Say it with flowers
May 3, 2019 (WiC 450)

Horticultural exhibitions aren’t normally hotspots for international diplomacy but the International Horticultural Exhibition that began in Beijing this week has achieved just such a feat.

More than 100 countries are represented (not the Americans, it seems) but it is the attendance of the Vatican that has caused the biggest stir, because it is one of the few remaining holdouts in recognising the People’s Republic of China diplomatically.

The Global Times reports that ties have been improving since last year, following a temporary agreement on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China, and a spokesperson for the Holy See said that its 200 square metre pavilion at the gardening expo is designed to “create a climate of dialogue”.

The pavilion also features rare books from the Vatican’s library on topics like the cultivation of herbs and the medicinal properties of plants.

The China Daily expects 16 million to visit the exhibition in Beijing over its 162-day run. The event – which the domestic media is describing as ‘a classroom for learning Xi Jinping’s ecological civilisation’ – attracted 35,000 on its opening day on Monday.

Stimulating viewing
Apr 26, 2019 (WiC 449)

China’s economy grew 6.4% in the first quarter versus the same period last year, better than most analysts expected. The main take: that the government has shifted from worrying about deleveraging to stabilising growth.

Similar thinking has been stirring speculation that Beijing is poised to launch another round of measures to boost local consumption. The country’s carmakers are especially hopeful of larger quotas for licence plates in major cities for new buyers, for instance, as well as subsidies for people who exchange older cars for electric or hybrid vehicles. Rural sales subsidies for home appliances costing less than Rmb800 ($118) are also said to be under consideration, plus a plan for trading in older smartphones for new ones.

Stocks then fell on Tuesday after comments from President Xi Jinping about “structural deleveraging” were taken to mean that new stimulus measures weren’t such a sure thing after all. The National Development and Reform Commission, the nation’s economic planning body, even took the unusual step of downplaying a draft of the measures that had been doing the rounds, telling state television that “repeated research” was required first.

Grave issue
Apr 12, 2019 (WiC 448)

The three-day weekend around last Friday’s Tomb Sweeping Day was a busy period for families across China. Also known as the Qingming Festival, the holiday sees millions of people go to graveyards to honour their ancestors and burn ‘ghost money’ in Taoist tribute.

Customs like these are creating tensions in the outskirts of the northern city of Tianjin, however, where local authorities want to tear out tombs on local farmland.

Their goal is to clear unauthorised graves but families are incandescent because of a belief that the dead must be left in peace if the living are to prosper. “In Chinese traditional culture, digging up other peoples’ graves brings on the most vicious curse,” Yuan Canxing, a professor at Wuxi City College in eastern China, told the Financial Times.

Tianjin’s civil affairs bureau is unmoved, the Global Times reported, confirming that local families have been ordered to take out all tombs by the end of April to return the land for farming use. As WiC has pointed out many times before the central government is keen to promote cremation as an alternative to burial (see WiC406) in part because the country is edging ever closer to the state’s ‘red line’ on the total available acreage of arable land. This farmland total is deemed to be crucial to China remaining self-sufficient in food, but it has been dwindling over the past three decades due to arable territory being converted to industrial uses and thanks also to rapid urbanisation.