Saturday, March 3, 2012

Producer for Zhang Yimou 'deserves an Oscar award'

Zhang Weiping, producer of Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War, blames Hollywood and the United States press for "Nanjing Massacre denial". 

Zhang Yimou is humble and sincere, but the man behind him delivers an Oscar-worthy performance of the bad cop, again.
Zhang Yimou may be the biggest filmmaker in China, but his producing partner, Zhang Weiping (no relation to the director) is extremely good at something else, namely spreading around culpability.
Recently, producer Zhang launched into a tirade against Hollywood and the United States press, essentially accusing them of "Nanjing Massacre denial".
In a series of media interviews, Zhang said that because "many Japanese denied the Nanjing Massacre, and two of the biggest film studios in Hollywood are owned by Japanese, Hollywood naturally identified with the Japanese view and concluded that The Flowers of War does not respect history, but is based on fabrication."

Zhang Weiping, producer of Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War, blames Hollywood and the United States press for "Nanjing Massacre denial". China Photo Press
He specifically mentioned the review by The New York Times, which was published on Dec 20, 2011, as "changing the tide of public opinion in the West". In previews before that, he claimed, the film was "warmly embraced".
Government darling?
Zhang Weiping reasoned the West got its preconceived notions about the film from three sources: Zhang Yimou directed the Beijing Olympics show, the film got a loan from a State-owned bank, and had its premiere in a government building.
Of course, none of that determines it has to be a government-funded film. While all movies produced in China have to be government approved for content, not all are made by the government or government-owned entities.
But is it true that the perceived government association with Zhang Yimou's new war epic undermined its box-office performance in the US?
From what I have read, US press coverage of the film indeed showed some anxiety about the subject matter - whether it might be too "jingoistic" or whether it embodies some kind of government agenda. But once the critics saw the movie, it was pretty clear that what they did not like was the style rather than the content.
The story itself, while highly melodramatic, has a kernel of truth as it was recorded in the personal journal of Minnie Vautrin, the American missionary educator who saved many Chinese refugees from Japanese brutality.
Mike Hale, the New York Times film critic, wrote: "It's a contrived, hothouse state of affairs, summed up in a scene Mr Zhang likes so much that he repeats it: the laughing prostitutes sashaying across the churchyard in slow motion, oblivious to the impending tragedy. There will be tragedy, of course, though when it comes it takes a weirdly oblique form."
Well, some Chinese blogger pulled out many reviews from the US press and compared them with Zhang's accusation. The result is not only discrepancies, but outright contradictions. It's safe to say that while Americans do not love the massacre topic as much as they do the Holocaust, they made it a point that it's Zhang's film they did not care about.
It probably did not help either that the veteran director is no longer the art-house "dissident" whose work was constantly censured by the establishment.
But it shows producer Zhang's desperation and lack of finesse to over-politicize the reception of their film, especially associating it with serious denial of the massacre by some Japanese politicians.
Secretions of bitterness
Zhang Weiping is prone to hyperbole. Before the release of Flowers, he claimed that it would gross 1 billion yuan ($158.73 million) in domestic box office revenue and 200 million yuan ($31.75 million) in North America. He ended up with 630 million yuan in the home market and $250,000 Stateside as of February, 2012.

You can say he had high hopes and it is human nature to look on the bright side.
Zhang has the habit of employing "grand" strategies for promotion. Before the movie came out in China, there were rumors that Zhang Yimou was to remarry his wife, whom he divorced over 20 years ago. The film before that came with the opportune surfacing of early private photos of the director and Gong Li, his long-time beau and muse, but since separated for a dozen years. Nobody could tell whether director Zhang consented to such marketing gimmicks, but they probably worked wonders - as expected - or why did he (or the marketers he hired) keep using such tabloid-style schemes?
Zhang Weiping's company, China New Pictures Film, is strictly a one-trick pony, hmm, I mean one-director operation. If a project bombs, there is nothing to offset the loss, or send the blame elsewhere. And by "elsewhere", it means everywhere except the producer and the director.
For example, producer Zhang blamed Bill Kong, his long-time producing partner, for chickening out of Flowers of War. He reprimanded Christian Bale for "hurting the movie rather than helping it". Previously, he also disclosed that he paid the Hollywood star $20 million, a move that ran contrary to professional secrecy. (Shouldn't Bale have helped its American exposure by doing something that the Chinese government hated, I wonder?)
But Bale should not feel too bad about it. Zhang did say a lot of nice things about him before Flowers opened. Besides, at the time of Curse of the Golden Flowers, the producer hung out a laundry list of "bad behavior" by its star, Chow Yun-fat.
More surprisingly, Zhang Weiping admitted to full understanding of the risks of this undertaking, including its political risks. So, he should have known what would happen later, right?
As I see it, Zhang is not a gracious loser.
Film is a risky business. You do not know what people will like at a certain time. They may swarm to World War II movies one year and become totally apathetic the next. That makes moguls like Harvey Weinstein true geniuses because they are able to predict - with a higher degree of accuracy - what audiences will swoon over two or three years from now.
On top of that, it is ludicrous to place high hopes on Oscar recognition as a launch pad into the North American market. As has been shown in the past decade, the Best Foreign Language category has an aversion for big-budget epics. And even if it wins the award, it may not boost its box office in any substantial way, as has happened to many winners such as No Man's Land.
Zhang Weiping has the chutzpah of Harvey Weinstein or Louis B. Mayer, but he does not possess their artistic visions. He supports the director without giving him the necessary input of a true film impresario. Of all the people who should take some responsibility for the less-than-stellar turnout, the producer should be the one to say, "The buck stops here." That means self-reflection about both the business and artistic decisions of the enterprise.

China releases standard names of Diaoyu Islands

BEIJING - China has released standard names and descriptions of the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated isles, according to sources with the State Oceanic Administration.

The Diaoyu Island is named as "Diaoyu Island", with its Chinese pronunciation reading "Diao yu Dao". It is described as an island "about 356 kilometers from the city of Wenzhou, 385 kilometers from the city of Fuzhou and 190 kilometers from the city of Keelung."

The country has also released names of Diaoyu's 70 affiliated islands, the names in pinyin and description of locations.

In accordance with Chinese law on island protection, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the country's maritime authority, gives standard names to China's seas and islands.

Authorized by the State Council, or the cabinet, the SOA and the Ministry of Civil Affairs published standard names of the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated isles on their websites.

China air standards going national by 2016

BEIJING - The revised air quality standard that includes an index of PM2.5 will be implemented throughout the country by January 1, 2016, said an environment protection official on Friday.
"The new standard will be extended to all cities at prefecture level or above in 2015, and January 1, 2016 is the deadline for its implementation throughout the nation," said Wu Xiaoqing, vice minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Wu's words came after the State Council, or China's Cabinet, on Wednesday passed revised air quality standards that include indices for ozone and PM2.5, fine particulate matter 2.5 microns or less in diameter.
The government decided to monitor PM2.5 in four municipalities, 27 provincial capitals, as well as three key regions -- east China's Yangtze River Delta, south China's Pearl River Delta, and the northern Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area -- this year.
Wu said that two-thirds of China's cities cannot meet the recently updated air quality standard, adding that air pollution control will be "an arduous task for the country."
"But that doesn't mean air quality is deteriorating in these cities," Wu said. "It is because the appraisal standards have been raised."
PM10 was previously used as part of the country's air quality standards before being replaced by the PM2.5 index, which measures finer particles that are considered more hazardous to health than larger ones.
Stressing the focus is on improving air quality rather than its monitoring, Wu said his ministry is working on a five-year plan for air pollution prevention and control in key regions, aiming to reduce the amount of fine particles in the air by strengthening controls over industrial waste treatment and auto emissions.
The vice minister urged local governments to formulate plans for meeting the new standard, raise environmental access requirements for enterprises and invest more in pollution treatment.
The amended standards also impose stricter limits for several types of pollutants and specify new analytical methods for pollutants such as SO2, NO2 and particulates.
Wu described the new standard as a "significant milestone" in the country's environmental protection efforts, as it marks a transformation from pollution control to environmental quality management and risk prevention.
The new standard "generally" follows international practice, Wu aid, admitting China still has a long way to go to meet the guiding limits set by the World Health Organization.
By the end of last year, 56 cities in China had been able to monitor PM2.5 or O3, with 169 sets of equipments ready for such monitoring.
Wu said another 1,500 monitoring sites will be built across the country in four years, with an initial investment of 2 billion yuan ($317 million).
With regards to some embassies in Beijing monitoring air quality and releasing results, the vice minister said air quality monitoring should adhere to relevant technological regulations which involve the location of the monitoring sites, and the analytic methods and equipment.
The accuracy of the monitoring can be ensured only by strict statistics quality control and guarantee measures, said Wu, adding that civilian's monitoring results can be used for reference.
The revised standard is consistent with the internationally accepted standard and technological regulation, Wu said, suggesting that the practice of assessing the air quality of a region in hours by a daily mean of PM2.5 is unreasonable, and can't truly represent the air quality in that region.
According to the new standard, Beijing will release in real time the concentration of six pollutants including PM2.5, O3 and SO2, and the individual air quality index recorded at each site, making the monitoring more comprehensive and representative, said Wu.
"So far, the monitoring sites in Beijing have covered the area hosting foreign embassies, which may have met the needs of embassy staff for learning about the air quality in Beijing," added Wu.

Wang Lijun under investigation

BEIJING - Chongqing vice-mayor Wang Lijun is under investigation and not to attend the upcoming session of the National People's Congress (NPC), a spokesman for the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee said here Friday.
Wang, an NPC deputy, has asked for leave in this year's session, Spokesman Zhao Qizheng told reporters at a press conference, adding that progress has been made in the probe.
"Wang's incident is an isolated case," Zhao said, asking media not to make excessive speculation on the incident.
Zhao compared some media reports of Wang's incident to "puzzle pieces", which, because of lack of information, are not accurate and even absurd.
Wang entered the US consulate in southwest China and stayed there for one day, the office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokespersons said on February 9.
Southwestern China's Chongqing municipality has made many achievements in social and economic development in recent years, Zhao said.
Bo Xilai, secretary of Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, will attend this year's NPC session, according to Zhao.
The annual session of the NPC, China's top legislature, and that of the CPPCC national committee, the top political advisory body, will open early this month.

2 in 3 cities cannot meet new air quality standards

BEIJING - Wu Xiaoqing, Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection, said Friday that two-thirds of China's cities cannot meet recently updated air quality standards, adding that air pollution control will be "an arduous task for the country."
Wu's words came after the State Council, or China's cabinet, on Wednesday passed revised air quality standards that include indices for ozone and PM2.5, or fine particulate matter 2.5 microns or less in diameter.
"Two-thirds of Chinese cities fall short of the new regulation, but this doesn't mean air quality is deteriorating in these cities," Wu said.
The PM10 index was previously used as part of the country's air quality standards before being replaced by the PM2.5 index, which measures fine particles that are considered to be more hazardous to health than larger particles.
Wu said his ministry is working on a five-year plan for air pollution prevention and control in key regions, aiming to reduce the amount of fine particles in the air by strengthening controls over industrial waste treatment and auto emissions.
The vice minister urged local governments to formulate plans for meeting the new standard, raise environmental access requirements for enterprises and invest more in pollution treatment.
The amended standards also impose stricter limits for several types of pollutants and specify new analytical methods for pollutants such as SO2, NO2 and particulates.
Wu said the new standards are a "significant milestone" in the country's environmental protection efforts, as they mark a transformation from pollution control to environmental quality management and risk prevention.

US, DPRK deal sends positive signal

BEIJING - Pyongyang's agreement to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for nutrition aid from the United States sends a positive signal, but difficulties in solving nuclear issues on Korean Peninsula remain, analysts say.
Through the agreement, both the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea expressed a sound willingness to improve bilateral ties, said Wang Junsheng, an expert on Asia-Pacific studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
China welcomed the improvement of Washington-Pyongyang ties and their contribution to maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
"China appreciates that the US and the DPRK reaffirmed to implement the 9/19 Joint Statement, and would take positive measures related," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
"China is willing to work with relevant parties to continue to push forward the Six-Party Talks process, and play a constructive role to realize long-term peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia."
Huang Youfu, an expert on Korean studies with the Minzu University of China, said that the agreement has created a good foundation for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks.
The DPRK agreed to halt its nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and uranium enrichment activity at Yongbyon, Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said on late Wednesday.
The DPRK allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment while productive dialogues continue, as the US promised to offer 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance, KCNA said.
The IAEA treats the agreement as "an important step forward", said the agency's director general Yukiya Amano.
"Pending further details, we stand ready to return to Yongbyon to undertake monitoring activities upon request and with the agreement of the Agency's Board of Governors."
KCNA added that the US made it clear that sanctions against the DPRK are not targeting the civilian sector. Once the Six-Party Talks resume, the priority will be a discussion about lifting sanctions on the DPRK and providing light water reactors to the DPRK.
The agreements were the result of high-level nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington held last week in Beijing.
Both the US and the DPRK would like to finalize the agreement, said Huang, adding that the US government needs a political achievement before the presidential election in November, while the DPRK needs to solve its food shortage problem.
The US has achieved its goal of making the DPRK suspend its nuclear and missile program. The DPRK compromised because the US can only offer nutritional aid, which can only be sent out to women and children, not all people who lack food, Wang said.
"Pyongyang's compromise indicates its intensive attempt to improve ties with Washington," he added.
Wang said the agreement is not a breakthrough for the nuclear issues on Korean Peninsula and difficulties still remained ahead.
"If Pyongyang still feels being threatened by joint-military drills held by the US, Republic of Korea and Japan, it is likely to resume its nuclear plans," Wang said.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a news conference on Wednesday in Washington that Pyongyang's agreement showed concrete measures that Washington considered "a positive first step toward complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner".
Pyongyang's agreement obviously needed to be followed up by actions, said Carney, adding that Washington expected "a continuity in the behavior of the DPRK".
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the agreement is "a modest first step in the right direction," adding that Washington continues to have profound concerns over a range of the activities by the DPRK.
The ROK hailed the outcome of the recent US-DPRK consultation in Beijing, the ROK foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Manufacturing continues to expand

Index hits five-month peak, easing concerns over economic slowdown
BEIJING / SHANGHAI - Manufacturing bounced back to a five-month peak in February, supported by stronger exports, easing concerns about a possible contraction.
The purchasing managers' index, an indicator of manufacturing activity, hit 51 last month, 0.5 points higher than January, the National Bureau of Statistics and the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing revealed on Thursday.
It has stayed above the 50-point level for three consecutive months after it dropped to a 32-month low of 49 in November. A reading higher than 50 means expansion, while below 50 shows contraction.
"The continually increasing PMI proves the nation is undergoing an economic rebound, propped up by industrial production," Zhang Liqun, a research fellow with the Development Research Center of the State Council, said.
In view of the current economic situation the forthcoming two sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference are expected to further clarify the government's stance.
"The government may highlight the modest easing to support growth, while fiscal spending is likely to be tilted more to livelihood areas," said Wang Tao, chief economist with UBS China.
Liu Ligang, director of the economic research department of ANZ Greater China, attributed the rebound to China's easing monetary policies and improving external climate.
China announced last month that it would cut the reserve requirements for banks which Liu said would help direct more capital to the economy.
Economic growth declined to 8.9 percent in the final quarter last year after Beijing hiked interest rates and tightened other controls to tame inflation.
The government reversed course in December and promised more bank lending to help companies cope with the slump in global demand but changes have been gradual.
In February the sub-index of industrial output climbed to 53.8 from 53.6 in January, its highest in six months.
Unlike the January growth, which was mainly driven up by consumer spending during the Lunar New Year holidays, the rise in February was fueled by expansion of electrical and mechanical equipment manufacturing, a report from the logistics federation said.
There was also good news on the export front. Orders increased to 51.1, 4.2 points higher than the January reading, the first time it was above 50 since August 2011.
It may be a sign of a trend initiated by rising US manufacturing and the improved situation in the indebted eurozone, the federation said.
Zhou Dewen, chairman of the Wenzhou Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development Association, said manufacturers in Wenzhou are busier, so far, in 2012 than they expected to be.
Many export-oriented businesses in Wenzhou are developing new markets outside Europe, North America and Japan and are seeking new distribution channels in South America, Africa and the Pacific Rim, Zhou said.
The purchasing prices index, which shows the raw material costs of industrial production, jumped to 54 in February, the highest since October last year.
Zhang warned that the surging prices, especially for oil-related commodities and chemicals, might indicate inflationary pressure and threaten future economic growth.
The consumer price index, a main gauge of inflation, increased to 4.5 percent in January from 4.1 percent in December, forcing authorities to remain vigilant over inflation while maintaining growth.
According to the official statement, small companies were able to expand at a faster pace according to a sub-index reading of 55.2, up by 3.2 points from a month earlier.
Small and medium-sized businesses have benefited from government support. In addition, the central bank's move to reduce bank reserves on Feb 24 increased market liquidity.
However, an HSBC index portrayed a different view of manufacturing.
The HSBC PMI reading of 49.6 indicated a contraction although recording a better performance from the 48.8 in January.
"Deteriorating external demand is adding more downside risks to growth in the absence of a strong comeback in domestic demand," said Qu Hongbin, HSBC chief economist in China.
Zhang Zhiwei, chief economist in China with Nomura Holdings, also had a dim view. He expected that PMI in March will drop, because of cooling export and property sectors.
Zhang said that the People's Bank of China, the central bank, may cut interest rates by 25 basic points in March and again cut bank reserve requirements by 50 basic points in April, to prevent a further slowdown.

AIDS fight set to get new boost

Greater cooperation with public also vital, health official says
BEIJING - Organizations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS will get greater government support, a health official said.
"The government will beef up investment and support for social groups" and cooperate with reliable ones, Yu Jingjin, director of the disease prevention and control bureau under the Ministry of Health, said.
Each province this year will support three to five civil societies tackling HIV/AIDS and help them with operational costs and training, he said.
His comments came amid concern over the withdrawal of money from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria next year.
The fund has been hit by the failure of international donors to meet their commitments.
Yu urged health authorities to work more with society in general to fight AIDS. Cooperation in this sphere has not always worked fully to its potential, he said.
Meanwhile, the ministry and the Ministry of Civil Affairs have carried out research to broaden cooperation with civil societies, he noted.
Under current regulations community-based organizations have difficulty registering at the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
This hinders their operations such as raising funds and claiming tax exemption.
The number of infected people should be below 1.2 million by 2015 according to targets publicized on Wednesday that were incorporated into the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15).
Official estimates put current infections at 780,000.
The targets envisage new HIV cases in 2015 dropping by 25 percent compared with 2010 and the AIDS death rate dropping by 30 percent.
"These are tough targets and it will take hard work for us to meet them," Yu said.
Yu urged local governments not to be complacent about what has been achieved as the country was still facing huge challenges to curb HIV/AIDS.
A surge in deaths has occurred in recent years as those infected gradually developed full-blown AIDS, he said.
China reported 21,234 AIDS deaths last year, up 11.8 percent over 2010. It is the leading fatal infectious disease in China since 2008, official statistics showed.
Tracking sufferers can be difficult and there have been cases where full-blown AIDS was evident even before HIV testing had taken place, he said.
And intervention is difficult because most transmissions occur during intimate moments. This is why education about the virus and AIDS is so important, he said.
Of the new reported HIV/AIDS cases in 2011, nearly 79 percent were due to unsafe sex, both heterosexual and homosexual.
"The epidemic and its transmission is more complex now," said Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention.
Wu said that the percentage of young students and old people becoming infected has increased.
Last year, national health departments recorded more than 84 million HIV antibody tests, up 30 percent over 2010.
Intervention and prevention has targeted more susceptible groups, such as sex workers and homosexuals, Yu said.
To better reach these groups, "community organizations play an indispensable role", he said.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

HK's chief executive apologizes to public

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang attends a question and answer session at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong March 1, 2012.

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's Chief Executive (CE) Donald Tsang formally apologized on Thursday to the public over travel and other incidents related to him, which were believed to have created worries and shaken public confidence in the city's institutional system.
Attention has been drawn to Tsang recently after local media disclosed his holiday trips on private jets and yachts owned by his tycoon friends, and the renting of a Shenzhen flat where Tsang intended to live after his tenure ended.
A full account of the incidents have been demanded by the city' s lawmakers, who also called for a full disclosure of payments Tsang made.
Tsang, while attending a question and answer session at the city's Legislative Council in the day, said that after consulting with his wife, he has decided to give up the Shenzhen flat and will arrange meetings to terminate the contract as soon as possible.
Wide media coverage has already generated public suspicion on my honesty and integrity as the city's CE, Tsang said, who admitted his ways of dealing with the incidents did not meet the public expectations.
"Today, I came to the Legislative Council by myself to provide an explanation, not with an intention to save my own reputation, but to restore the public's confidence in a clean and devoted government," Tsang said.