Melinda Liu

Stories by Melinda Liu

  • THE COMMISSAR'S NOT IN TOWN

    When Guangzhou resident Ma Yiyong, 57, went to renew his unemployment certificate last month, something extraordinary happened: he did so efficiently and discreetly, with a few keystrokes. "It used to be really troublesome in the past," says Ma. "I would have to stand in line several times, and sometimes the government officials weren't at their desks. Now it's fast."China's romance with e-government is now reaching the grass-roots level, bringing efficiency and convenience to citizens. But its biggest benefit may be in circumventing one of the last bastions of communism: the infamous neighborhood committees. These groups of local party members have for decades served as the authorities' eyes and ears. They were also notorious busybodies, making it their business to know who was having marital problems, grumbling about the government or out of work.Citizens in Guangzhou, the capital of one of China's most prosperous provinces, now go directly to the source. In several pilot...
  • SUBTLE POWER STRUGGLE

    On the surface, the article was unremarkable. The China Youth Daily recently reported that the Sichuan town of Wanyuan had laid on a lavish concert to commemorate a 1934 Red Army battle. Wanyuan is too poor to have a proper stage, but that didn't stop authorities from paying popular pop singer Song Zuying more than $50,000 to sing just four songs in a school auditorium, the paper said. In addition, Wanyuan government offices, schools and businesses reportedly received a "political assignment" to buy $165,000 worth of tickets to help bankroll the event.What the article didn't say, but many believe, is that Song is a "close friend" of former president Jiang Zemin, 78. In private, he's been known to accompany her singing by playing a Chinese fiddle, or erhu. The China Youth Daily is associated with the Communist Youth League, a stronghold of support for President Hu Jintao, Jiang's younger successor. So its report wasn't just provocative gossip: it's widely perceived as the latest...
  • Unearthing The Bible

    SACRED RELICS LIE SCATTERED BENEATH THE DESERTS OF THE MIDDLE EAST. IN IRAQ, OUR RELIGIOUS HISTORY IS BEING OBLITERATED; IN ISRAEL, IT'S A QUESTION OF FAITH
  • China's Glasnost

    The country's communist leaders are beginning to embarace the avant-garde art and literature they once considered taboo
  • GETTING THE WORD OUT

    Wang Zhonghua was almost giddy with excitement. As head of a private think tank in China that studies efforts at grass-roots democracy, he has traveled across the mainland monitoring local political movements. But now he was in Hong Kong to meet real-life democrats--and watch first-hand a mass protest on the seventh anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty. His purpose: to learn "lessons" for the development of democracy on the mainland--and "to watch the action." "You can't have such a big political rally on the mainland, of course," says Wang, who asked that his real name not be used. Still, it's a heady experience for the Beijing researcher, who last witnessed a massive political demonstration at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, adding that last year "a lot of mainlanders came to watch the action in Hong Kong on July 1."Beijing now encourages mainlanders to travel to Hong Kong to shop and dine. Indeed, 12 million of them are expected to make the trip this...
  • IT'S THE POLITICS, STUPID

    On a teeming street in the gritty Hong Kong neighborhood of Mong- kok, vendors peddle everything from driving lessons to cable-TV subscriptions to Citibank accounts ("and get a free cordless phone!"). These days there's more on offer, too. A gaggle of pro-democracy street performers entertain passersby with a pantomime. Next to them, a man sitting inside a giant metal bird cage--painted pink, with a red hammer and sickle on top--protests Beijing's efforts to keep the island's political aspirations penned up. Nearby, Democratic Party member Gary Fan is raising money for his planned campaign for a seat in the Legislative Council, or Legco, the closest thing Hong Kong has to a Parliament. A district councilor, Fan is enthused by what he sees as a new political energy in one of the world's most money-obsessed cities. "More and more young people have become politically aware in the past year," he says. "They're joining rallies, they're encouraging people to register to vote. Five or 10...
  • DANGEROUS STRAITS

    The Taiwan Strait has long been at the center of a war of words. Beijing and Taipei frequently exchange statements full of vitriol--each accusing the other of bringing them closer to the brink of war. But last week it was Washington that dropped the rhetorical bombshell. Buried deep inside a 54-page Pentagon report on China's military readiness, U.S. defense planners speculated that, in the event of a war across the strait, Taiwan might seek to hit "high-value targets" like the prestigious Three Gorges Dam as a way of deterring a Chinese invasion.Predictably, such speculation did not sit well with Beijing. If the dam were attacked, warned Chinese Lt. Gen. Liu Yuan in the state-run China Youth Daily, Beijing's retaliation would "blot out the sky." Liu, who is the son of the late Chinese president Liu Shaoqi, slapped down the Pentagon's suggestion that such a threat could ever stop a war over Taiwan. "It will have the exact opposite of the desired effect," said Liu, who for good...
  • BETTING ON AN OLD HORSE

    Politics doesn't get much spookier than the way it's played in Iraq. Back when Saddam Hussein ruled, the opposition consisted of numerous sworn rivals, each with his own team of covert operatives and dirty-tricks artists. Nowadays those old spymasters belong to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. The 22 members, ranging from Kurdish warlords to Shiite clerics to wealthy former exiles, have continued to feud and squabble, pausing now and then to denounce the United States or even the agency that used to bankroll some of them: the CIA. Over the decades, their disputes led to one covert fiasco after another. The most disastrous, in 1996, ended when Saddam eradicated a huge chunk of the underground opposition inside Iraq. When the crackdown was over, Saddam's agents used an opposition member's CIA-supplied satphone to ring up and taunt the agency's station chief in Amman.Suddenly--for a moment--the backstabbing seems to have stopped. The Governing Council unexpectedly closed...
  • Doctor, Defector, Patriot, Spy

    Many Iraqis denounce former exiles for leading gilded lifestyles abroad while their compatriots back home suffered in hellholes such as Abu Ghraib prison. But Ayad Allawi wasn't a stereotypical "Gucci guerilla." He had wealth, to be sure, but his three decades in exile had their horrors. While living in London, Allawi and his wife were sleeping in bed one night in 1978 when an ax-wielding assassin attacked them. He was struck in the head, chest and right leg, which was nearly severed at the knee. It took him a year to recover from the wounds.Arriving back in Baghdad on the heels of U.S. forces last year, Allawi began searching for documents related to the assassination attempt. He quietly put the word out to former military and intelligence personnel. Some of them were the very Baathists that Allawi's opposition group, the Iraqi National Accord, had been trying to convert during Saddam Hussein's regime. About a month after American troops entered Baghdad, a former intelligence...
  • A Longing For Normalcy

    Just six weeks before American occupation authorities are due to transfer sovereignty to Iraqi institutions, the killing of Ezzedine Salim has intensified a heated debate inside Iraq: just who is responsible for the country's escalating spiral of violence?People knew him as Ezzedine Salim, but that was a pseudonym. His real name was Abdul Zahrah Othman and he was president of the U.S.-appointed Iraq Governing Council (IGC), a position that rotated monthly among the IGC's 25 members. His death is emblematic of the campaign by anti-Coalition forces to threaten and kill Iraqis who aid the U.S. occupation. The bomber's red Volkswagen had sped up and then exploded close to Salim's five-vehicle convoy, killing nine people altogether and injuring 15. The attack took place just outside Baghdad's Checkpoint 12, which leads into the heavily fortified Green Zone where authorities of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority live and work.The bombing that killed Salim is seen as an attack on...
  • Questions Of Justice

    One by one, the reasons for sending America to war in Iraq seem to have crumbled. Investigators found no weapons of mass destruction and no proof of claims that Saddam Hussein was plotting with Al Qaeda's terrorists. A year after liberation, Washington's last, best justification for the war seemed to be the promise to transform Iraq into a model of liberty and justice. Now many Iraqis have begun to disbelieve that. Instead of the rule of law, they see not only American misdeeds but an explosion among their fellow Iraqis of lynchings, private militias and kangaroo courts. Iraqis are supposed to resume control of the country's civil institutions on July 1, and no one seems remotely ready for the job--although the latest polls say most Iraqis are passionately eager to be rid of the Americans.Even before the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted, people were complaining of American arrogance and hypocrisy. One particularly sore topic, especially among Shiites and Kurds, was the Coalition's recent...
  • Culture Of Impunity?

    The efforts at damage control are picking up steam. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the man sent to clean up Iraq's U.S. Army-run prisons, today announced that the number of detainees held at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison will be reduced by more than half. And in a bid to counter the growing scandal, he's already banned the use of hoods to cover the heads of detainees during transport; instead "pressure bandages" or goggles will be used to cover prisoners' eyes.Miller, who used to command the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, took over responsibility for Iraq's 14 military-run prisons last month after allegations of abuse perpetrated by U.S. military personnel triggered no less than five separate investigations. But it'll take a lot more to remove the stain of Iraq's current prison abuse scandal. Many Iraqis shudder at the words "Abu Ghraib." It was Saddam Hussein's most notorious prison, symbol of a regime so vast and so opaque that Iraqis are still sorting out whose corpses wound...
  • Hungry For Power

    Indonesia has long been a playground for the West's oil giants. The names are familiar enough: Unocal, Caltex, BP, ExxonMobil, to name a few. For decades these Western majors have staked out turf in the Southeast Asian archipelago, hauling in billions in black gold. But the times--and the players--are starting to change: the Chinese are coming. Earlier this year some pin-striped American oil executives in Washington, D.C., were startled to hear Indonesia's visiting Minister of Energy Purnomo Yusgiantoro chide them about losing out to Chinese companies in his country's oil and gas scene. "If American businessmen don't become more active, their Indonesian presence will become less and less," he warned. "Maybe you should learn from the Chinese. [They] are very aggressive."China can't afford to be anything else. Only 10 years ago Beijing was a net oil exporter and its commissars were just emerging from the shadows of socialist energy policies. But this year China overtook Japan to...
  • War of Perceptions

    Even as U.S. warplanes attacked targets in Fallujah again tonight, Marine officers were working up a proposal to end their month-long siege of the city. At first blush, the outlines of the "solution" seem dicey: up to 1,000 Iraqi soldiers, led by a former major general from Saddam Hussein's army, will enter Fallujah and provide security there. On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Marine units on the edge of town were packing up their gear and preparing to pull back to camps outside of the city. Bulldozers were flattening the 10-foot-tall sand berms that had been set up to mark their front lines.Even if the plan gets off the ground--a big "if"--it underscores the Coalition's challenges on the battlefield of public opinion. There was never any question that the U.S. Marines could prevail militarily in Fallujah. But in the war of perceptions, the Coalition has been losing ground. With each minaret destroyed (even if it had harbored armed insurgents), and with each injured woman or child (even...
  • A DEADLY FACE OFF

    Iraq is almost under control. The men in charge are trying to pretend so, anyway. But after the past two weeks of bloodshed, "control" is a slippery term. When the worst of the violence ended, a total of 90 U.S. and Coalition fighters were dead--nearly as many as died in the first two weeks of the war. Now a creepy sort of calm has descended on the country's Shiite areas. Late last week Iranian mediators and moderate Iraqi clerics were still haggling with aides of the renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr over the terms for an end to his uprising. U.S. Marines were no closer to subduing the city of Fallujah, despite the deaths of several hundred Iraqis there. Insurgents released a videotape of an American prisoner, Pfc. Keith Maupin, surrounded by masked gunmen. Meanwhile Washington ordered a 90-day extension for 20,000 U.S. soldiers who had dreamed of going home after a year of duty. "We're deeply concerned about the current crisis," said one Coalition official. Then he caught himself. ...
  • Mean Streets

    Sadr City has always been a volatile community, even in Saddam Hussein's day. The bloodshed and confusion that erupted there today are reminders to U.S. troops that people tend to blame America for anything and everything that goes wrong, even when it doesn't make sense. At least two mortars hit a crowded chicken market in the Ourfalli area of Sadr City this morning, killing at least 13 Iraqis and injuring 30. Bloodied human remains littered the market, and anguished residents held the parts up in front of television cameras, blaming U.S. helicopters for the carnage. A dead donkey lay on the street, its intestines spilling out and a sign on its back declaring "This is Bush."This sprawling Shiite slum in northern Baghdad, home to at least 2 million, is the original base of support for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Jaish al-Mehdi, or Mehdi Army. This week, Sadr delivered an incendiary warning, threatening suicide attacks against coalition troops if they conduct...
  • THE COALITION: HOLDING ALLIES HOSTAGE

    ce sweeping across Iraq continues, America's few allies in the country have reason to worry. Italian, Salvadorean, Polish and Bulgarian troops have already come under attack by Shiite militias. More frighteningly, several foreign civilians have been taken hostage by insurgents: three Japanese, whose captors initially vowed to "burn them alive" if Tokyo did not withdraw its 550 troops from Iraq, as well as four Italians, a British contractor, a Canadian relief worker and two Palestinians with Israeli identity papers. By week's end Arab media reported the Japanese would soon be released, but by that time several more foreign contractors had gone missing. ...
  • 'WE ARE YOUR MARTYRS'

    Bearish and surly, Sheik Hamza al Taie wanted revenge. In a shoot-out the day before, Coalition troops had killed one of his comrades in arms and wounded several others. Now the Shiite-militia commander stood in a narrow Karbala street, sending his men into battle. He gestured, and two more cars, a Toyota pickup and a utility vehicle, pulled in front of him. He yelled, "Yalla mujahedin!" (Come on, holy warriors!), and a band of young men in sandals and red-checked kaffiyehs came running from a nearby building, waving AK-47s, grenades, pistols and machetes in the afternoon heat. As they climbed aboard, he carefully handed each one a container of orange juice as refreshment for the battle ahead. The vehicles sped off toward the center of town, and soon afterward a crackle of gunfire erupted in the distance, to Taie's evident satisfaction. "We will not accept anything but the liberation of our country from the occupiers," he told NEWSWEEK.This was just the scenario the United States...
  • Mutiny in the Ranks

    During his prime-time press conference last week, George W. Bush promised that, someday, "Iraqi security is going to be handled by the Iraq people themselves."That day isn't coming any time soon.As fierce fighting erupted in parts of Iraq in early April, the U.S.-led coalition tried to deploy U.S.-trained Iraqi units to quell the fighting. The results were disastrous: During the violence, many Iraqi police and civil defense personnel abandoned their posts, or joined Shiite militants loyal to renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. What's more, some soldiers of the first U.S.-trained battalion of the New Iraqi Army (NIA) deserted their unit or refused to follow orders. "There were a number of troops, there were a number of police that didn't stand up when their country called," concedes coalition military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.In exclusive interviews with NEWSWEEK, Iraqi soliders and civilian witnesses described what happened.When bloodshed erupted during the first week in...
  • Occupational Hazards

    The gruesome scenes from Fallujah--the corpses of four U.S. civilians being burned, mutilated, dragged behind vehicles and hanged from a bridge by jubilant Iraqis--are grimly familiar. Most Americans remember Mogadishu in 1993, when 18 U.S. soldiers died after the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters, and triumphant Somalis dragged the body of an American soldier through the streets. The image triggered revulsion and outrage among Americans--and hastened the U.S. military pullout from Somalia. ...
  • A Year On, 'Everyone Is Torn'

    One of my last visits with Amal Murad Ali, almost exactly a year ago, was cut short by an explosion. She and I were huddled in the dank basement of her antiques shop, across from Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, waiting for the fighting to stop, when a huge blast shook the building. She stayed behind; I ran out to get the story. An American tank shell had hit the hotel, killing two Western journalists. The next day, joyous Iraqis tore down Saddam Hussein's statue a few blocks away. My friend, a Shiite, wasn't there, but I told her all about it soon afterward. She ate up every word.We didn't meet again until last week. I was back in Baghdad for the anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and I tracked Ali down. She's doing well, renting her old house to Western journalists for a hefty $5,500 a month. But she worries about the city's unsafe streets, especially the threat of terrorist attacks. Not that she regrets being free. "Of course things are better than they were under Saddam," she...
  • Soft Target, Hostile Crowd

    The site of the huge explosion in central Baghdad on Wednesday looked like Dante's Inferno. I happened to be just a few blocks away when the blast occurred, so photographer Kristen Ashburn got there within 15 minutes of the blast. It was sheer chaos. The five-story Hotel Mount Lebanon was on fire, with huge clouds of black smoke billowing above it. The ground was covered with rubble, sirens were wailing, an ambulance was leaving with wounded victims. Emotional Iraqis were converging on the scene. U.S. soldiers began arriving in Bradley fighting vehicles; one took up a position in the street outside the hotel.The neighborhood in Baghdad's Karrada district is one of the older areas of the city. There are shops and apartment buildings and houses, including some once-grand European-style mansions built in the early part of the 20th century by members of Baghdad's Jewish community. But the Hotel Lebanon was a nondescript hotel built of concrete and brick. Residents said Arab businessmen...
  • STATE OF DENIAL

    Late last year, when many experts were bracing for a resurgence of the SARS virus, Klaus Stohr's thoughts were elsewhere. The head of the World Health Organization's global influenza program was worrying about the bird flu. Trained as a veterinarian, Stohr had long been fascinated by diseases that could make the leap from animals to humans. One such killer bug--the H5N1 avian-flu virus--had killed six of 18 infected people in Hong Kong in 1997. And last fall it was back.A series of apparently unrelated outbreaks of avian flu had erupted among birds in Vietnam, South Korea and Japan. Then, while attending a medical conference in Okinawa in October, Stohr learned of a possible human death from the flu in China's teeming Guangdong province. Genetic sequencing confirmed that a girl had succumbed to H5N1 in late February 2003--back before SARS sparked a regionwide panic. "Now the H5N1 virus has killed again," Stohr remembers thinking. "A new pandemic could be just a matter of time."The...
  • Baghdad: 'Now We Are Free'

    I've reported on many conflicts, but I had never before been trapped in a city bombarded by my own government. The Palestine Hotel was a ringside seat for the deafening spectacle of gigantic fireballs exploding during the night of "shock and awe." Not many Americans were there to share the experience; most U.S. reporters had been pulled out by their jittery editors. I'd also been told to leave Iraq by my editors, which infuriated me so much I privately resolved to quit. But as I scrambled to try to depart, it became clear that it was too late--there was no time to prepare a safe exit from Baghdad. So I hunkered down (and deleted the resignation letter from my computer).I was lucky. I'd chosen a room close to the ground in a sheltered corner of the hotel. In the end, our most dangerous moment wasn't during the bombing itself but during the land war that followed, when a U.S. tank shell hit a couple of upper floors of the Palestine Hotel, killing two journalists.The Iraqis I talked to...
  • Technology: From Chaser To Maker

    Wang Dongsheng adjusts his glasses and gazes at the tiny computer chip lodged in a green plastic board. Emblazoned on the chip's casing is the word THUMP, an acronym for Tsinghua University Microprocessor. Wang, a 37-year-old computer scientist at the university, drew on "100 percent Chinese talent" to build the chip, which could serve as the brains of a personal computer or server made in China. The project is part of an ambitious effort to kick-start China's electronics industry, with an eye to supplying a good portion of the potentially vast home market. "We can't just rely on technology from other countries," says Wang. "We have to develop our own talent."Intel executives probably aren't losing sleep over the THUMP chip just yet--it's roughly comparable to Intel's Pentium II, introduced in 1998 and since surpassed by several later models. But the electronics push is yet another example of how China is putting itself in the driver's seat in key industries. "One of China's...
  • China Breaks Out

    Scheduled for just 20 minutes, the meeting went on for two hours. U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans had traveled to China to meet with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and press a stern message: Beijing's "unfair" trade practices and refusal to revalue its currency were "undercutting American workers." Wen heard him out during the November sit-down but, according to a Chinese diplomat familiar with the meeting, had a retort at the ready. Surely his American visitor realized that most of China's foreign-exchange reserves were in U.S. Treasury bonds. If China acted precipitously in revaluing its currency, it might be compelled to sell those bonds, which could create instant problems for U.S. financial markets. Wen reportedly told Evans: "China's a very big economy moving ahead very, very fast. If it stumbles and falls, it could make others fall, too."Not long ago few Chinese leaders would have been comfortable riffing on trade surpluses and T-bonds. But as Wen kicks off an official...
  • Finding Peace Of Mind

    When strangers visit, Shang Zhijun is on his best behavior. The 22-year-old Hebei peasant only seems a little pushy--talking too loudly, asking for cigarettes too often. "He doesn't admit he's mentally ill," says his adoptive mother, Zhao Shulan. "If my husband and I refuse to give him money, he flies into a rage. That's why we had to put him in a cage."A four-meter-square metal cage sits outside the farmhouse, now filled with ears of corn. In August, when Shang had one of his violent fits, the couple and some neighbors wrestled him to the ground, then locked him up. After a month behind bars, he was released when relatives brought him to Beijing for treatment for schizophrenia. But his parents couldn't afford to institutionalize Shang; soon he was back home. "He got some pills and so he's behaving better," says his mother. But she knows the respite won't last; his pills run out in less than two weeks.Schizophrenia. Depression. Anxiety disorder. Little more than a decade ago, most...
  • Stirring Up A Hornet's Nest

    Tian Fengshan never seemed like ministerial material. The eldest son of a peasant family in Heilongjiang province, he spoke with a thick rural accent that still makes him the butt of jokes among locals. Yet Tian won steady promotions, becoming provincial governor and then, four years ago, minister of Land and Resources in the central government. Even then, provincial authorities held meetings instructing cadres not to mimic his dialect. For all his lack of polish, Tian had one big advantage: he was an old acquaintance of Hu Jintao's, now China's president and party chief.The 54-year-old minister should have been reveling in his sterling connections when the party's top apparatchiks gathered for a mid-October plenum in the Great Hall of the People. But by the second day of the meeting, Tian had disappeared. On Oct. 14, a deputy took over his ministerial duties. Since then, central authorities officially confirm, he's been investigated for "serious breaches of discipline"--and that's...
  • The Mahathir Mystique

    The architectural hodgepodge that is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, is testament to the country's dazzling cultural diversity. In the city center, not far from the Islamic Sharia court, is the British-built former cricket club--nicknamed "the Spotted Dog" for the Dalmatians that colonial planters used to tether out front. Now it's a posh social club ringed by glittering high-rise office blocks and banks. Perched on a nearby hill is the gaudy red-and-yellow Thean Hou Temple, where ethnic Chinese--who provided much of the drive and capital for Malaysia's economic miracle--divine their fortunes.Just 30 kilometers from KL, a different vision of Malaysia is taking shape. The vast, $5.3 billion city of Putrajaya--now the official seat of government--features man-made lakes, lush landscaping and a mosque designed by an architect from Mecca. This is not just another boring, custom-built national capital a la Brasilia or Canberra. This is a consciously Islamic city, likely to be...
  • In Outer Space We Trust

    Before space-shuttle launches were suspended early this year, even the most routine missions would attract diehard fans, who gathered along Route 1 in Titusville, Florida, in the wee hours to peer over the water at Cape Canaveral. Last week China, the world's most populous country, put on a show more exciting than anything NASA has in decades, and yet only a handful of ordinary tourists came to witness the historic launch. It wasn't for lack of enthusiasm; being a space groupie in China isn't easy. The launchpad in Space City is in the middle of nowhere. To get there, you first fly to Yinchuan City and then drive 11 hours through the Gobi Desert and a gantlet of military checkpoints. The 20,000 or so people who showed up were VIPs, soldiers, scientists, official media, security officials and, of course, the ground crew of technicians and engineers. Most of the onlookers sitting outside on carefully arranged stools in the early morning of Wednesday, Oct. 15, were in military uniform...