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China Feature: Week in Review --- Pollution Chokes Beijing, Censorship Chokes a Major Newspaper (Lin)

Isabel Lin writes her first feature for EA:

Severe Air Pollution Stroke Beijing

Beijing, the capital city of China endured its worst air pollution last weekend, Officials called for residents to stay home and avoid exercising outside after the murky air darkened the skies over Beijing and surrounding areas. The yellow fog warning was finally lifted on Wednesday, as the capital’s residents saw their first sunshine after seven days.

There have been severe environmental problems in Beijing every year in recent memory, with sandstorms in spring and air pollution in winter. The immediate reason for this week’s warning was a shift in weather patterns, a warm air mass combined with a low temperature of the ground and a high relative humidity.

Some heavy-polluting industry has moved out of Beijing in recent years, but the plants are not that far away. In the last week, southerly wind brought fog from the region into Beijing. High mountains to the west and north of the capital trapped the pollutants.

Five years ago, Beijing authorities put in great efforts for a bluer sky for the Olympic Games. This week’s development highlight the ongoing challenge for daily life.

A Politcal Argument Over Censorship

In a possible test for new Chinese leader Xi Jinping's views on media freedom, the political effects continue from censorship of the leading newspaper Southern Weekend, after authorities banned a New Year’s editorial, “Chinese Dream, A Dream of Constitutionalism”.

An open letter signed by prominent academics has called on a top propaganda official in southern China to resign over allegations that he unjustifiably censored the comment.

The letter by the academics threatened to undermine the Communist Party’s effort to put away the editorial, but authorities have held the line. Southern Weekly was forced to announce that the published editorial was not tampered and apologise for some "spelling mistakes" in a rush work. The Central Propaganda Department ordered mainstream media to carry an official editorial from the Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper, saying any reference to wide-spread version of “constitutionalism” had been a mistake and also spoke of manipulation by outside powers. When Beijing News refused to carry the official editorial, it was threatened with dissolution.

For the moment, with the end of the protest strike by The Southern Daily’s journalists, the chief casualty is editor-in-chief Huang Can, who will resign on orders from the local government. Tuo Zhen, Propaganda Minister of Guangdong Province, has not been replaced for the moment.

Landslide in Yunnan Province

The death toll from a landslide in a mountainous region in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, has risen to 46, including 19 children.

The disaster hit Gaopo village in Zhenxiong County around 8:20 a.m. last Friday, burying the homes of 16 families and carrying several hundred-thousand cubic meters of watery mud to the village. Rescue efforts took place amid low temperatures.

Much of Yunnan Province is mountainous and at the risk of earthquakes. The 2012 Yunnan geological disaster prevention proposal listed numerous places with a high probability of an event, but Zhenxiong was not included.

The local government promised to reconstruct the area within six months and compensate affected villagers.

Beijing to Close Schools for Children of Migrant Workers

The education authority in Beijing's Chaoyang district has said it will shut down all 18 private schools for migrant workers' children to ensure the students receive a better education.

Since 2006, education authorities in the capital have tightened the management of schools for the children, shutting those that do not meet the standards set by government. According to the authority, the foreign students will be transferred to nearby formal schools, provided their parents meet the challenge of showing five certificates for each of the pupils.

The "migrant workers" are from other districts of China, usually rural areas, seeking a living in bigger cities. Because of the strict household registration system in China, they and their children are not entitled to social welfare, and attendance in mainstream schools has not been provided. Even when attendance is permitted, it has come at a higher cost, and the students are not allowed to take university entrance examinations in the big cities.

Welcoming the Year of the Snake

With the Chinese Year of the Snake imminent, China Post has released Snake stamps and the Central Bank has issued 80 million coins with a face value of 1 yuan. There is a limit of two coins, which can be put in circulation, per person.

The Chinese New Year begins on 19 February. The Snake is the sixth zodiac sign in the 12-year cycle.

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