tagged w/ Sichuan Province
The Chinese press is having a field day with the juicy details in a case involving massive government corruption, mob-style beatings and a 46-year-old female crime-boss, reputed to have a stable of 16 lovers at her beck and call.
Ongoing trials are taking place in Chongqing, a megacity located in Sichuan, a province in western China. Xie Caiping, aka ”The Godmother”, was the ringleader in an extensive organized crime network that ran 20 illegal gambling halls, all protected by the police. (Chongqing’ deputy police chief, who happened to be Xie’s brother-in-law, reportedly bought a $4.4 million villa from bribes.) The investigation has been going on since last year and over 1,500 suspects—from gangsters to high-ranking officers—have been rounded up. This AP article notes: “Intended to display the Chinese leadership’s renewed resolve to stamp out corruption, the Chongqing campaign has instead highlighted how entrenched criminal gangs have become through China.”
Back in 2007, Adam Yamaguchi and I travelled to Chongqing and profiled people from different walks of life in this megacity on the rise. We visited a city in transition between the old and the new. The old could be very picturesque—smoky, crumbling old teahouses where old men played checkers and card games, freelance porters known as “bang bang” men stooped under the heavy load they toted on their backs, peasants eking out a meager existence on the few remaining plots of land within city limits that hadn’t yet been seized by greedy developers.
We also couldn’t help but be confronted by the new look of Chongqing—as revealed to us by young Chinese yuppies who had filled their new apartment with IKEA-esque knock offs, the real estate developer super-confident he’d be able to sell thousands of apartment units before they were even built and the homegrown auto company that aspired to be China’s answer to BMW. Even the “bang bang” man who we profiled was no longer carrying loads across his back using a traditional, old-fashioned bamboo stick. Instead he was valiantly carrying gigantic sacks, filled with Western-style garments, for a department story catering to China’s rising middle class. It was clear that the new Chongqing was quickly replacing the old Chongqing and most residents seemed, on the surface, happy about it, as long as everyone’s lives were getting better (read: richer) by the day. So what if all the construction dust and power plant pollution made the air seem as thick as pea soup?
About a week after we aired "City on Steroids", a massive earthquake struck Sichuan province. More than 87,000 people were killed including over 5,000 children when some 7,000 shoddily constructed schools collapsed. Allegations of government corruption as the cause behind the substandard buildings are still being investigated by grieving parents and media. But, over a year later, the Chinese central government in Beijing is still trying to silence all critics on this matter.
Instead, the central government periodically goes after provincial and city officials in cases like this one. It’s happened time and again in many of the megacities on China’s East Coast. Now it’s Chongqing’s turn. The scandals are covered breathlessly by the state-run media. Scapegoats are found. Colorful characters like “The Godmother” and their extravagant lifestyles are trotted out for show trials that rivet the population at large. All this, of course, deflects from examination of the deeper underlying problems in China’s hybrid, Communist-yet-Capitalist system.
In the past three decades as China’s economy has undergone its stratospheric rise, organized crime has re-emerged, like any other well-run business enterprises. And with the reform of China’s tax code in which local governments had to send their revenue to Beijing, local government officials like the ones in Sichuan, became all too susceptible to shady dealing making with organized crime groups .
“The Godmother” has been sentenced to 18 years and some of her cohorts have even gotten death sentences. But in a country as vastly populated as China, this measure is kind of like cutting one head off a hydra-headed monster. You can bet this web of businessmen, mobsters and officials isn’t unique to Chongqing. And until the central government is willing to undergo the difficult, systemic reform to get at the root causes of corruption, organized crime will keep on gathering economic and political strength.
City on Steroids (Video)
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The Sichuan button is a small, yellow flower bud that, when eaten, creates a strong tingling sensation in the mouth -- not unlike biting down on an iPhone -- and a sudden increase in salivation. The active ingredient is spilanthol, a chemical that’s used in food manufacturing and candies (to counteract astringents, which dry out the mouth, and to create the sensation of "freshness"). The full Sichuan button experience comes in three stages: first, a grassy taste, followed by a tingling and numbing sensation, then salivation, and, finally a fresh, clean finish. (It's usually broken up into smaller pieces in cooking.)
Clearly, having something feel like it’s electrocuting your mouth is the highlight of Sichuan button consumption, and, as one blogger described it, "the closest that anybody could compare was putting a 9V battery on your tongue." The Washington Post has more demurely called its taste a "mix of Altoids and Tellicherry."
The button comes from the acmella oleracea plant (also known as para cress or, more adorably, the "toothache plant"). It’s long been used for flavoring and health reasons in South America, Africa and Asia. Indian manufacturers use the buttons to flavor chewing tobacco, for example, while others use its numbing qualities to help relieve toothaches and stomach ailments, and some believe it can help treat blood parasites. (The bud is unrelated to the Sichuan peppercorn, which was long banned in the U.S.)
Koppert Cress, a Dutch micro-vegetable company, helped pitch the button to American high-end restaurants when it opened its first American greenhouse in 2006. In the past two years it’s been gaining buzz among chefs and mixologists, who use it to create a carbonation-like effect in cocktails (especially those with a citrus flavor), and add snap to sauces, ice cream or even chocolates. It also works as a palate cleanser between meals. It's since popped up on NPR and in the Culinary Institute of America alumni magazine (along with the Washington Post).
he appeal of the buttons (mostly because they're very hard to find in the U.S.) remains largely confined to high-end chefs. In 2006, chef Jeff Ramsey used the buttons in his winning entry into the Seven Sushi Samurai contest. Among restaurants that have caught button fever: The East Coast Haru Japanese restaurant group (which has used it in cocktails), Poste in Washington, D.C. (which has used it in a halibut sauce), and Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli restaurant in Spain (which serves Sichuan button-infused milk). Marc Forgione, the chef at Tribeca’s creatively named Marc Forgione (formerly Forge), has even posted a Facebook video showing his love for the buttons.
http://www.salon.com/food/feature/2010/02/02/faddy_foods_sichuan_buttons/index.html?source=yahooThe Sichuan button is a small, yellow flower bud that, when eaten, creates a strong... more
BEIJING (AP) -- A 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck China's southwestern Sichuan province Saturday, killing 22 people and injuring more than 100, state media said.
Rescue teams were headed to the quake-hit area but heavy rains and the region's rugged terrain hampered their efforts, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The quake killed 17 people in Sichuan and five others in the neighboring province of Yunnan, Xinhua said.
The agency said about 100 people in Sichuan and 35 in Yunnan were injured. The quake hit 31 miles southeast of Panzhihua city in the southwestern corner of Sichuan on Saturday afternoon.
Nearly 1,000 houses were destroyed in Panzhihua, and it was not known how many people were buried in the rubble, the report said.
The China Earthquake Administration sent teams and seismic experts while the Yunnan provincial civil affairs bureau and the Yunnan Red Cross Society sent 3,400 tents and 2,000 quilts, Xinhua said.
Also Saturday, an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale struck the northwestern region of Xinjiang, Xinhua said in a separate report.
No casualties were reported from the quake which hit the sparsely inhabited Tianshan mountains, it said.
On May 12, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in northern Sichuan killed nearly 70,000 people and left 5 million homeless. The region has been hit by scores of aftershocks, keeping people there on edge.BEIJING (AP) -- A 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck China's southwestern Sichuan... more
4 years ago
The rescue mission continues in the Sichuan province as the rest of the country mourns the victims of one of the worst earthquakes in recent Chinese history.The rescue mission continues in the Sichuan province as the rest of the country mourns... more