Melinda Liu

Stories by Melinda Liu

  • How To Make A Metropolis

    As far as most people are concerned, Xinji is halfway to nowhere--that is, if they've even heard of the place. It's a landlocked former county seat in Hebei province, the heart of China's grain belt, some 250 kilometers southwest of Beijing. The guidebooks barely mention its existence. Why would they? There's nothing here for sightseers. The land is flat; what passes for scenery is just corn and concrete roads, and hardly any buildings have survived from before the communist revolution. The place is especially worth avoiding in hot weather, when the aroma of freshly tanned hides wafts through the air.Still, watch what you say about the place in front of Xie Shaoming. Forty years ago he quit school at 13 and took a job with a local leathermaker for $6 a month. Today he's president of the Dongming Industrial Group, a business empire whose import-export trade last year amounted to $41 million in leatherwear, fur coats, sheepskins and tannery equipment. He has traveled the world on...
  • The Blood Ties That Bind

    At first, Ruili seems a lot like any other provincial Chinese town. You might not even guess you were teetering on the very edge of the Chinese Empire. Members of China's ethnic majority, the Han, are a minority in this little city on Yunnan's Burmese border. Still, that fact isn't particularly noticeable. Almost everyone on the street is wearing Western-style clothes, except for a few men in traditional Burmese sarongs. But something is not right, and eventually it sinks in. "The place is filled with junkies," says a woman who has lived here for 12 years. "It's easy to recognize them. They're incredibly thin, and they look like all the blood has disappeared from their faces."It's worse in Jiegao, a few minutes outside town and right on the Burma border. Heroin use appears completely out of control there. Users sprawl in lanes just off the main drag, injecting themselves. Local police seem to have given up trying to stop them. According to one denizen of Jiegao's alleys, as many as...
  • Time To Shoot For The Moon

    Space travel is deeply imprinted on the Chinese imagination. Ever since China's first rocket hurtled toward the heavens in 1970, millions of Chinese have dreamed of the day their country would reach up and explore the stars. Postage stamps bear satellite images; sci-fi magazines envisage Chinese rocket men on the moon. China's indigenously produced spacecraft--Shenzhou (or Divine Vessel)--is frequently featured on consumer goods, from mobile-phone cards to water heaters. And Beijing doesn't plan to let its people down. Chinese scientists expect to shoot for the moon by 2010. This voyage will then be followed by setting up a base camp, "as we did at the South and North Poles," says Ouyang Ziyuan, a prominent scientist. That's just for starters. Ye Zili, head of China's Space Science Society, predicts that once Chinese astronauts land on the moon, "we'll do more than just set up a flag or pick up a piece of rock."Those are bold words--and for a space program that just had its first...
  • China's Changing Of The Guard

    Becoming the leader of the People's Republic of China is all about survival. In the 53-year history of the regime, China's two pre-eminent leaders--Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping--collectively anointed no fewer than eight men as their successors. Mao's final choice to take the helm, Hua Guofeng, lasted less than two years before he was outmaneuvered and pushed aside by the wily Deng. As Deng began to confront his own mortality in the mid-1980s, he promoted two rising stars--Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang--only to discard them, one after the other, when their politics proved more liberal than his own. (Zhao, who disappeared from public view after showing sympathy for the June 1989 protest movement, remains under house arrest today.) Only one heir apparent among them all survived the vicissitudes of Chinese politics to serve out his expected term at the top. That man is Jiang Zemin, and on Nov. 8 he is widely expected to stand before a somber gathering of the Chinese Communist Party and...
  • Rain Called On Account Of Games

    A year ago Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Olympics, and it's been consumed with a frenzy of preparation ever since. Weather is a particular concern, since the city's eye-searing pollution almost nixed China's bid. So now Beijing is banishing polluting factories from city limits, planting trees to keep out dust blown in from the Gobi Desert and clamping down on vehicle emissions in hopes of guaranteeing blue skies by 2008.Beijing's bureaucrats have also embarked on a Great Leap Forward in manipulating the weather by dispelling rain and fog, trying to ensure that nothing, er, clouds China's achievements and image during important public events. "We'll definitely be consulted on how to create beautiful conditions for the Olympics," says Wang Wang, one of China's foremost experts at Beijing's Study Institute of Artificial Influence on the Weather.Chinese officials' interest in controlling weather dates to the 1950s, when Beijing had access to "cloud seeding" expertise from the U.S...
  • Late Great Wall

    The Great Wall of China can't quite match the myths that have grown up around it. Still, the truth is astonishing enough. The Chinese call it the Long Wall of 10,000 Miles--an exaggeration, even though its actual length would stretch from Paris to Karachi. The wall wasn't built 2,000 years ago, as some sources claim, and yet a few parts are centuries older. In fact, it's really not a single wall at all, but a tangle of parallel and proximate fortifications. The pieces weren't organized into a unified system until the Ming dynasty, which lasted from 1368 to 1644. And one more quibble: it's not visible from the moon.The sad part is, less and less of it is visible from earth. The Great Wall is vanishing, unable to withstand the destructive forces of nature and economics as deserts, development and tourists spread across China. This year the New York-based World Monuments Fund added the wall to its "most endangered sites" list. "It's harder for really well-known sites to be selected...
  • The Late Great Wall

    The Great Wall of China can't quite match the myths that have grown up around it. Still, the truth is astonishing enough. The Chinese call it the Long Wall of 10,000 Miles--an exaggeration, even though its actual length would stretch from Miami to Seattle. The wall wasn't built 2,000 years ago, as some sources claim, and yet a few parts are centuries older. In fact, it's really not a single wall at all, but a tangle of parallel and proximate fortifications. The pieces weren't organized into a unified system until the Ming dynasty, which lasted from 1368 to 1644. And one more quibble: it's not visible from the moon.The sad part is, less and less of it is visible from earth. The Great Wall is vanishing, unable to withstand the destructive forces of nature and economics as deserts, development and tourists spread across China. This year the New York-based World Monuments Fund added the wall to its "most endangered sites" list. "It's harder for really well-known sites to be selected...
  • Battle Of The Greens

    Indonesia has been viewed through a red lens lately--the red and white of its flag, hoisted proudly over a resurgent democracy; the red of the blood spilled in anger on several of its 17,000 islands. The country has twisted uneasily between those poles ever since the fall of Suharto in 1998. The dictator's ouster unleashed a whirlwind of pent-up civic forces--politicians, journalists, activists, artists. It also released less appealing spirits, the jinns that have fueled communal riots in Ambon, ethnic killings in Borneo, atrocities in East Timor.Increasingly, though, the battle for the soul of Indonesia looks to be painted in shades of green--the flags of militant Islamists versus the camouflage of the Army. "The government's weakness is breeding radicals," says Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, head of a moderate Muslim group. That's true on both sides: without effective civilian leadership, the debate over which kind of country Indonesia should be is slowly being ceded to fire-breathing...
  • See Chen Run

    Chen Shui-Bian must be the most photographed man in Taiwan. When he invites new guests over for dinner, he has his picture taken with each one and then presents it to them, framed and autographed, at the end of the meal. Foreign delegations have their portraits clicked; even journalists interviewing Chen get a snapshot. On a recent sweltering afternoon in the port city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's snap-happy president outdoes himself. Presiding over an outdoor mass wedding, Chen bounds up to the podium to recite vows for the 40-odd couples lined up before him, the women resplendent in white silk and chiffon, the men awkward in black and beige suits. He returns later to share a bit of fatherly advice ("If you love Taiwan, you must love your spouse first") and strides down the aisle, using a meter long sparkler to light a similar firecracker gripped by each couple. Only then--when tiny ballerinas have taken the stage and the moment has moved from the mildly comic to the truly surreal--does...
  • Road Warriors

    His love affair with the car began when Wang Qishun was just a toddler. In 1966 he caught a glimpse of flag-waving Red Guards crammed into green Army trucks. Even at the uncomprehending age of 4, he thought the spectacle was "grand." Now 39 and living in Beijing, Wang's been driving his own cars since 1985. Just two months ago he bundled his wife and son into his Cherokee Jeep for a family vacation, which wound up becoming a hair-raising 17-hour journey to Shanghai in a blinding snowstorm. Never mind, Wang loves his wheels. He happens to be the founder of China's first--and only--drive-in theater, located not far from Beijing's posh embassy district. "We're entering the automobile age," he told NEWSWEEK one evening in the drive-in's "clubhouse," where young Chinese sought refuge from their chilly cars to sip sodas and nibble popcorn. "Cars are bringing a new culture to China, and I want to explore it."Chinese are going crazy for cars. They're buying more private vehicles, driving...
  • Why China Cooks The Books

    The People's Republic of China is awash in gaudy numbers. For much of its exceedingly long history (5,000 years), the country has held out the promise of the world's biggest market (now more than 1.2 billion consumers). Beijing posted the highest growth rate of any major economy last year--an estimated 7.3 percent, when much of the world was stumbling closer to zero. China is at once the recipient of the most foreign investment of any country in Asia (nearly $47 billion last year), the sponsor of the world's biggest hydroelectric project (the $27 billion Three Gorges Dam) and the site of the world's highest railway, to Tibet (5,000 meters). The parade of gloating statistics would seem to portray a country that is larger than life--or at least larger and more illustrious than nations that must rely upon less quantifiable measures of worth, like, say, France.Yet those figures are themselves hardly scientific. Historians trace China's current economic boom back to Deng Xiaoping's...
  • Keeping The Lid On

    The kind of labor unrest that has roiled China since 1997, when state-owned factories began shedding millions of jobs, did not pause for the recent Lunar New Year festival. In one bizarre incident in Guangzhou, seven hotheaded migrant laborers from Sichuan climbed up a 40- meter-high construction crane and threatened to jump unless someone coughed up their back pay. After an eight-hour standoff--during which the workers swung precariously back and forth on the crane--police and local authorities talked them into climbing down. One of them, Yi Yong, told the Southern Metropolis News, a local newspaper, that if the men didn't get paid, they would return "and reclaim the money with our lives."A couple of decades ago Chinese had only one primitive method for seeking redress from the government. Citizens wrote petitions outlining their grievances and hand-carried them to government departments hoping that a sympathetic official might take notice. Hundreds of petitioners still gather each...
  • Barefoot Lawyers

    The riot in Liushugouzi unfolded all too typically. Last May a band of local officials descended upon the village in Shandong province to collect overdue taxes and fees--the bane of China's farmers. The authorities set up a "special court" in the primary school and, in a scene reminiscent of Cultural Revolution-era "struggle sessions," hired roughnecks armed with electric batons to threaten and beat farmers who didn't pay. After farmer Wei Wendong was pummeled senseless, other peasants began fighting back. About 150 of them took up crude farm implements--hoes, shovels, sticks--and went after the abusive officials. The scrum didn't break up until hours later, when an ambulance and additional authorities arrived.What's happened since then is even more unusual--and more promising for China's beleaguered peasantry. Liushugouzi's outraged residents have turned to the law. "I want to go to court to fight," Wei fumed after picking up a $300 hospital bill recovering from his injuries. "How...
  • Another 'Cultural Massacre'

    There's one thing that current pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca won't see when they visit the holy city. In early January, Saudi Arabian authorities allowed the partial demolition of a 222-year-old Ottoman fort on the historic Bulbul hill in Mecca, triggering a howl of protest from authorities in Turkey. (Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, arose in its modern Westernized form in 1923 from the former Ottoman Empire.) Turkey insists that Saudi authorities had pledged not to raze the monument, built in 1780 by Ottoman rulers. A residential complex for hajj pilgrims is slated to be built on the site. ...
  • Beijing's Latest Look

    Some Americans know Li Zhao-Xing, Beijing's former ambassador to Washington, for his stern lectures on Chinese sovereignty. But Li--now deputy foreign minister--has, in his own way, found religion. In Washington last week, before a lunch gathering of the U.S.-China Business Council, Li recalled how he had come across a Bible in his hotel room and began reading it. He noted a passage quoting Jesus: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last." As forks halted midbite and quizzical looks darted around the room, Li quipped: "I am not the Alpha or Omega, but something in between." ...
  • Turning The Page

    His slicked-back hair is still ink-black, and his glasses are still as big as saucers. But insiders say Chinese President Jiang Zemin, 73, may be a changed man. Not long ago analysts were convinced that Jiang would try to emulate Deng Xiaoping and resign from only two of his three posts by March 2003, staying on as chief of the Central Military Commission in order to wield influence behind the scenes. For his ambition he has been mocked by supporters of the populist Prime Minister Zhu Rongji (also 73). His plan has spurred speculation that other septuagenarian leaders might also refuse to step down. Now sources tell NEWSWEEK that late last year, Jiang insisted at a high-level meeting that all Politburo members over the age of 70 would retire this fall--including him. In fact, says one Western diplomat in Beijing, "over the past two months, I've heard he's thinking of giving up [entirely] to avoid a split in the party... He's tired, he's slowed down." ...
  • Apocalypse, Er, Not

    The symbolism is almost too obvious. U.S. Green Berets deploy in a steamy Southeast Asian jungle in order to help their local proxies hunt down hardy, elusive guerrillas. The scenario describes Vietnam three decades ago as easily as today's Philippines, where American Special Forces troops have been invited to bolster the campaign against the Muslim terrorist group known as Abu Sayyaf ("Bearer of the Sword"). Left-wing groups in Manila have already drawn the Vietnam parallel, and at least one senator has accused Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of treason for inviting foreign troops onto Philippine soil. ...
  • Psychological Warfare

    Retired Gen. Bariali Sabir's body is as disfigured as the Afghan landscape. Today the 53-year-old Army man, who lost his job under the Taliban, is back in Kabul's Military Hospital complaining of severe arthritis from decade-old bullet wounds. But Sabir's spirit is in just as much need of doctoring. "Sometimes I fly into a rage and can't recognize my family members," he says. "I've beaten them countless times. I fear I'm losing my mind." One of his four sons, a shy, freckle-faced 10-year-old named Abid, confirms that his father has often attacked family members. "About a month ago I wanted to ask my father a question, and he just hit me. He didn't even know I was his son," says Abid softly, with no apparent rancor. "I'm afraid of my father day and night."Even as Afghanistan tries to piece its politics back together, the country faces one of the worst mental-health crises in the world. As a recent World Health Organization report puts it, "Twenty-three years of war have ravaged......
  • Bin Laden: Where Is He Now?

    Some Al Qaeda fighters say they saw Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora as recently as two days ago. But anti-Taliban Afghan commanders like Haji Mohammed Zaman Ghamsharik believes bin Laden and his top aides have fled Afghanistan--perhaps while his supporters used last week's cease-fire negotiations as a diversion to assist the holdouts holed up in the cave complex here. "The Al Qaeda talked about surrender because they only wanted to buy more time for themselves," Zaman told NEWSWEEK.Their tactics may have had at least a partial payoff. An intense U.S. bombing campaign as well as commando operations by Afghans and American special forces troops left more than 200 Arab, Chechen, and Pakistani Al Qaeda fighters dead and at least 25 captured at the weekend, says Hazrat Ali, security chief of Nangrahar Province. But bin Laden's whereabouts are still unknown--and hundreds more Al Qaeda fighters may have escaped too. According to the Pentagon, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 Al Qaeda forces were...
  • 'Now I See The Sunlight'

    Safia Tukhi just laughed when she was asked about her reaction to the rout of the Taliban, then pulled a plastic bag from her purse. Giggling and babbling, Safia grabbed a handful of confetti--made out of Mylar sparkles and paper-punch holes--and joyfully sprinkled the glittering motes all over a startled NEWSWEEK correspondent. Next to her stood her daughter, 22-year-old Masuda, who proudly exposed her face on a main street in Kabul on Saturday. She told how much she hated the all-enveloping burqa under which the ruling Taliban had required virtually all women to hide. "It gave me headaches," she said. Masuda had another reason to smile: she has begun writing poetry again after a five-year hiatus, and was eagerly anticipating that her paean to Kabul's liberation would be read on the city's newly unmuzzled radio station that day.The politics of post-Taliban Afghanistan still need to be sorted out. And many of the mujahedin fighters who sent the Taliban running are almost as devout...
  • Letter From Kabul, Part 2: Tv Hunting

    We first learned that hundreds of U.S. Marines had landed in Kandahar by watching the BBC news on TV. That's not as simple as it sounds. For five years, Afghanistan was a television-free society in which the repressive Taliban had outlawed TV, music, dancing, singing and human imagery. Since Afghans are among the world's craftiest entrepreneurs, this simply meant television went underground.Now, with the Taliban gone, everyone's openly buying televisions. More than 150 cottage-industry satellite-dish shops have mushroomed all over the city (there used to be just five). Their newly hand-made parabolas line entire Kabul streets, luring would-be buyers. The sight is especially exotic given that the dishes are fabricated out of beer-can metal already stamped with multi-colored logos such as "Coors" and "Molson Ice."We--that is, NEWSWEEK's five correspondents and photographers in Kabul--have our own reasons for wanting a piece of this small cultural revolution. After moving into a...
  • A Respite From The War

    When Shirazuddin Siddiqi first heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he figured his radio program "New Home, New Life" was finished. Broadcast to Afghans by the BBC since 1994, the program mixes comedy, drama and farming tips in a soap opera about village life. It's wildly popular both in Afghanistan and in Pakistani refugee camps, where nearly 2 million Afghans live. But September 11 made Siddiqi, the director, reconsider its purpose. During a car ride, he began thinking about how his own relatives fled the Afghan civil war in 1992. First his family sought refuge in an abandoned building, narrowly missing two land mines. Then his 4-year-old son died of malaria. "I thought, 'That's our role now: using our own personal experiences to help people through this crisis,' " he says.The new story lines reflect that approach. In one, an unfamiliar woman suddenly materializes in a village, asking a local resident for food and water. She's fled her home fearing...
  • Destination: Kabul

    Getting across the border turned out to be the easy part. I drove into Afghanistan two days ago, part of a long, snaking convoy organized by representatives of exiled anti-Taliban commanders based in the Pakistan city of Peshawar. Our procession included a motley assortment of land cruisers, mini-buses and some private cars that tagged along. Nobody even checked our papers. That changed when we arrived in Jalalabad, the first city on the road to Kabul.Our trip to Jalalabad took about 10 hours. Half of that was spent waiting to leave Pakistan; the other half was spent on a road that passed through the historic Khyber Pass--still adorned with British-style messages like "THE KHYBER RIFLES WELCOMES YOU." The city itself, though, was less welcoming. Taken from the Taliban just three days ago, several Northern Alliance commanders are now competing for control of the eastern outpost and the city was tense, full of heavily-armed men.Our convoy broke up there, and--dressed in a head-to-toe...
  • Burning Their Burqas

    The Northern Alliance continued its push into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, claiming Monday that its fighters had seized Herat, the biggest city in the west of the country, and were waiting to enter the capital. "Our troops are knocking at the doors of Kabul," Ashraf Nadeem told Reuters by satellite phone from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.Nadeem's comments came after a weekend in which officials of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance claimed they had followed up on Friday's capture of Mazar-e Sharif with lightning-fast advances to the north, east and west of city, gaining control of nearly the entire region north of the Hindu Kush mountain range. The spokesmen said on Saturday that they had secured border crossings with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and were on the verge of linking up with Alliance forces in the northeast of the country, and on the Kabul front to the southeast.Their claims were unconfirmed by either U.S. or independent sources, but if true, they signify a dramatic...
  • Weapons And Warriors

    Palawan is proudly brandishing a nifty folding-stock machine pistol. "This is good for personal security," the weapons dealer assures visitors to Pakistan's notorious arms bazaar in Dara Adamkhel. It's also good, he adds, "for holy war, even for shooting in the air during wedding ceremonies."As his 7-year-old son helpfully packages shotgun shells into cardboard boxes, Palawan says his sales of AK-47 assault rifles have mushroomed 75 percent in just a few days. "God willing, our business is getting better and better."These are boom times for the 90,000 residents of this hardscrabble frontier town that has been churning out rifles, explosives and ammunition for more than a century. The arms trade here in Dara got its start in 1897 when British colonial rulers decided that allowing local Pashtun tribesmen to make their own substandard weapons was preferable to having them steal top-quality British ones. In return, the tribesmen agreed not to shoot at Britons traveling along main...
  • The Great Escape

    Using airstrikes and commando raids, the United States says it's hoping to pin down Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. It had better hurry. In the past two months, according to people-smugglers in Pakistan, between 150 and 200 of the so-called Arab mujahedin who are Osama bin Laden's crack troops slipped out of Afghanistan through illegal channels. They say several Al Qaeda elements are currently traveling through Tajikistan or Uzbekistan to Ukraine-hoping eventually to arrive in Britain or Germany. "Each Arab fighter has paid between $20,000 and $30,000 to be smuggled out of Afghanistan," a professional people-smuggler in Peshawar, who uses the pseudonym Fekrat, told NEWSWEEK. "I've been trying to get ordinary Afghans and Pakistanis out the same way--but no one here can afford the trip."Worldwide, the trafficking of illegal migrants is a $4 billion-a-year industry, nearly as profitable as drug and arms smuggling. But for decades the problem has languished far down on the food...
  • Inside 'People Smuggling'

    Using airstrikes and commando raids, Washington aims to pin down Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and then smoke them out. Better hurry. In the past two months between 150 and 200 Arab "holy warriors"--from Osama bin Laden's core following--have slipped out of Afghanistan through illegal channels, according to smugglers in Pakistan. Underworld "travel agents," as they like to be called, told NEWSWEEK that Al Qaeda operatives are now moving through Tajikistan or Uzbekistan to Ukraine--hoping ultimately to find their way to Britain or Germany. "Each Arab fighter has paid between $20,000 and $30,000 to be smuggled out of Afghanistan," says an agent in Peshawar who uses the pseudonym Fekrat.People-smuggling worldwide is a $4 billion-a-year industry, nearly as profitable as drug and arms trafficking. And no country has a deeper history of smuggling of all sorts than Afghanistan. Contraband televisions, gasoline, opium, AK-47s, as well as illegal migrants: all are ferried along remote...
  • All Papers In Order

    How easy is it to make oneself over into a desperate Afghan refugee who deserves asylum in the West? Thousands of Pakistanis, Iranians, Central Asians and other Muslims have done it. Last week I did it, too. First I found one of the dozens of underground "travel agents" in Peshawar who specialize in smuggling illegal immigrants. Through him I arranged passport photos of me looking vaguely Afghan. The ruling Taliban militia, adhering to Islamic-fundamentalist customs, bars photographs showing human images. But as a practical matter, a travel document showing a woman covered from head to ankle in a burqa does not pass muster at any immigration counter, so the Taliban makes exceptions for passport photographs.At a dingy studio in the labyrinthine Kissakhani market--literally "the bazaar of the storytellers"--I sat for portraits dressed in a loose-fitting Pakistani outfit with a dupatta, or shawl, over my hair. "Don't smile," advised an acquaintance. "Nobody smiles in Afghanistan." For...
  • Warlords: For Sale Or Rent

    Abdul Haq was, as an earlier generation of diplomats and spymasters might have put it, "our kind of warlord." The scion of an Afghan upper-class family, he organized underground resistance in Kabul against Soviet domination during the 1980s. At a White House reception in 1985, President Ronald Reagan toasted Haq as "one of the bravest commanders who led the Afghan freedom fighters." After the Soviets were driven out, Haq denounced Islamic extremism and came out in favor of educating women. He spoke perfect English, drank Diet Cokes and could lucidly discuss strategy. Forsaking his lucrative import-export business in Dubai, he had gone to Pakistan in September to try to entice other warlords away from the ruling Taliban to form a "peace coalition." On Oct. 21 he slipped across the border into Afghanistan, reportedly with a bundle of U.S. dollars.It took the Taliban all of five days to track down Haq, try him in a two-hour kangaroo court and execute him as a spy. Journalists widely...