Duncan Hewitt

Stories by Duncan Hewitt

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    All That Jazz

    Hong Kong-born chanteuse Karen Mok is ready to take the West by storm.
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    Foreigners At The Gates

    As China grapples with rising nationalism and an influx of foreign residents, the country’s long and contradictory relationship with outsiders is coming to the fore—and it’s turning ugly.
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    Big Brother Beijing

    For a media specialist, Guo Ke doesn’t watch much TV these days. The dean of the journalism school at Shanghai International Studies University is too worried about the impact of popular shows on his 12-year-old daughter.
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    China's Bizarre Energy-Saving Measures

    Shortages of diesel at gas stations, factories forced to suspend production, homes left without electricity. Hard to imagine that these could be the results of a government campaign, but that’s recently been the case in some parts of China.
  • China's World Expo Goes for Quantity Over Quality

    China’s Shanghai World Expo, which ended on Oct. 31, was certainly record-breaking. It clocked a staggering 73 million visitors, 9 million more than the previous record at Osaka in 1970. Whether the expo was successful was more questionable: the massive crowds—made up mostly of Chinese—spent an average of four hours (and up to nine) queuing for the most popular pavilions. There was widespread frustration, occasional fisticuffs, and even reports of able-bodied visitors swiping wheelchairs for priority access.
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    Jockeying Under Way for China’s Top Political Posts

    As Beijing moves closer to a handover of power to a new generation of political leaders in 2012, jockeying for influence between rival factions is becoming more evident, with sometimes unexpected results. The annual meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee gave a major boost to current Vice President Xi Jinping’s chances of succeeding President Hu Jintao, by electing Xi deputy chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission.
  • The End of China's Cheap Labor?

    As a wave of strikes at Honda and protests over worker suicides at Foxconn led the firms—two of China’s major foreign manufacturers—to offer workers significant pay raises, China watchers are wondering whether the country is facing the end of cheap labor.
  • Pursuing a Liberal Arts Education in China

    Like many top students in Chinese high schools, Chen Yongfang dreamed of attending college in the United States. But unlike many of his classmates at Shanghai's Foreign Languages High School, Chen did not set his sights on Harvard, Yale, or any of the other Ivy League schools or big research universities long coveted by the Chinese. Instead he applied to Bowdoin College, a small, elite liberal-arts college in Maine. Chen received a full scholarship to study psychology, and he later added economics as a second major.Now in his senior year, Chen has become such a devotee of the liberal-arts approach that he's made it his mission to spread the word throughout China. He has coauthored a book called A True Liberal Arts Education, which essentially explains the little-known concept to Chinese students and their parents. "Most Chinese people only know about Harvard, Yale, and Princeton," he says over coffee in a Shanghai café during his winter vacation. Though there have been many books...
  • China's Fight Against AIDS Faces Uphill Battle

    Officials in China, where the response to HIV has long been hampered by a reticence to discuss sexual matters in public, are finally getting real about AIDS. The Ministry of Health's announcement last month that "sexual transmission is now the main cause of new HIV cases" made headlines around the country and was underlined by new TV public-awareness ads repeating the message. The health minister broke another major taboo when he announced that almost one third of new infections were among male homosexuals. It's a big shift from the government's traditional attitude that HIV mainly affects drug users and people who sell blood at illegal "blood-collecting stations."Beijing's more enlightened outlook springs from a realization that HIV is increasingly threatening the mainstream population. The country registered 48,000 new cases over the past year, and official estimates put the number of people living with HIV at 740,000. And with surveys showing a 5 percent infection rate among...
  • High-Speed Trains Are Making China Smaller

    For decades, rail travel in China meant an arduous overnighter in a crowded East German–designed train, riding along a rickety old track. Now China is undergoing a rail revolution. Over the next three years, the government will pour some $300 billion into its railways, expanding its network by 20,000 kilometers, including 13,000 kilometers of track designed for high-speed trains capable of traveling up to 350kph. Result: China, a nation long defined by the vastness of its geography, is getting, much, much smaller.Already, the journey from Beijing to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province, has been slashed from eight hours to three. Shortly before the Olympics last year, the 120km trip from Beijing to Tianjin was cut from almost an hour to just 27 minutes. In the next few years, a train journey from Wuhan to Guangzhou, halfway across the country, will shrink from 10 to three hours. The trip from Shanghai to Beijing, which currently clocks in at 10 grueling hours—and twice that, not...
  • China Opens New Stock Exchange

    Beijing could have used the crisis as an excuse to slow market reform. Instead, it's all systems go.
  • How Bad Can China's Stock Market Get?

    The Chinese markets have plunged in recent months, but the growth continues and the future is bullish, says a leading analyst.
  • China's Crisis in Vocational Training

    When Pan Jianfeng, a Shanghai ad consultant, was recently asked to recommend young local designers to an international agency, he sent three candidates with years of work experience. But the company decided they weren't good enough and had to import designers from the West. It's a common problem, he says; Chinese vocational grads simply haven't had good enough teaching. "Most of the lecturers don't have any real work experience," he explains. "So they can't teach useful things." When graduates do get hired, he says, "they basically have to be re-educated."China's rapid economic expansion has exposed many frailties in its education system, especially on the vocational side. The country can't produce enough skilled workers. In part that's because it invests far more in academic than vocational programs. Though it has 1,300 vocational colleges and 14,000 high schools, these date to the days of the planned economy, with staff who are out of touch. And funding has fallen significantly...
  • China Learns to Love Its Animators

    It's the kind of scene that only a few years ago would have terrified the Chinese authorities. In the eastern city of Hangzhou, two men dressed like Japanese cartoon characters—with spiky white hair and wearing black leather—fight each other with giant swords for the affections of a pouting young woman in a yellow wig and a miniskirt. The audience of teenagers, many in brightly colored wigs or with animal ears attached to their heads, cheers and jeers the antagonists to the sounds of Japanese rock music. These devotees of cosplay, or costume play, are engaged in a Japanese form of entertainment in which ordinary people act out their fantasies in the role of their favorite cartoon characters and compete with one another for the approval of the audience and judges. "You can become someone else for a while, express things you can't normally express yourself," says 19-year-old Fei Fei, a Hangzhou university student, dressed in a kimono. "Most people like this Japanese style now,...
  • TRIBUTE TO A LIFE OF CLAY

    As a former peasant who grew up in a traditional northern Chinese cave house, Xu Dufeng has always had close links to the soil. At the beginning of China's economic reforms in the 1980s, Xu would dig raw clay from the ground in the mountains near his home village and load it onto the back of his three-wheeled tractor. Then he would make the seven-hour drive to Xian, the nearest big city, where he would sell his precious cargo to local ceramics workshops. Friends remember him arriving, sweating from the journey, a towel wrapped around his head.Today Xu is the owner of one of the region's biggest brick-and-tile factories, and he travels in a little more style--his Audi is chauffeur-driven. But he hasn't forgotten the humble clay that got him started. During the past year Xu has decided to plow some of his fortune into building an international ceramic-arts center with 10 museums showcasing contemporary ceramics by leading artists from different parts of the world, in what was once a...
  • ONE BILLION COUCH POTATOES

    Chairman Mao's portrait still decorates many households in Yaoli, a former communist guerilla base in China's Jiangxi province. But what mesmerizes the people these days is television. On a typical Monday afternoon, two children sit transfixed before their family's flickering set watching a tangled romantic drama from Hong Kong. A few doors down, a retired couple giddily tell visitors about the various provincial stations their local cable provider carries. "We get Shanghai, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hunan," says the husband with evident pride. "We have 12 in all."All of China, it seems, is channel surfing on a wave of new entertainment. Cable networks charging $1 or $2 a month have wired up all but the smallest hamlets, and satellite dishes, ostensibly illegal, adorn rooftops across the heartland, netting free programming from as far away as India. A generation ago, just one in 10 rural Chinese households owned a TV set. Today penetration is almost universal, as are the costume dramas,...