asia, marriage is changing

As China battles its growing marriage challenges, the rest of Asia is witnessing evolving attitudes on marriage and the role of women in traditional family life that closely shadow Western demographics.  Recent research shows not only are Asians marrying later in life, fewer of them are doing it at all.

Just 30 years ago, only 2 percent of women in Asian countries were single. Today’s research finds, “Unmarried women in their 30s in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong has risen 20 points.” In South Korea, men are now glumly claiming that women are “on marriage strike.” 

Women in those countries who are getting married are now waiting later than previous generations; the mean age for marriage is now around 29 to 30 for women and 31 to 33 for men.  This is older even than in the United States, where women are marrying at around 26 years old and men at 28.

Experts attribute this dramatic change in marriage habits to women's better education and career opportunities.  Women with increased education and financial independence not only elect to stay single longer but also in effect elevate themselves into a smaller, more affluent “marriage bracket” of men with similar or greater economic and educational stature.