Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.
Last week, a 47-year-old man stormed into a law firm in China’s Wuhan city and shot dead a lawyer who he had “some disputes with,” according to Chinese state media. He then stuffed his gun, just under 20 inches (50 centimeters) long, into a tennis racket bag and left.
The fatal shooting shocked many in China, which has some of the world’s strictest gun control laws – so much so, that some people thought initial reports were about yet another American shooting.
“When my friend told me about the shooting, I thought it was the United States,” one person wrote on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Another user wrote, “Using a gun to kill people in China? Am I watching an American movie?”
That disbelief widely reflects how rare gun crime is in China – in contrast to it being a daily reality in the US.
The two countries stand on opposite ends of the spectrum of gun control, with the right to bear arms legally protected and vehemently defended in one, and a near-total ban on civilian firearm ownership in the other.
The difference is stark when it comes to public safety. Despite being the world’s most populous country, with 1.4 billion residents, China only records a few dozen gun crimes a year. And more broadly, violent crime has continued falling, reaching its lowest level in 20 years in 2020, according to state-run news outlet Xinhua.
Meanwhile, the US reports hundreds of mass shootings with four or more victims every year, with more than 475 such incidents recorded so far in 2021 – not to mention many more gun deaths like suicides. Though there have been growing calls for gun control across the country, violent crime in general is on the rise – major cities saw a 33% increase in homicides last year, in a crime surge that has continued this year.
China frequently draws this comparison, using America’s crime rate to accuse the country of hypocrisy and ineffective governance, while downplaying its own rare incidents. For instance, the police statement on the Wuhan shooting avoided any mention of the gun, only saying the attacker had “wounded” an employee.
State-run media outlets, meanwhile, have published dozens of articles about shootings in the US in the past few months alone. In 2019, nationalist tabloid Global Times touted China’s effective gun control as “a lesson for (the) US.” More recently, a Xinhua editorial in June called the US a “double-dealer” for criticizing other countries on human rights grounds while failing to tackle its own “raging gun crimes.”
The two countries’ opposite approaches are especially striking given both nations were born from armed insurrection – the US winning its independence in the Revolutionary War in 1783, and the Chinese Communist Party establishing the People’s Republic of China in 1949 after a lengthy rebellion against the Nationalist government.
But their attitudes diverged from there, with the US enshrining the right to bear arms in the Constitution, arguing that this right, and a “well regulated militia,” were “necessary to the security of a free state.”
China swung in the other direction, deciding that an armed public posed a threat to safety and stability in the still-fragile, newly won country. For Communist Party leaders, weapons were a means of revolution, with Chairman Mao Zedong famously declaring in 1927: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Just two years after the People’s Republic was founded, the government implemented measures prohibiting citizens from buying, selling or privately manufacturing guns. Several smaller ministries had passed gun control laws over the years – but the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which the Chinese military crushed protests led by college students in Beijing with deadly force, marked a tipping point.
The government implemented new gun control regulations just months later – an extension of its wider crackdown on all forms of public dissent and organized resistance.
By 1996, a national gun control law had been promulgated by the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature. Under the law, only a few groups of people are allowed to own guns, including law enforcement, security personnel, government-approved sports shooters and government-approved hunters.
The Communist Party’s grip has only grown tighter under President Xi Jinping. In recent years, authorities have carried out more raids and offered freedom from prosecution in firearms amnesties. Police destroyed 69,000 illegal guns last November; this May, the government announced it was launching yet another four-month campaign to seize illegal guns.
China’s gun control policy is broadly popular among the public, which – like many in the international community – views US gun crime with bewilderment and horror.
But the severe, inflexible rules have also provoked controversy at times. In one notorious case, a 20-year-old man in Fujian province was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2016 for buying replica guns online, unaware that even fake guns could be considered de facto firearms. His case sparked outcry and garnered sympathy among the public, and his sentence was reduced to seven years in 2018.
And though China is comparatively safer in terms of violent crime – it has one tenth of the murder rate in the US, according to 2018 data – it still faces other threats like knife attacks, often targeting schoolchildren, with a spate of mass stabbings in recent years. The perpetrators are often found to have mental illnesses, highlighting the limited mental health resources in China and social stigma that surrounds the issue.
Authorities look to stamp out ‘boys’ love’ dramas
As Chinese authorities crack down further on the entertainment industry, “boys’ love” dramas are next on the chopping block.
The “boys’ love” genre, depicting romance between male characters, has long attracted audiences in Japan and South Korea. But in the past few years, the genre has boomed in the Chinese market – especially after the runaway success of “The Untamed,” a fantasy drama set in ancient China that has so far been viewed more than 9.8 billion times on Chinese streaming website Tencent.
But boys’ love shows have to comply with Chinese censors, which ban the portrayal of gay and lesbian relationships.
Though homosexuality was decriminalized in China in 1997, stigma remains strong, reflected in strict censorship by social media platforms as well as film and television regulators.
That means no explicit scenes between same-sex couples, or even so much as a kiss. Instead, China’s boys’ love dramas are filled with heated glances, lingering touches, long moments of tension and implicit but unmistakeable romance.
However, it seems even these unspoken love stories may no longer be allowed.
Last Thursday, the country’s National Radio and Television Administration held a meeting urging the television industry to boycott adaptions of boys’ love novels, reported the state-run Global Times tabloid.
The group’s vice director, Zhu Yonglei, decried “unhealthy phenomena in entertainment” and asked industry leaders to avoid actors who are “morally tainted,” according to Global Times.
The report, which criticized other aspects of boys’ love shows such as the “irrational loyal fans,” added that most of the viewers are young – which is why regulators need to ensure they received the proper “influence on their value system.”
This comes after several moves earlier this year that have clamped down further on the LGBTQ community, including the cancellation of China’s biggest Pride festival and the shutdown of dozens of LGBTQ accounts on social media.
At least 10 people died after an overloaded ferry carrying mostly students capsized in a river in China’s southern province of Guizhou on Saturday. The ferry is the main mode of transport for students living in riverside villages to go to school in town on the other side of the water. The students had been on their way home for the Mid-Autumn Festival, a three-day holiday that began Sunday, when the ferry overturned in bad weather, according to Chinese media.
Troubled Chinese firm Evergrande faces big tests this week
The heavily indebted Chinese conglomerate Evergrande is facing several critical tests this week.
The company was supposed to repay interest on bank loans Monday, according to Bloomberg. The news outlet recently reported that Chinese authorities have told major banks they won’t receive those payments.
Reuters also reported earlier this month that Evergrande intended to suspend interest payments due on bank loans Tuesday. And interest payments are due later this week on two of the company’s bonds, totaling nearly $120 million, according to data provider Refinitiv.
It’s not clear how much – if any – of those debt obligations will be met this week. The real estate giant is on the brink of default, and is scrambling to pay back its massive $300 billion debt – an amount that comprises about 2% of China’s GDP. That $300 billion debt burden is also about 6.5% of the total debt of China’s property sector, according to an estimate by UBS.
The company has about 200,000 employees, raked in more than $110 billion in sales last year, and has more than 1,300 developments, according to Reuters. Its huge liabilities are widely held by financial institutions, retail investors, suppliers, and home buyers.
The size of the company and the complex network of its debt obligations means a default by Evergrande could pose spillover risks to the broader property sector and the economy.
Evergrande’s bonds and stocks have been plunging as the company delays payments to wealth management and trust products, deepening a year of huge losses. The company’s stock has shed nearly 90% in the past 12 months.
Last week, the company warned that it could default on its huge debts as it struggles to cut costs or find buyers for some of its assets.
Angry investors have also reportedly protested in several Chinese cities and besieged Evergrande’s headquarters in Shenzhen.
For more on Evergrande, read about how this Chinese business empire came to the brink of default on CNN Business.
– By Laura He
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