Beijing, Newly arrived


A little over 10 people from a small village in Sichuan province just arrived in Beijing to work on a construction site. They are waiting for a bus to take them to their dormitory. Around 3,000 people used to live in their hometown, but these days more than half of them work in big cities.


We talk with one the female workers. She tells that more and more female migrant workers go to cities for construction work. Just like her. “There is no way out if one stays in the village”, she says.



She has a 16 year old child studying arts in the high school of her hometown. She felt the child did not need too much care anymore and decided to work in the big city to earn money for the child’s tuition fee in college. Her parents take care of the child at home.


Several workers reply, when asked if they carry any personal belongings like photos of family members, that they only brought useful things like a quilt, clothes and some daily necessities.




Beijing, Legal proceedings


We walk in XiCheng district at a place were a few years ago you could walk through old hutongs. The residents have all been relocated to suburbs and the place is now a construction site of mid- to high-end apartments for retired government officials.


Mr. Huang Genhua approaches us. He asks if we are journalists. “No, we are not”. He likes to tell us his story anyway; for this blog. Knowing that a published story with his photo could cause him problems, we ask him again and he insists that is what he wants.


In 2005, Huang Genhua worked as a foreman at a construction site in Hebei. At a given moment the boss refused to pay the workers. Mr. Huang then paid the workers himself, but the boss still owns him 5,000 RMB.


According to Mr. Huang, he started a legal action against his boss in a local court. However, the court ruled before the scheduled proceedings without hearing him. The court ruled that his boss only needs to pay him 1,000 RMB. Mr. Huang appealed and when to an intermediate court. The judge in that court confirmed the ruling of the local court and asked Mr. Huang to apologize to his boss. When he attempted to continue legal proceedings, the court terminated the case.


Up to now he never received the 1,000 RMB his former boss should have paid him according to the court ruling.


Mr. Huang felt the treatment by the court was unfair. He claims that his former boss settled the matter with the judge by treating the judge with a dinner.  It is for this reason, he said, that the judge ruled before the scheduled proceedings that never took place. Now he has come to Beijing to start legal proceedings against the court.


Mr. Huang tells us that he needs exposure in the media and repeatedly stresses that he has all the evidence needed to confirm of what he said.


Finally, Mr. Huang and two of his friends show us some bruises and scratches. Mr. Huang says they were beaten up three days ago because he did not let go of the case.




Beijing, Sponsored government promotion


These photos are taken along the road near Chaoyang Park South Gate, Beijing. The posters are sponsored by Solana, a modern lifestyle shopping center. Solana distinguishes itself from other shopping centers with a (southern) European style architecture. Western retail chains like Zara have an outlet in the center and it locates many foreign restaurants like French, Italian, Greek, Swiss and Arabian.


The text on the posters translates as follows:


(Photo above left) The army and the people are united as one and build the Great Wall of Steel (the latter is a metaphor indicating how solid and strong the country is)

(Photo above right) The army and the people make concerted efforts to turn Chaoyang (district) into a wonderful place.


(Photo below left) Love the army, better treatment for the army families, and strengthen the national defense; Support the policies, love the citizens and let Chaoyang district flourish.


(Photo below right, poster on the left) The Party, the army and the people work together to construct a world-class city.






Beijing, Mr. Gao




Mr. Gao Baolin works as a keeper at the railroad crossing in Bei Yaodi (on the north side of Jiu Xianqiao North Road; near east fifth ring road).


Mr. Gao used to work at construction sites until 8 years ago. Since then he has been working full time as a keeper at this railroad crossing. In total 12 crossing keepers work in shifts to operate the gates and to safeguard that the operation works according to safety procedures.


Every time a train arrives, Mr. Gao will play a recording saying “Incoming(/outgoing) train is arriving, please be careful”, stop the traffic and clear the tracks together with two of his co-workers.


On this track between 20 and 40 trains pass by in a day; both freight trains and passenger trains. When passing by, trains have an average speed of 50 – 60 km/hr. The time each train arrives is usually fixed, but they are a bit late these days.


The railroad crossing needs someone to be on duty 24 hours a day, thus there are three eight-hour shifts every day. Mr. Gao takes three different shifts in three days and then he will have a day of rest before the next three days of shifts start.  For his full-time job, 48 hours a week, he earns a little more than 1,000RMB, he says (we assume this is the minimum wage for Beijing: 1160 RMB/month). Other benefits include a basic insurance and some gifts with festivals.


According to Mr.Gao, being a crossing keeper is more relaxed than his job at a construction site, but it brings more responsibility. It’s a suitable job for older people like him.  Mr. Gao’s wife is retired and his 28-year-old son just got married.








I saw this poster on a public telephone booth in Gaobeidian, Beijing. It translates as follows:


Photo of the “6.28” Shooting Criminal Suspect

Features of the suspect: male, around 40, 1.7 meters tall, medium build, dark skin, X-type legs, does not speak mandarin very well. He’s unsociable and eccentric, quiet, likes to be alone and hardly has any contact with others. He always gets up early in the morning.


Literally translated ”走路外八” means “walking outside the eight” and my guess is that it refers to X-type legs. I googled it for videos on the subject to understand what type of condition of the legs was meant; only to find that the first search results were all about this suspect.


Here is a Chinese news report, dated January 9th, on the case: In summary the report is about a robbery with shooting that happened on the 6th of January in Nanjing. The victim died because of a shot in the head. Two days later the police uploaded a video on Weibo (Chinese Twitter). The video shows the suspect running away with 200,000 RMB taken from the crime scene. In total, the report says, he stole 480,000 RMB in 7 robberies. He made 9 victims; 7 of them died and 2 were seriously injured. The Nanjing police is hunting for the suspect with all available resources.


More info via other Internet sources:
“6.28” on the poster refers to a robbery with shooting in Changsha at June 28th, 2011. The man, Zeng Kaigui, is the suspect in this case. He is also suspected of robberies and shootings in Chongqing.
The police is offering a 300,000 RMB reward for anyone who can provide information that will lead to the arrest of the suspect.

Update August 13th, 2012: Many stories in the media today about a manhunt for the suspect in Chongqing. The name of the suspect now appears as Zhou Kehua in the media.



Beijing, Tomb Sweeping Day



On Tomb Sweeping Day (Qingming Jie) Chinese people visit the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors. We visited the Wanan cemetery in the west of Beijing together with the Li family: Li Yaoming, a retired medical practitioner in the army, his wife Zhang Liping, a retired editor at a publishing house and Li Yu, their daughter, a student in Chinese language and also my (much appreciated) assistant.


Today’s post is written by Li Yu, photos and editing by Anton Hazewinkel.



The Wanan Cemetery was built in 1930 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in Beijing. It is located at the south side of Wanan mountain. The cemetery is divided into five main areas according to the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water). Each area again is divided into different sections based on Feng Shui, Taoist concepts of Heavenly stems and Earthly branches and the “Thousand Character” classic. Translation of the photo above, on the right: “Wan You Ping An”, which means “being blessed and peaceful”.


The cemetery is known for being the burial ground of many famous people, including the drama writer Cao Yu, the calligrapher Qi Gong and one of the founders of the Communist Party: Li Dazhao (a memorial museum dedicated to him is on the same premises).



We visit the grave of my grandmother, Wang Hui (she died in 2007 at the age of 84) and my grandfather, Xiang Ming (he died in 2008 at the age of 93). On the grave stone are engraved, according to Chinese customs, the names of all the descendants.



Wanan Cemetery offers various kinds of services: a place in the cemetery wall, at the cemetery or in the Columbarium. Spending several thousands of RMB, you can put the cinerary casket in the wall with a tombstone sealing the cave for some time. However, the cinerary casket will be removed if nobody pays the management fee after a couple of years. Today, we met an unlucky guy who lost his family’s cinerary casket because his family failed to pay the management fee (he is not pictured). He was smoking quietly in front of the cemetery wall, sadly staring at the flowers he brought and placed in the empty cave. Sad as it is, he is still able to honor his family with an empty cave; if someone rents the cave, he will have nowhere to go when he misses his family.



Normal graves at the cemetery are like my grandparents’: 1 – 1.5 square meters with a tombstone. You can put four cinerary caskets inside the grave. On the front of the tombstone, there are names of dead people, the birth date and the date of their passing, the names of their children and grandchildren. If a child already passed away, workers would mark their name with a square (pictured 2nd to the left on the sixth photo below). Usually, Chinese will bury their parents together in the same grave and they will carve both of their names on the tombstone. If one of their parents is still alive, they will paint the name of the parent that did not pass away in red (the deceased name is in black and when his or her partner would die, his or her name will be changed from red to black). Before 1949, when the new republic of China was founded, many Chinese were still polygamous, thus you can see some tombstones with more than two names carved on it. In those cases the husband’s name has the biggest size, while his first wife’s name is smaller on the left, and the other wives’ names are even smaller on the right.



Some people won’t carve anything on the back of the tombstone, while others prefer to carve a brief biography, a poem or a few words to honor their families. Characters in small sizes for biography usually cost 4 RMB per character and big size characters for poems or single words cost 20 RMB per character. We met a worker carving a short biography today, he printed the article on the stone in red and then carved it according to the shape of characters. After that, he will paint all the characters in black or gold (see second picture second row below).



My grandparents’ grave costs 78,000 RMB for a lease of 20 years. We will need to repay the management fee for another 20 years.



There are some cemetery plots for big families at the entrance. They are usually as large as a private vegetable garden, thus it’s possible to set up quite a few tombstones there. Therefore, all the family members can be buried together. “Family” is the most important concept in China, one may spent his or her life somewhere away from family, however it’s comforting for Chinese to be buried together with all their relatives, who truly care about them. It’s like coming back home again.



We saw some people sitting around a table, with a cinerary casket on it, chatting with their families next to the Columbarium. They deposit the cinerary caskets inside this brick-made two-story building. People can only deposit cinerary caskets in the Columbarium for three years and the price varies from 90 RMB – 210 RMB. It’s the cheapest to deposit on the first and the 10th layer, while the middle layers are the most expensive ones. According to the website of Wanan Cemetery, the Columarium was fully occupied by March, 2008. In the middle of the photos above is the mailbox for sending letters to the deceased. Alternatively emails can be used as well to send messages to the beloved ones that are not with us anymore.


The management of the cemetery charges 3,000 RMB per year per square meter for cleaning. Families who don’t pay for this have to clean it themselves. Like many families, my family takes care of the tomb sweeping ourselves.



The normal procedure for tomb sweeping these days is to buy flowers at the flower store near the cemetery (the price for flowers varies from 20 RMB – 200 RMB), get some water in the cemetery at the taps that are placed around the tombs and clean the tombstone (visitors usually bring their own containers and cloths), place the flowers, desserts, drinks, or even alcohol and cigarettes in front of the tombstone. After that, people will talk with the dead for a while, about what happened recently(or just talk in silence). Finally, all the families would bow for three times to show their honors (or pray with hands clasped together).In the past, many people would fire paper money for the dead; nowadays most people just put the paper money in front of the grave for an environment-friendly alternative. Nevertheless, in front of the entrance a truck of the fire brigade stands by in case something goes wrong with the burning of the paper money.



After sweeping the tomb of my grandparents, Anton asked my parents a few questions.



My father said that Tomb Sweeping Day is the second most important festival in China; for all the families are able to get together. That’s also the reason why it is so crowded everywhere. My father’s hometown is in Jiangxi, where people maintain the most traditional way for tomb sweeping. Usually we go with more people on the Tomb Sweeping Day, but the other relatives are out of town at the moment, we will repeat the ceremony of sweeping the tomb and honoring my grandparents in May this year.



When asked how they celebrated tomb sweeping day before my grandparents passed away, my mom said that since she’s not a native Beijinger and her relatives are in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuxi and other provinces, they didn’t visit each other very often because they are getting old. Thus, they never exercised tomb sweeping before her parents passed away.



According to my parents, an increasing number of people go to cemeteries since 2008, when the government announced it a three-day holiday.


My mom has volunteered for organ donation after her death. She says that there is a special tombstone for people who have donated their organs, but she does not want it because she has a family grave. She also emphasizes that more and more people are willing to plant trees in the cemetery to honor their dead families these days, which is a new and environment friendly way to honor the dead.



While walking around the cemetery we see some graves that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (at that time the government appealed the public to break old traditions, and graves were one of the four traditions that were to be destroyed). Some of the destroyed graves have been repaired by their offspring, some are still in ruins.



In recent years, the management of the cemetery has come up with new ideas to honor the dead in an environmental friendly way (as opposed to burning paper money). One of the new ways of honoring is to attach tags with personal messages held by red and yellow treads to bamboo stems.




Beijing Electrical Engineering School and the Raising of the Flag Ceremony


The Beijing Electrical Engineering School is a school for secondary vocational education. We attended the weekly raising of the flag ceremony, made a tour through the school and had an interview with Mrs. Zhang, the office manager of the school.


Suggestion: play this sound file while reading the transcript of the ceremony

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(not included in recording: music playing; a marching song for athletes)

(students are coming out of the building and position themselves in lines on the square)



(recording starts here)

P.E. teacher: Every class, stand into dense lines. Dense lines!

P.E. teacher: Don’t chat after u stand in dense lines, close your mouths.

P.E. teacher: Close your mouths! (polite way to say “shot up”)

P.E. teacher: I’ll say the name of your class (if you are still chatting  …; your class may get a lower score for behavior)

P.E. teacher: Now let’s start the drill. Everyone… At ease! Attention!



P.E. teacher: The weather today is nice, take out your hands. Don’t forget where and how to put your hands. Put them on the lines of each side of your pants.

P.E. teacher: At ease! Attention! Don’t move or shake your body. Everyone … At ease! Attention!



P.E. teacher: Now, the ceremony of raising the flag begins!

P.E. teacher: Please carry the flag!


(four girls carry the flag to the flagpole, walking the parade step)

(meanwhile, a student spokesman begins to introduce the four girls; carrying the flag is regarded as an honor)




Student spokesman: This week, our class, class five grade one (high school grade one), is on duty. The four girls for hoisting the flag are Pan Jiameng, Shi Yiqing, Ma Yangyang, Wei Jingjing. Pan Jiameng is the Group Secretary in our class, she leads us by example, being one of the top students, she has pretty good marks.  Under her leadership, the members of the Youth League work hard and we received lots of compliments from teachers and officials from the school’s Youth League. Ma Yangyang checks for the attendance in the class every day, she works seriously and  she likes to help others. Shi Yiqing is the Study Officer in our class. She manages the morning reading in the class and it works well. Now all the classmates treat the morning reading seriously and study pretty hard. Wei Jingjing is the class representative for Politics. She is hard-working and she accomplishes the tasks from the teacher well. She is a good helper to the teacher. Now they will hoist the flag.



P.E. teacher: Hoist the flag! Play the national anthem!


(the music plays the national anthem; the four students hoist the flag; the other students and the teachers are looking at the flag, showing courtesy)


P.E. teacher: The courtesy ends. Now welcome the monitor on duty to give us a speech (a tradition, called “the speech under the flag”)



Monitor: Teachers, students, good morning. Today my topic is promoting the spirit of Beijing and to be a qualified Beijinger. As a vocational student in Beijing, it’s necessary to know the city we are living in. The Beijing Spirit is patriotism, innovation, inclusiveness and virtue.


Patriotism; the most profound and remarkable spirit of Beijing, derived from long time ago, it’s enduring and timeless. It indicates that the world rises and falls with every man’s responsibility. It shows our political duties and how we care about the overall situation. It also shows the spirit of being upright and dedication. Beijingers are relevant to the destiny of the whole nation. We concern about the development of the country. It also shows our braveness to undertake the mission.


Innovation; that is to say, we need to break the routine and improve by innovation. Creativity is the soul of this city, as well as the source of making progress. It presents the state of active enterprising and pursuit of making progress. In recent years, Beijing has made progress in the economic development, science and technology, city construction as well as social management, which is the great proof of the spirit of creativity. Building a world-class city, Beijing is still going to win more opportunities and with its broad mind and innovations a bright future lies ahead.


Inclusiveness; which also means being tolerant and accommodating. In the long process of the growth of the unified multi-ethnic society, Beijing attracts different cultures of the world by its broad and open mind and at the same time makes it a combination of classic, modern, ethnic, and global elements. Cultures from all corners of the world are able to be on the stage. People from different countries, ethnic groups,or regions are enabled to seek the developing opportunities.


Virtue; Beijing is a historic city with a city building history of more than 3000 years and a capital history of 850 years, which not only gives Beijing the brilliant historical culture, but also makes people polite and educated. It gives birth to the unique quality of being kind to others and accommodating everything. In the progress of building a world-class city, Beijing is certainly going to maintain those good qualities and promote socialism’s traditional virtues, promote the spirit of friendship, mutual help and dedication and also present the good quality of humanistic care.


Patriotism, creativity, inclusiveness and virtue are a conclusion of the deep and heavy nationalism of Beijing. While the state of active enterprising indicates its fully inclusive and equitable cultural tradition, as well as the all-accommodated humanistic spirit. Let’s work together to carry forward the spirit of Beijing and try to be a qualified Beijinger.



P.E. teacher: The ceremony of raising the flag ends. Lets welcome the director of the P.E. department, he will announce an award.


Director: Everyone at ease. Good news keeps coming in the electronic invention competition from the primary school and high school students in the city and students in our school: Han Xinyang, Gao Wei, Wen Tong, Fu Qiang, Feng Enze, Zhao Simeng, Gao Yuting, Zhu Rongfei, Qin Yanan, Sun Nannan, Liu Yinan, Xue Dong and Luo Hongzhi got the certificate of second level for young technicians. Let’s congratulate them with the liveliest applause. Those who got the certificate please come to the stage, the leaders in the school will give them the certificate! Hurry!


(students running to the stage)

(march music playing; the kind of march music that is played when handing out awards)


P.E. teacher: Everyone… Attention! At ease! Because there is still some ice on the east and the south side of track of playground, the daily running would be paused for one day to avoid injuries.



P.E. teacher: Now, attention! Let’s leave in order, students on this side leave after the class seven grade one, that side leaves after class two grade two.  Class six! Who told that you can leave, leave in order please! Class ten please follow.


(students leaving in row by row order)



After the ceremony we walk around a bit. At the blue colored entrance hall of the school, we pass by students that grabbed a lunch at McDonald’s.






At a meeting room in the school we talk with Mrs. Zhang, the school’s office manager.

This school has around 1000 students at four campuses. 90% of them are boys. The campus we visit has over a hundred teachers.


The school was established in 1976 and offers 9 majors, with courses covering subjects from economic and legal affairs to engineering and maintenance. The best major of the school is the maintenance of refrigeration and air conditioning systems.



All students need to learn the basics of electronics, next to their major courses, and have to make several tests to get certificates. They will at least hold a diploma and be a certified electrician when they graduate from this school. Graduates can either further their study in a college or start working as an electrician for a company or for institutions like the National Airport, the National Museum and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



Enterprises such as Nokia, Philips, Panasonic, Lenovo and the Forbidden City have interviews with students every year. The students prepare themselves for these interviews with attending courses on etiquette. Next to her administration work, Mrs. Zhang is the teacher for the etiquette courses.


In Europe more than 50% of students attend secondary vocational education and there are special schools for students with difficulties in social behavior. It’s quite different in China. In Beijing, nearly 70% of the students go to universities or colleges, while less than 30% of the students choose to go to a vocational school (there are fewer jobs for student with vocational training because most basic construction work is done by lower paid migrant workers). For students with difficulties to adjust to the system, there are a few special schools in China, but in most cases they have to attend normal schools.


Usually students in the vocational school system are pretty wild, especially in a science and engineering school with a majority of boys. However, students here are very obedient. Mrs. Zhang tells that the school puts emphasis on the moral education and constantly involves students in activities, preventing them from expressing their emotions in a radical way.



On our tour through the school we pass by the school’s workshop for the maintenance of refrigeration and air conditioning systems. Many of the machines are tailor made by teachers to anticipate on the students’ needs. The school’s major in the maintenance of refrigeration and air conditioning systems has a very good reputation in the country and for that reason the government has contributed around 20 million RMB for the construction of this workshop.



This school accepts students nationwide and is cooperating with vocational school in the Zhejiang province. Students spend one year in Zhejiang and two years in Beijing for their study. The tuition is 2200 RMB/year. Students with good marks can get a scholarship for 4000 RMB/year. Students from low-income families can get an additional 500 RMB/year.


After graduation a student can earn around 1500 RMB per month in the first job. Once they get a contract for a longer period, they will make 2000 RMB and this salary goes up when they get more experienced.  Although their wages aren’t very good, they usually have better secondary labour conditions than university graduates. For instance, graduates who are now working in the Jing Xi Hotel will get a room in an apartment.


Mrs. Zhang has been working in this school for five years and her basic salary is 4000 RMB. If the government would officially recognize the school as an example for other schools, her salary would go up to 6000RMB per month.



Most students in this school are between 16 and 18 years old. We watched a class creating electrical circuits to operating machines. According to Ms. Zhang, most students are good at hands-on practical work and have no interest in examination oriented courses. That’s why they choose to study in a vocational school.


A couple of years ago, the majority of parents were not willing to let their children study in a vocational school. As the education is developing in China, an increasing number of parents are willing to find a school for their children that best suits their abilities, as opposed to finding a school that matches the highest expectations of parents.  This has improved the perception of vocational schools and consequently it has become easier to find a job for graduates. Mrs. Zhang says that their students are more popular among employers than university graduates these days.