North Korean Leader’s
Secret Passion: Basketball
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has another passion apart from
running the isolationist nation: basketball.
In 2000, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited
North Korea and gave Kim a ball signed by Michael Jordan.
“We should make our youths and workers play a lot of basketball,”
North Korean media quoted Kim Jong Il as saying that year.
Kim will soon have a new 12,300-seat basketball court in his capital.
South Korea’s Hyundai conglomerate has finished a $57 million
gymnasium in Pyongyang that includes a state-of-the-art court
with large TV screens and air conditioning. Construction proceeded
despite tension this year over North Korea’s suspected development
of nuclear weapons.
Hyundai, trying to develop business in North Korea and promote
reconciliation, hopes to open the gym in August.
Sports diplomacy between the Koreas is periodic, even as political
and military tension remains high. They held goodwill basketball
games in Pyongyang in 1999 to mark the inception of the gym project,
and North Korea sent 200 athletes to the University Games in the
South Korean city of Daegu in August.
North Korea began promoting basketball as part of the “Grow
Tall Movement” during a deadly famine in the mid-1990s,
the South Korean government and Northern defectors say. Malnutrition
stunted the growth of many North Korean children, according to
North Korean media have claimed students playing basketball were
1.2 inches to 1.9 inches taller than those playing other sports.
It said the game “activates hundreds of millions of brains
cells per second” because players must continuously make
In 1997, North Korea introduced its own scoring system, giving
eight points to baskets made in the final two seconds.
According to Pyongyang’s official Chongnyonjunwie newspaper,
dunks are three points, instead of the usual two, and one point
is deducted for every free throw missed. Four points are given
to shots made from more than 21 feet and to 3-pointers that hit
the net without touching the rim.
“Under state promotion, schools allotted more gym class
time to basketball,” said Kim Eun-chul, a 34-year-old former
North Korean high school teacher who defected to South Korea in
Kim said most North Korean youngsters, lacking computer games
and other modern diversions, spend free time playing soccer, volleyball
and basketball. But balls are rare, so students and teachers stay
after school to play. “Sports that don’t need much
money to play are generally popular in the North,” said
Chung Hyung-gyo, an official at South Korea’s Unification
Police Told To End Arrest Quotas
China’s police have been ordered to end the practice
of arrest quotas, in a move to safeguard the rights of the public.
State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang
also told all police, especially “grass-roots” units,
that they must shed their interests in all commercial recreational
facilities. Zhou, who is also member of both the Political Bureau
and the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central
Committee, urged all officers to refrain from any actions that
offended public morality, caused public outrage or violated human
rights. Zhou made the order at a national teleconference on strengthening
the management of community-based police units, which he described
as the cornerstone of public security work. The work of community-based
police officers was directly related to the public interest and
had a direct impact on the authority of the CPC and the government,
he stressed. Zhou said police must enforce the law in a strict,
fair and civilized manner.
It may come as no surprise to cognoscenti of Sino-American relations
that both cultures are riddled with distrust for each other. And
if media bias is any indication of popular sentiment, then things
seem to be getting worse, not better. Recent studies of Chinese
and American mutual perception suggest that both sides’
views of the other have become increasingly negative in the last
In China, fears about Western—and particularly American—hegemony
are growing. According to a series of papers from George Washington
University this spring, journals published by Communist Party
think-tanks generally view the U.S. as an imperial power that
improperly involves itself in other countries’ affairs.
Similarly, many books recently released in China contain “generally
negative and critical portrayals” of America, says David
Shambaugh, Director of the China Policy Program at the university’s
Elliot School of International Affairs.
On the American side, popular representations of China tend to
be equally critical. An Elliot School case-study found that coverage
in the last three years in the U.S.’s four major newspapers—the
New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street
Journal—largely, though not universally, demonized China.
Reviews of so-called “China Threat” literature also
suggest a prevalence of anti-Chinese sentiment in the American
media, according to another George Washington University author.
Certainly, the U.S. and China have a long history of cross-cultural
misunderstanding, and a relationship that has often been characterized
by suspicion, ambiguity, and contradiction. The disporportionately
negative tone in both countries’ media, however, is a more
recent development. “The ambivalence noted in previous years
has seemingly given way to a predominantly disapproving and critical
set of mutual perceptions,” Shambaugh writes in this month’s
Journal of Contemporary China. “To be sure,” he adds,
“a series of difficult and unpleasant events—the Tiananmen
massacre, the Yinhe ship affair, the Cox Commision inquiry, the
bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, the EP-3 incident,
and other mishaps—have all contributed to the increased
negativity.” Nevertheless, the motivating history behind
the increasingly tense Sino-American cultural relationship is
part of the diagnosis of an international discontent, rather than
a prescription for its eradication. As Shambaugh concludes in
his paper (titled “Imagining Demons: the rise of negative
imagery in US-China relations”): “this trend is of
China Affirms Ban on Gay Marriage
China is lifting its demand that couples obtain approval from
their employers before getting married but will continue to ban
same-sex unions, state media reported. Zhang Mingliang, an official
of the Civil Affairs Ministry said that China’s 2001 marriage
law forbids gay marriages and that officials won’t process
paperwork for such unions, the official Xinhua News Agency and
newspapers reported. “According to relevant rules, couples
of the same sex are forbidden to marry each other,” Zhang
was quoted as saying in The Beijing Times newspaper. The recent
approval of same-sex marriage in two Canadian provinces has sparked
debate in China. Zhang made his comments in response to “a
controversy in society over the issue of whether homosexuals should
be allowed to marry,” the Times reported.
Gays were strongly persecuted after the founding of Communist
China in 1949, and until recently, Chinese psychiatrists listed
homosexuality as a mental illness. Even today, few Chinese gay
men and lesbians publicly acknowledge their homosexuality, and
antigay discrimination is still strong. The new marriage registration
rules, to take effect October 1, eliminate the requirement that
couples first obtain certificates of approval from their employers
before they wed. The requirement harked back to the days when
an individual’s state work unit controlled many aspects
of life, including housing, health care, and children’s
HIV-Positive Couple Make History in China
A HIV-positive couple has wed publicly for the first time in China
in a ceremony widely reported in state newspapers, a sign more
sufferers may be ready to tackle rampant discrimination.
Doctors and AIDS activists said the couple’s openness in
allowing the press to cover their wedding would help fight discrimination
and boost AIDS prevention in China, which says it has around 1
million HIV sufferers.
Cao Xueliang, 37, and his bride Wang Daiying, 34, traded vows
at a wedding banquet in their native town of Gongmin in the southwestern
province of Sichuan, guests said.
“The new couple and the guests were very happy, like any
other normal wedding,” Xiao Wei, an aid worker who attended
the festivities, told Reuters by telephone. “The new couple
said they would overcome all difficulties together in the future.”
Xiao, who works with a Sino-British AIDS prevention
project active in Gongmin, said more than 200 guests attended
last Friday’s wedding, including some who are HIV-positive.
“Local villagers didn’t mind sharing a meal with them,”
All 67 HIV patients in the town were infected as a result of illegal
blood selling in the central province of Henan in the early 1990s,
the official China Daily said on Monday.
Wang was infected with HIV by her former husband He Yong, who
went to Henan with Cao to sell their blood, it said. He died in
September 2002, leaving his wife and daughter.
The Sichuan newlyweds allowed state newspapers to splash color
photographs of themselves, both wearing striped shirts and corsages
of red roses, laughing and dining with guests at the bride’s
modest courtyard home.
“The newlyweds already decided before marriage they did
not want to have children,” the Beijing Morning Post said
in a half-page story accompanied by legal and medical commentary.
Experts believe the true number of China’s HIV sufferers
is closer to 1.5 million, and the United Nations says the number
could soar to 10 million by 2010 if the government does not do
more to contain the disease.
“Right now, most HIV-positive and AIDS patients are not
open about their status,” said Han Ning, a doctor at Beijing’s
“If they could learn from the new couple to be open about
their personal experiences, they would be better understood by
the public,” he said.
Sufferers cannot legally secure jobs in cities if they fail mandatory
health tests, while others in certain parts of China cannot marry
if they are infected with the virus, activists say.
Hong Kong Store’s Nazi Theme Sparks
German and Israeli diplomats have lashed out at a Hong Kong fashion
company for using swastikas and other Nazi party symbols in a
clothing line and to decorate its chain of stores.
The firm, which calls itself http://www.izzue.com.,
produced a range of T-shirts and pants with Nazi symbols printed
on them. One T-shirt has a portrait of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler
standing on a laurel.
Red banners with white swastikas on top of iron crosses hung Saturday
from the ceilings of some of the firm’s 14 stores. The banners
also carried a sign that resembled the symbol of the Third Reich:
an eagle above a swastika. One branch broadcast Nazi propaganda
films on a wall with a projector.
“It’s totally inappropriate because these symbols
of the Nazi regime stand
for cruelty and crimes against humanity,” a vice consul
of the German Consulate General in Hong Kong said on condition
of anonymity. “These symbols brought a
lot of pain not only over Europe, but over the whole world. It’s
definitely not the way to promote clothes.”
The diplomat urged the public to boycott the shops.
The company’s marketing manager, Deborah Cheng, said the
Nazi-themed decorations and clothes were not intended to cause
an outcry and may be withdrawn. She said the company had received
a few complaints from customers.
“We’re seriously considering removing the displays.
But before we take them off, we have to find a replacement,”
Cheng added that the designer wanted the clothes to have a military
theme and did not realize that the Nazi symbols would be considered
Staff at one of the stores tried to stop an Associated Press photographer
from taking pictures of the shop and tied up the lower part of
the banners to hide the Nazi symbols.
Israeli Consul-General Eli Avidar said the consulate has received
complaints about the displays in the past two days.
“People were furious, hurt and shocked that such a thing
could happen,” Avidar was quoted as saying. “It is
unbearable to think that anyone can design a marketing campaign
that desecrates the deaths of millions of people.”
In April, soft drink giant Coca-Cola pulled a
promotional robot figurine adorned with what appeared to be Nazi
swastikas following criticism from a Jewish leader in Hong Kong.
And in July last year Hong Kong coffee chain Pacific Coffee was
forced to apologise after its stores used a quote from Hitler
for is chalkboard “Thought for the day” spot.
These are inflationary times in the mainland spouse market. The
practice of buying wives in rural China has long been documented,
but increasing demand in recent years means the price of a bride
has gone up substantially.
Zhang Jinrong, 53, headed to Yunnan Province to find a wife for
his son, according to a report in the local press. Zhang Yongming,
31, was about to leave his native Chongqing and join the floating
masses in search of part-time work in the wealthier eastern provinces.
His father did not want him to go alone, but single women are
scarce in their county. It was also unlikely that he would find
someone in the city. A migrant worker’s lifestyle—14-hour
days, seven days a week and shacking up in overcrowded dormitories—is
not the most conducive to finding a partner.
So Mr. Zhang senior headed to the southwest to attend an advertised
auction and buy a daughter-in-law. Unfortunately, the basic economic
principles of supply and demand were to weigh heavily against
There are now more than 117 males born on the mainland for every
100 females, according to official statistics. Worldwide, the
ratio is between 105 and 107 males to 100 females. In some rural
areas in China, there are twice as many boys born as girls.
Boys have been traditionally favored in Chinese families, partly
because they are seen as the ones who carry on the family name.
Parents also feel boys have greater earning potential and will
be able to provide an economic safety net that the state is unable
Statistics show that the tendency to discriminate in favor of
male offspring has greatly increased since the introduction of
the one-child policy: 20 years ago, the male-female birth ratio
in China was comparable to the global average.
Despite laws banning the practice, many women have sex-selective
abortions, where they undergo ultrasound scans and opt to abort
the fetus if it is believed to be female.
According to some estimates, the skewed gender ratio will mean
that by 2020, there could be 100 million mainland bachelors.
Local reports indicate that a few years ago, the average price
for a wife was about ¥3,000 ($384). Now, with men becoming
increasingly desperate to find a spouse, the norm is about ¥15,000.
Many of the women are abducted and forced into marriage. Hundreds
have recounted harrowing tales of being raped, beaten and brutalized.
And, viewed as a commodity, the women can be sold on if the mood
takes their husbands. But reports also indicate that rural women
are increasingly becoming willing participants, seeing it as an
opportunity to earn a lump sum for their family. They also believe
that it will be better than a life of prostitution in the cities
or being mired in rural poverty at home.
In Yunnan, Mr. Zhang senior sets his sights on a 20-year-old,
illiterate girl with very dark skin. Her family is asking ¥15,000,
a tall order for Mr. Zhang, who supports himself and three dependents
on less than ¥600 a month. But he is intent on getting his
son a bride, so after prolonged negotiations, a deal is done for
Huang A-se returned with Mr. Zhang to their Chongqing home and
wedding plans were put into action. In her new village, the young
woman will be surrounded by women who, like her, are products
of this social phenomenon.
Pan Chunhua, the director of the local police station, said that
more than 200 brides who had been bought had moved into their
village over the past few years, mostly from the impoverished
provinces of Yunnan or Guizhou.
“It’s really the only option for a lot of people these
days,” he said.
Dubya a Real Doll
Meet GI George, a high-flying, helmet-carrying Navy pilot who
should be strutting into a toy store near you soon.
Blue Box Toys, a Chinese company that also produces “Little
Kitty” products, is hoping to sell at least 5,000 of the
12-inch-tall Bush figurines commemorating the president’s
May 1 landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, when
he declared that major combat in Iraq was over.
Since that declaration, more Americans have been killed by Iraqi
guerrilla fighters than during the war.
An artist in Hong Kong carved Bush’s likeness from photos
of the event, and all of the figure’s clothing and accessories
are modeled precisely on what the president wore the day he landed
in a S-3B Viking aircraft.
The hair on the fully poseable doll is cropped close, and he wears
the steeled look of a man with many missions under his belt. He
carries flares, a helmet, extra oxygen and a parachute harness.
Even his zippers zip.
In reality, Bush avoided any Vietnam flights by signing up for
a quiet tour of duty in the Texas National Guard, a time period
the president rarely talks about.
But there’s nothing mysterious about the aviator action
figure, which is intended to “commemorate something historical,
something we all watched,” according to company spokeswoman
Aibel, who said that she did not vote for Bush, says he’s
worthy of his own action figure because he transfixed America
by doing something no president had ever
But she said the company has received some very negative feedback
on the action figure.
“They say, ‘How can you do this?’ “ Aibel
The president’s likeness, packaged with a $39.99 price tag
and marketed as “Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush—U.S.
President and Naval Aviator,” marks the first time Blue
Box Toys and its subsidiary, BBI, have turned a political figure
into a toy. A few years ago, BBI created an action figure modeled
on Rudy Bosch, the former Navy SEAL who became famous on CBS’s
Aibel said BBI had no interest in making a political
point with their figure. She noted that executives at the privately
held company are Chinese and are largely unaware of the political
repercussions of Bush’s carrier landing.
Since the president is a public figure, there’s a wide latitude
under the law for using his image, the toy company said.
Democrats, many of whom ripped into the president last spring
for what they claimed was a political stunt, are unimpressed with
the president’s latest incarnation as a plastic doll.
“It’s no surprise that some company would turn George
Bush into a toy. He’s been a puppet of big business since
Inauguration Day,” said Jamal Simmons, a spokesman for Sen.
Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who is running for president.
Tony Welch, a spokesman for Terry McAuliffe, head of the Democratic
National Committee, said: “It’s impossible for there
to be a Bush action figure showing him working on the economy
because it’s something that the president has never done.”
So far, the action figure is only available online,
but it will eventually be sold in retail stores.
The White House declined to comment.