The Smog of War: China Battles Pollution
China’s environmental problems have become such an embarrassment to its leadership that the country suddenly finds itself on a war footing. On Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang, the second-ranked political leader and head of economic policy, formally declared a “war on pollution” in a speech before the annual gathering of the National People’s Congress. The reform is welcome news, but overdue — and the outlook of the strategy Li outlined is about as clear as the morning sky on your run-of-the-mill, suffocating Beijing day.
Li called for the closure of 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces, the removal of 6 million old, emissions-belching vehicles from the streets, and new guidelines for air quality improvement in seriously affected northern Chinese cities. He described the state of Beijing’s air as “nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”
We Asked a Military Expert How to Invade and Conquer Russia
In the past, when I’ve asked military experts from IHS Jane’s what it would take to conquer, say,America, or the UK, the idea of it actually happening in the near future was relatively far fetched. But recent events in Crimea have raised the very real possibility of conflict, so when I asked IHS Jane’s Konrad Muzyka what it would take to conquer Russia, it all suddenly felt very real.
No one wants to see Putin riding into battle on the back of a nuclear warhead, but that said, I’d like to make it clear that I, for one, welcome our new Russian overlords and would like to remind them that I could be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground vodka caves.
VICE: I’m going to begin with a classic cliche. Over the centuries, plenty of power-hungry leaders have tried to take on Russia, convinced that they would be the first to overcome the brutal Russian winter. How could a modern army deal with this ancient problem?
Konrad Muzyka: I agree that from a historical perspective this has been a problem many countries have succumbed to. But the advent of precision guided munitions and, more importantly, nuclear weapons have completely nullified the issue. Any potential conflict with the West would most likely be fought in the air, space, and sea. Any use of land forces would be limited to capturing strategically important facilities—bridges, airfields, and the like. Given the size of Russian territory, I don’t think anyone would be interested in moving their troops to Russia and holding them there.
So how quickly might any invading force find itself plunged into a nuclear winter?
Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons even in a regional conflict scenario. As such, any country taking on Russia needs to be aware of a dramatic and quick escalation that could take place. But this is a sign of weakness rather than strength.
In the days of the Red Army, it felt as though there was an endless supply of men ready to die in the name of Mother Russia. Is this still true? What’s their manpower like?
That’s true, but many of those sent into battle during the Second World War fought at gunpoint. Not only that of the Nazi Wehrmacht, but also that of their fellow Russian “comrades.” Retreat was usually forbidden, even in a tactical sense—those who were caught falling back were either shot on the spot or court-martialed… and then usually shot.
VICE on HBO: Episode 6 – Corruption
Segment 1: China’s Ghost Towns
Fifteen years ago, China changed its policy so people could buy their own homes. Real-estate investments boomed, and new cities began popping up each year, many inspired by western design and mimicking iconic locales like Paris and lower Manhattan. The problem is: people don’t live here. One ghost city in Inner Mongolia, built to house one million people, is now an empty shell of unoccupied skyscrapers and abandoned construction sites. VICE checks out this and other urban failures to figure out how China’s preoccupation with growing its GNP turned “supply and demand” into “build now, sell later.”
Segment 2: Egypt on the Brink
Over two years ago, Arab Spring climaxed in the overthrow of President Mubarek in Egypt. But for many Egyptians, the situation has actually gotten worse, as has the man who replaced Mubarek: Mohamed Morsi, elected under the radical Muslim Brotherhood banner. VICE visits the embattled streets of Cairo, where opposition to Morsi has resulted in renewed mass protests and violence in Tahrir Square. Among those we meet: members of the Black Bloc, youthful revolutionaries who disguise themselves with hoods and scarfs while vowing to oust Morsi and destroy the Muslim Brotherhood.
VICE News is putting all of Season 1 of VICE on HBO online for you to watch for free!
I went to Shanghai with the idea that I might casually get laid. My loser low confidence—at bars, parties; any hook-up situation with which pensive celibates are obsessed—would finally be reprieved because I would be among “my people,” or so my racist preoccupation went. In the end I got scammed by two pretty ladies at a tea shop.
I Have a Chinese Banknote That Everyone in China Is Scared Of
I have a very special Chinese banknote. It’s only worth ten Yuan, but it might be the most precious object I own. The front of the note shows a drawing of the former leader of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong. Rumor has it, he spent every night with the young, virginal daughters of different farmers, because he believed popping cherries was the key to eternal youth. But that little factoid is not what makes this banknote so special. What’s special about my banknote is that in China—a country where everything is about money, money, and more money—nobody accepts the damn thing. It’s practically worthless. And I now understand why.
During a recent reporting trip to China, I found myself with a group of journalists and Chinese fixers sitting in the biggest mall in Shanghai eating shitty pizza at a fake Pizza Hut. When it was time to pay for the food, we all pulled out our cash. Amy, a Chinese student who showed us around, took the stack of bills and handed it to the waitress. Not long after that she came back with one piece of legal tender in her hand, stammering that the restaurant didn’t accept the cash because it was a “bad note.” I asked why, but she wouldn’t say. “Later, later,” she told me. When she offered up the bad banknote to my group, I snatched it up.
White People with No Skills Wanted in China
If you’re a white English speaker, you can get a job teaching private English classes in China. Many schools will hire you without any prior experience, teaching credentials, or a working visa. Sometimes you don’t even need to apply for the job. In Urumqi, in China’s northwest, my writing partner and I were offered our first teaching gig at a roadside noodle stand. We had been in the country less than a week.
“Want to work at my school?” a lady asked us, thrusting two business cards forward with a smile. “You can start tomorrow.”
We weren’t sure whether to laugh or not. Was she serious? Neither of us knew the first thing about teaching children.
“We don’t speak Chinese,” we told her.
“No problem,” she replied quickly. “So what do you say?”
The Floating Officials of China
China is at the forefront of many 21st century technologies like superfast trains and alternative energy research, but regional officials around the country might need a primer on one of the most basic of desktop technologies: Photoshop. A public relations disaster is brewing in Ningguo, a small city in eastern China, where officials were found to have doctored a photo in which they pay a visit to the city’s oldest resident, a centenarian named Cheng Yanchun.
The picture was supposed to be a heartwarming photo-op for Ningguo vice-mayor Wang Hun and his comrades. Instead, the altered photo (above)—which depicts three Yao Ming-sized officials and one floating/vanishing legless man towering over a Hobbit-like elderly lady—has triggered a storm of ridicule online.
Originally posted on the Ningguo Civil Affairs Bureau website, the photo was discovered after another local controversy drove traffic to the government site. The officials apparently did in factvisit the elderly Ms. Cheng, but they were unsatisfied with photos that had been taken. Xu Feiyu, the employee responsible for the Photoshop screw-up, told CCTV: “I thought this photo by itself didn’t really represent the occasion. So I put the two pictures together. At the time I didn’t think there would be such a big reaction.”
Chinese Teenagers Are Obsessed with Justin Bieber, Too
Right now, Justin Bieber is in the middle of the Asian segment of his “Believe” world tour. As well as playing some arena shows, he marked the occasion by making his groupies carry him up the Great Wall Of China and skateboarding around Beijing, as his own sweating bodyguards followed him. Unwilling to miss such a significant meeting of Western cultural imperialism and Eastern screaming teenagers, I headed over to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in the Pudong district of Shanghai to meet the local Beliebers.
Chinese people seem to be masters of the cult of personality and love famous people even more than the rest of us. When David Beckham was in Shanghai in June, for example, there was an actual stampede in his press conference and seven people were hospitalized. When was the last time YOU cared enough about a stranger to get covered in your own blood for them? If they were killing each other over a retired midfielder from England, what would they do for the most famous kid on Earth?
The first people I met were Crystal (left) and Amy. As Crystal booted up her battery-powered “Belieber” sign, Amy told me that she likes Justin because, “he has a dream”. However, she also warned me that, “You don’t have to like everything about someone – I don’t like his tattoos and he was a bit lazy on The Great Wall.”
Unlike many of her western counterparts, Amy never wanted Selena Gomez—Justin’s ex—to disappear. “I like her music,” she explained. “And anyway, Justin would not fall in love with me, he’s 19.” Amy has got her head screwed on straight. When she chased me across the street five minutes later and begged me to get Justin’s autograph for her, I wished I could help her.
The Art of Taboo – Ren Hang
Being a radical artist in China is a pretty tricky prospect. Considering censors banned paradigm of inoffensive banality Katy Perry from the country’s airwaves for supposedly being too vulgar (and not forgetting that time authorities made Ai Weiwei disappear for posting seminude photos of himself online), you would have thought that Chinese photographer Ren Hang would lay off filling his portfolio with gaping buttholes and models pissing on each other, or sustaining his unparalleled level of dedication to photographing erect penises.
But he hasn’t, which is a good thing, because his photos are great—somehow managing to desexualize naked bodies and turn them into sometimes funny, sometimes beautiful, sometimes gnarled, hairy, human-shaped sculptures that make you want to get naked with all your friends, paint your dick red, and hang out on a roof in Beijing. Which is basically the end game all photographers are going for, right? I wanted to talk to Ren about his work, so I did. Here’s that conversation.
VICE: First off, why is everyone naked in basically every single one of your photos?
Ren Hang: Well, people come into this world naked and I consider naked bodies to be people’s original, authentic look. So I feel the real existence of people through their naked bodies.
Is that why the bodies aren’t presented in a kind of conventionally “sexy” way, even if the photos are sexual?
No, I don’t take photos with any particular purpose or plan—I just grasp whatever comes into my mind, arrange that in front of me and take a photo of it. I don’t pay too much attention to whether a scene is sexy or not when I’m taking photos.
Yeah, a lot of the bodies end up looking more like kind of grotesque sculptures.
That’s not really intentional, although I do consider bodies as sculptural—or, as you say, grotesque sculptures—so I suppose the sculptures exist because the bodies exist.
Watch Episode 4 of VICE on HBO Now, for Free
Our Emmy-nominated HBO show recently wrapped up its first season, and complaint numero uno that we got throughout its run was: “I reaaaalllyyy want to watch your show, but I don’t have HBO.” Well, your cries have been heard. Yesterday we released the first episode on VICE.com, and today, right here on the page you’re on right now, we’re airing the fourth episode. Next Monday and Tuesday we’ll release episodes nine and ten, respectively.
In epsiode four of VICE, Thomas Morton investigates China’s dating customs, where old-fashioned courtship has been replaced by lucrative matchmaking businesses, and Shane Smith travels to Greece and Spain to see how the youth are responding to Europe’s crippling financial crisis.