Death Toll Rises to 431 in Yangtze Ferry Disaster

china ferry, by jason pearce

YANGTZE RIVER, China - Almost a year after the Korea Sewol ferry incident, another fatal ship accident occurred in Asia — this time in China on the Yangtze River. The vessel was carrying over 400 passengers and capsized last Sunday with the death toll now reaching 431 people — leaving 11 bodies left to be found.

Unlike the Korean ferry incident, in which most passengers were high school students, the majority on board the ship in China were aged over 60-years old and traveling as tourists from Nanjing to Chongqing. The ship served as a retirement cruise for those aboard.

The cause of the sunken vessel is still being investigated, but it is reported that there were thunder storms and a tornado above the ship before if capsized.

The remains of the battered boat were lifted out of the water on Friday. A team of rescuers went through the remains in search of any more survivors and bodies. In the excavation process the rescuers discovered smeared mud hand-prints on the walls of the sunken vessel. Photographs have been released of the hand-prints and the remains of the ship showing the passenger’s horrifying struggle for life as the ferry sank.

The rescuers also increased the search area 1000km for possible survivors and bodies to be found that may have floated or swam away.

Because the ship flipped over and sank in remarkable time, out of all the people on board only 14 people were rescued. It made it harder for rescuers to find bodies because the ship was completely over turned. However, almost all of the bodies that were found were discovered still trapped inside of the ferry itself.

According to a Chinese cultural tradition, seven days is a fundamental time to grieve over the dead. As families receive more news concerning the incident, they come together and mourn with sadness deep in their hearts. Families of passengers continue to gather near the Yangtze River to mourn and to put their hearts at ease by lighting candles and crying out the names of their loved ones.

Contributing Journalist: @VictoriaCopeland

The Answer is Behind Every Door

 miao shaman china, photo by ruro photography

miao shaman china, photo by ruro photography

Author Unknown: There is an old Chinese tale about a woman whose only son died. In her grief, she went to the holy man and asked, "What prayers, what magical incantations do you have to bring my son back to life?"

Instead of sending her away or reasoning with her, he said to her, "Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life." The woman went off at once in search of that magical mustard seed.

She came first to a splendid mansion, knocked at the door, and said, "I am looking for a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? It is very important to me."

They told her, "You've certainly come to the wrong place," and began to describe all the tragic things that recently had befallen them.

The woman said to herself, "Who is better able to help these poor, unfortunate people than I, who have had misfortune of my own?"

She stayed to comfort them, then went on in search of a home that had never known sorrow. But wherever she turned, in hotels and in other places, she found one tale after another of sadness and misfortune.

The woman became so involved in helping others cope with their sorrows that she eventually let go of her own. She would later come to understand that it was the quest to find the magical mustard seed that drove away her suffering.

Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias

Source: Spiritual Stories

Korean 'Comfort Women' Still Protesting Decades Later

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:36 p.m. DST, 25 June 2014

Photo by: Melissa Wall "Unveiling of Comfort Women Memorial"SEOUL, South Korea -- Elderly Korean women (euphemistically referred to as “comfort women”) who were forced into prostitution as teenagers during WWII, have gathered every Wednesday since 8 January, 1992, outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest the atrocities they faced. These demonstrations are now lauded by guidebooks and travel websites as a must-see for tourists to Seoul.

Though groups of Japanese tourists come to apologize to these determined women, the Japanese government has refused to apologize. The women are hoping the Japanese government will issue an official apology and provide reparations to those forced into sexual slavery. Japan’s response is that this compensation was settled with the 1994 “Asian Women’s Fund.” South Korea rejected the fund because it is a semi-private organization run by volunteers, and not under the authority of the government.

In 2007 the U.S. House of Representatives, passed a non-binding resolution that called on Japan to apologize for forcing these women into prostitution. In April, President Obama called on Japan to acknowledge their past wrong-doings, saying, "This was a terrible, egregious violation of human rights. Those women were violated in ways that, even in the midst of war, were shocking.” Obama also called on Seoul to look to the future and be more flexible in its relations with Japan to ensure better cooperation between the two countries.

Japan responded that the issue of wartime sex slavery is not a political or diplomatic subject. The issue is a hindrance to Tokyo’s relations with East Asia, and South Korea in particular.

Despite their dwindling numbers, with fewer than 100 Korean comfort women still alive, one survivor, Hwang Geum-joo says, ”Our numbers are dwindling every year, but we are still full of anger and they should apologize for what they did to us!” Around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, but also from China, Taiwan, and Indonesia, were forced into brothels to serve Japanese imperial troops. Many were abducted from their homes or duped into forced prostitution after responding to calls to work as nurses and factory workers. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and other members of the political right continue to doubt these women, instead, claiming professional prostitutes staffed the brothels.

Monday, June 23, 2014, South Korea protested an appearance by Japan’s ambassador, condemning Tokyo’s review of a noteworthy 1993 apology for the wartime sex slavery. The review made the claim that there was no evidence to confirm the forced sexual misconduct.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying is also urging Japan to address the problematic history of sexual exploitation. Japan invaded China in 1937 and held an authoritarian rule for eight years.

In 2011 on the occasion of the 1,000th demonstration, the organizers erected the Pyeonghwa-bu Peace Monument, a statue of a barefooted-teenage Korean girl, with her hands in her lap, and a small bird on her left shoulder representing peace and freedom. The women offer monthly tours of the 'House of Sharing,' a benefit center for survivors of Japanese sex slavery, where many of the ladies now live.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

International Volunteers Series: Teaching English in Yanji, China

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 2:55 p.m. DST, 1 June 2014

Oliva Elswick

CHINA, Yanji -- For The first in a series of interviews I’m conducting with young volunteers around the globe, I spoke with Sarah Dickhut, an English teacher in Yanji, China. Dickhut graduated from Loras College in 2013 with degrees in Biological Research and Philosophy, and will attend law school at University of Iowa this coming fall, where she hopes to combine law and philosophy to advocate for and raise awareness about major issues in international human rights.

Dickhut teaches at Yanji International Technical Cooperation High School, a boarding school for about 200 students of Chinese and Korean descent. Situated among farmland and pastures, this school is a quaint relief from the bustling downtown just minutes down the road. With a population of half a million people, Yanji is considered a small town by Chinese standards. Situated on the border of North Korea and Russia, Yanji is a busy transportation and trade link between North Korea and China, and Yanji’s population is largely ethnic Korean.

What prepared you for the job of being an English teacher in China?

I’m currently working as a high school teacher in a technical school, which is a subject area which differs from my degrees, so I haven’t had a lot of job-specific preparation. However, I think service in general has helped a great deal in providing me with a “willing heart,” and frequent consultation with other ESL teachers has been very useful.

Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction you did in teaching English in China?

I don’t often have “defining moments” where the clouds break and a light from the heavens shines down to illuminate my path in life. My decision to volunteer rose from a gradual recognition of how much I have been given and a desire to give something back. #blessed

What were your thoughts about China before you arrived and how have they changed or stayed the same?

A few people vocally expressed (an unfounded) concern for my safety, which initially cast a little bit of a shadow over my excitement. So after that, I really tried to avoid preconceptions or assumptions about the country.

What is one common misconception people might have about China?

The most common misconception I’ve encountered about China is that it’s extremely dangerous. In reality, as long as you avoid trouble with the government, the threat from other citizens (mugging, murder, kidnapping) is extraordinarily low. The biggest concern is really pickpocketing.

What kind of reception have you been given in Yanji?

The teachers at our school have been very cordial; the most common way I’ve experienced hospitality is through a meal. It’s not uncommon for the English department, or for the whole school to go to dinner together.

How do students usually react to you when you first meet them?

Most students have never seen a foreigner before, so when I first meet a class it usually goes like this: I walk in the door, the students audibly gasp, I say hello, and there’s a few minutes of shyness before I get them talking in English.

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What is a typical workweek like for you?

I teach conversational English to three different grades of high school students, and based on the Chinese class schedule I have about two classes a day. The government provides a conversational English textbook, but as long as I cover the main topics and grammar patterns I have a lot of freedom to develop creative lessons. Some of the ones I’ve particularly enjoyed teaching include lessons on the psychology of personality, American slang, and a murder mystery game.

How does this compare to the workweek of other teachers in your school?

Because the Chinese educational system is completely controlled by the government, they control the curriculum, number of classes, and number of teachers. The government’s control over teaching jobs causes them to hire as many teachers as possible within one school. Consequently, each teacher has considerably fewer classes per day than the average American teacher—no more than four 40-minute lessons a day. This means that I’m doing approximately half of the work of the average Chinese teacher.

How is your school alike or different from other schools you’re familiar with?

Since our school is a technical school, the prevalent attitude among the teachers is that classes are not so much preparation for future education as they are to help students develop into better people. So there’s a lot more flexibility in grading and the rigor of classwork. Additionally, the school allows students quite a bit of free time; they have an hour and a half for lunch, and at least one free period every day. As I mentioned, the same relaxed attitude seems to apply to the teachers. There is less demand to prepare lesson plans in advance and most teachers have time for a nap every day.

Can you explain the educational system in the part of China you live?

Structurally, our school is designed and painted exactly the same as the other high schools in the area. This system of “equality” is carried out to such an extent that even the color of paint within the schools is exactly the same. Our school does differ, however, in that it is an international endeavor between China and Korea. Basically our school is funded by both Chinese and Korean parties, and there are both Chinese and Korean administrators. The purpose is to help expand job placement for students post-graduation—we send students throughout China and South Korea.

How is Yanji different from other places you’ve visited in China?

I’ve had the privilege of visiting some larger cities, like Shanghai. These populous international cities house a multitude of cultures, so it’s easier to feel at home.

What are the hardest parts about living in Yanji?

Although Yanji is a city of 500,00, by Chinese standards it’s the modern-day equivalent of a rural village. The result is that by living in this city we are cut off from virtually all aspects of western culture.

What is the most rewarding part about living in Yanji?

Total immersion in a new culture, and the lack of English in the city propels me to use Chinese and Korean more frequently.

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What is your best memory so far?

It’s actually difficult to choose a single best experience…but I think one that stands out in my mind is visiting the local ice festival. It’s similar to the ice festival in Harbin, where builders take immense quantities of ice and snow to build large structures like castles and slides. At night the giant snow-slides are lit up with colored lights. It’s a really beautiful sight.

Have you found that women are viewed differently than men in Yanji?

In my experience the Chinese state that intellectually women and men are equal, however they hold gender stereotypes for careers, physical ability, and child preference. In terms of careers, I have been told on several occasions that some professions (like engineers) are more suitable for men, and that teaching is the least honorable profession for men as it indicates a fastidiousness of character. Additionally, it’s assumed that in sports, all females are at a disadvantage, so activities are carefully structured to give female players an advantage. Finally, Chinese families still have a strong preference for male children, as the male will care for his parents later in life. When a female is married, she is expected to show preference for her in-laws over that of her own parents (i.e. on family holidays a couple is expected to spend the time with the male’s parents).

What have you discovered about China’s 1 child policy?

While the one-child policy is still enforced, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, ethic minorities (like the Chinese-Koreans in my area) are allowed to have additional children. As a result, because of the high percentage of ethic minorities in my region, I have less experience with the imbalance of genders seen in many other Chinese regions.

How much of a hand do you think the government has in the lives of ordinary citizens?

I guess I can answer that through the example of the typical teacher in my area. A teacher works for the government, and as such is guaranteed a job by the government. Usually upon graduation, the government will place teachers at specific schools, and may move them if deemed necessary. As the educational system is federally run, there is immense pressure for every teacher to be a member of the Communist party—in fact, it’s unofficially necessary for promotion and awards. However, if a teacher is not a member of the Party, they are still exposed to Communist ideals through their co-workers, and “training videos” which are thinly veiled propaganda discouraging religion and political activism. The average teacher likely has a phone and computer, however the government has access to all cellular data, and censors online information including websites such as facebook, twitter, tumblr, google, and virtually all blogs. Donations for natural disasters are derived from the paycheck and are compulsory. Salary and benefits are subject to change without discussion or ability to lobby. It seems the government does everything but assign a police officer to every citizen.

How does being so close to North Korea impact your city?

The proximity to North Korea means there are many North Korean refugees in the city. Additionally, there is a military base which is used for training and to arm the border. The city is also a hub for the transportation of goods into North Korea. All commerce is supposed to be controlled directly by the North Korean government, but as this infrastructure has been weakened significantly by economic hardships, North Koreans have built an extensive black market. Common exports from our city include food, clothing, and unfortunately, methamphetamine.

You spent time in Seoul, South Korea. How similar is Yanji to Korea?

Since there is a large Korean minority living in Yanji, there are tangible influences of both South and North Korean culture in my city. The most obvious is the language; Korean is an official language of the province and many people in Yanji speak Korean (albeit a different dialect). Additionally, there are a few South Korean chain restaurants throughout the city. In terms of pop culture, most residents of Yanji are well-versed in Korean dramas, and Korean pop music, or k-pop.

How does it feel to be an American living in China?

Eventually you just get used to being “strange.”

What is the most interesting thing you’ve observed or been a part of?

Something that I still haven’t adjusted to is other peoples’ reactions to my ethnicity. There are very few people of Caucasian ethnicity in Yanji, so my features can be surprising. People stare openly, sometimes stopping what they’re doing to get a better look at my face. Occasionally people will call out a series of non-related words in English to see if I’ll respond, or if I’m walking they might follow me a short distance to get a better look.

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Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @OCELswick

55 Convicted in Mass Trial in China's Northwest

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:36 p.m. DST, 1 June 2014

"Harmony in Urumqi #2" Photo by: David Vilder

XINJIANG UYGHUR  - In China’s Xinjiang stadium packed with 7,000 observers, 55 people were convicted of terrorism, murder, and separatism. At least one convict was given a death sentence. One man was jailed for 15 years after preaching holy war to his son and another man. Another was given five years in prison for ethnically discriminatory comments he made in chat groups. Three defendants were convicted of using “extremely cruel methods” to kill four people, including a 3-year-old girl on April 20, 2013.

China used mass trials in the Cultural Revolution and again in the 1980s and 90s to combat the rise in crime due to social upheavals related to China’s economic overhaul, but the practice has since faded from use. The AP says, “Such sentencing rallies — designed to humiliate the accused and feed a public thirst for retribution — were formerly common across China, but have in recent years been mostly restricted to Xinjiang and the neighboring restive region of Tibet.”

These convicts are reported to be Uighurs, members of the region’s biggest Muslim minority group. They are Turkic Central Asian people related to Khazaks and Uzbeks. With different accents and slightly European features, they are recognized as distinctly different from China’s Jan majority. Uighurs face discrimination, restrictions on culture and religion, and economic disenfranchisement, and they are increasingly fighting for independence for their northwestern homeland of Xinjiang, an area that borders Afghanistan. The Chinese government claims the unrest amongst the Uighurs is due to extremist groups with ties to Islamic terrorist groups abroad, though experts dispute this.

In the mainly Muslim area of Xinjiang, last week 43 people were killed and 90 wounded, in a vegetable market in Urumqi after two SUVs rammed through shoppers and set off explosives. The Xinjiang regional government said the early morning attack was “a serious violent terrorist incident of a particularly vile nature”. This is the second attack in Urumqi in 3 weeks, after a bomb killed one and wounded 79 in a train station in April.

On Tuesday police in southwestern Xinjiang arrested five people in relation to a bomb plot. The government has detained more than 200 people this month and 23 extremist groups have been broken up. Additionally, the Yili branch of the Xinjiang High Court, announced that 65 people were arrested and detained for offenses including separatism and covering up crimes and rape. In March 2014, 29 people were stabbed to death at a train station in Yunnana. All of these attacks are blamed on Uighur extremists.

Uighur’s have been increasingly facing harassment by the police after a suicide SUV attack at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Five have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in this “carefully planned terrorism,” police revealed. Knives, iron rods, and a flag with religious slogans were found in the vehicle used in this attack. Dozens were injured, and three of the car’s occupants and two bystanders were killed. If proved to be carried out by Uighurs, this is the first attack outside the Xinjiang region in recent history.

China has declared a year-long campaign against terrorism.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

Death Toll Rises in Vietnam Amidst anti-China Protests

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:04 a.m. DST, 17 May 2014

Vietnam, Photo by Ben SmethersBINH DUONG PROVINCE, Vietnam  - Weeks of unrest finally culminated in the Thursday, 15 May 2016 anti-China riot in central Vietnam. where rioters set afire a foreign steel project killing 21 people.

It has been widely reported that 16 Chinese and five Vietnamese workers are dead and more than a hundred people are in the hospital from the Formosa Plastic Group’s upcoming steel plant.

This group is Taiwan’s biggest investor in Vietnam, and the plant is expected to be Southeast Asia’s largest steel making facility. Taiwanese companies doing business in Vietnam have lost billions of dollars.

This incident follows arson and looting to the South, in what has been described as the worst Sino-Vietnamese relations since the border war in 1979. China and Vietnam fought a brief but gory war in 1970 and fought at sea in 1988 when China first occupied its holdings in the Spratly islands.

The riots erupted in the south on Tuesday with protest against Beijing placing an oil rig in the resource-rich part of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. Both countries accused the other of butting its ships near the disputed Paracel Islands.

Police in Binh Duong province said that more than 460 companies in Binh Duong alone have reported damage to their plants. More than 40 policemen were injured while on duty, mainly due to bricks thrown by extremists. 600 people have been arrested.

In an uncorroborated statement, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said, “Appropriate measures should be taken immediately to help businesses stabilize quickly and return to normal production activities.”

Hundreds of Chinese working in industrial zones have fled, namely to neighboring Cambodia, where yesterday alone 600 Chinese people crossed from Vietnam to Bavet international checkpoint. This highway checkpoint stretches from Vietnam’s commercial center in Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Chinese are fleeing to Malaysia, Cambodia, Taiwan, China, and Singapore at the Ho Chi Minh City airport. China Airlines Ltd, Taiwan’s largest carrier, has added 313 seats to flights between Taipei and Hi Chi Minh City.

The crisis in Asia erupted soon after President Obama’s visit in April in which he vowed that Washington would live up to its responsibility to defend its allies in the area. The United States and Vietnam have gradually been deepening military ties in the wake of what is perceived as Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Vietnam has broadened military relationships with Russia and India as well.

White House spokesman Jay Carney shared, “We again urge dialogue in their resolution.” The disputes “need to be resolved through dialogue, not through intimidation.” The U.S. State Department urged restraint from both sides, while stating that, “We support the right of individuals to assemble peacefully to protest.”

The U.S. navy renewed calls for more ship visits in an effort to create stronger naval ties with Vietnam. Hanoi has so far limited U.S. port calls to one visit of up to three ships each year. Fleet spokesman Commander William Marks said “We are interested in engaging with all our partners in the South China Sea and would welcome increased port visits with Vietnam.”

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCElswick

Dongguan Labor Protests | China, Global Consumers Prioritize Products Over People

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Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 23:02 p.m. DST, 29 April 2014

Machine Room Photo by Nathan SniderBEIJING, China -- Years of underpaid social security payments and housing allotments have sparked the protest of thousands of Chinese laborers. The Yue Yuen factory in Dongguan is the global leader in shoe production, employing over 60,000. In the last month, manufacturing has halted. 

In many cases, various forms of compensation were simply unpaid to thousands who do the legwork for corporate giants such as Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Timberland.

The violations of Yue Yuen range from outstanding salaries to mandatory, uncompensated overtime. All of these damages go against Chinese regulations, and are illegal, though apparently permissible. Until now.

Officials are taking notice. But the response of the police and the corporation bear no resemblance. Yue Yuen executives have offered to increase compensation, but have failed to address the concerns over unpaid social insurance and unacceptable factory safety practices. The strike continues, as workers have witnessed this corporate song and dance for decades, with little lasting change. 

On the other hand, many protestors have been jailed since demonstrations escalated earlier this month. The organizer of the demonstration, Zhang Zhiru, has presumably been detained by officials, although his family has been unable to locate or speak with him. The subtext to these actions is that whistleblowers such as Zhiru will be silenced, as well as those who support the cause.

According to An Open Letter to Adidas and Yue Yuen Dongguan, China, a representative for Yue Yuen stated "The misunderstanding has to be clarified by the government." In the wake of the mass incarceration of demonstrators, this statement is very telling. To Yue Yuen, "The misunderstanding" should be read as--the false impression that the voice of Chinese laborers factors into the dealings of the corporate powerhouse. The "clarification from the government" that Yue Yuen is waiting on will surely be the clarity that comes from the iron fist of an autocratic agenda. 

Much of the media attention has centered upon the disruption of sneaker production, as opposed to the people directly affected by the corporate bottom line. The Western discussion of the movement is more concerned with the potential supply fluctuation and securing stable factories, than with addressing the root problems. Chief among these are basic human rights.

Businesses with the strength of Nike or Adidas should not participate with factories that skirt ethical and legal codes. But then again, it is not altogether surprising. That is how most retail titans gain tremendous market shares in the first place.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom