Mammoth tusk haul seized by Chinese customs

Picture of mammoth tusks seized in Heilongjiang province in China on 11 April 2017Image copyrightCHINA NEWS SERVICE
Image captionThe haul of mammoth tusks, rhino horns and jade reportedly came from Russia

Chinese customs officers have seized more than a tonne of tusks from animals that have been extinct for thousands of years – mammoths.

State media are reporting that the massive haul came from Russia and was seized in north-east China in February.

The largest piece of mammoth ivory seized was more than 1.6m (5ft) long, a customs officer was quoted as saying.

There is no international ban on the trade but Chinese officials said the haul was not declared.

Millions of mammoths

The stockpile is part of a booming trade between Russia and China in ivory taken from the skeletons of mammoths found in the Siberian tundra. The effects of global warming in the Arctic has made it easier to collect tusks preserved in ice for thousands of years, researchers say.

More than 100 woolly mammoth tusks were seized at the port of Luobei in Heilongjiang province, in addition to 37 woolly rhino horn parts and more than a tonne of jade. They were hidden in concealed compartments in a truck, according to reports.

Picture of mammoth tusks seized in Heilongjiang province in China on 11 April 2017Image copyrightCHINA NEWS SERVICE
Image captionThe tusks were seized in February but were shown to media earlier this week

The truck driver is alleged to have claimed he was only carrying soybeans, and to have fled the scene when the truck was inspected.

He and another person were later arrested.

Listen: The growing and legal trade in mammoth ivory (BBC Radio 4)

DNA clues to why woolly mammoth died out

There are estimated to be around 10 million mammoths that “remain incarcerated within the permafrost of the Arctic tundra”, according to Douglas MacMillan, a professor of conservation and applied resource economics at the University of Kent.

The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), or tundra mammothImage copyrightSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image captionMost of the world’s woolly mammoths had died out by about 10,500 years ago

Some mammoth experts have suggested that the trade in mammoth ivory should be banned, even though the animals are extinct. They argue that their tusks are often sold as elephant tusks, and thus encourage overall demand for ivory.

It is estimated that more than 50% of the ivory sold into China, which has has the biggest ivory market in the world, is mammoth ivory. Hong Kong is a major destination, and the ivory is used to make jewellery and other objects, including ornamental tusks.

But other experts like Prof MacMillan say that a ban would not halt the trade but rather “drive it underground and attract the attention of organised crime groups”.

Most of the world’s woolly mammoths had died out by about 10,500 years ago. Scientists believe that human hunting and environmental changes played a role in their extinction.

China has announced a ban on all elephant ivory trade and processing activities by the end of 2017.

Media captionWoolly mammoths died out because of “mutational meltdown”, Dr Rebekah Rogers tells The World Tonight
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Hip-hop takes centre stage in China for the first time

Hip-hop takes centre stage in China for the first time

Poster for Rap of ChinaImage copyrightIQIYI

A hugely successful internet reality show has put hip-hop music into the national spotlight for the first time in China.

With more than 2.5 billion views on China’s largest online video hosting website, iQiyi, the Rap of China has seen dozens of Chinese rappers shoot to stardom.

Showcasing young and feisty contestants locked in rap battle in front of a panel of celebrity…

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Hip-hop takes centre stage in China for the first time

Poster for Rap of ChinaImage copyrightIQIYI

A hugely successful internet reality show has put hip-hop music into the national spotlight for the first time in China.

With more than 2.5 billion views on China’s largest online video hosting website, iQiyi, the Rap of China has seen dozens of Chinese rappers shoot to stardom.

Showcasing young and feisty contestants locked in rap battle in front of a panel of celebrity judges, the show sparked debate, memes and catchphrases across the Chinese-speaking web.

“Can you freestyle?” became a buzzword, after one of the celebrity judges, Kris Wu, used it to repeatedly grill contestants as he was questioned over his own hip hop legitimacy. Hip hop terms like “diss” – to put someone down – have crept into everyday conversation.

Tapping a gold mine

The 12-episode show, which wrapped up last weekend, was hugely successful in bringing underground rappers such as HipHopMan, Tizzy T, PG One, Jony J, or VAVA to public attention.

Media captionIs the world ready for Chinese hip hop?

“It’s like they ripped open a gap and found it full of gold,” Wang Ke, or MC Bigdog, one of the contestants featured in the show, told the BBC.

“Chinese rappers have been underestimated and neglected,” Wang said. “Our net worth has grown exponentially after the show, but it should have done so a long time ago.”

Group photo of the celebrity judgesImage copyrightIQIYI
Image captionJudge Kris Wu (centre) was challenged over his legitimacy on the panel

Rappers like MC Bigdog were around long before Rap of China.

The genre started gaining momentum in the early 2000s, influenced by American rappers like Eminem and Jay-Z.

Rappers who did well might be signed to labels, music festivals and fashion brands. Some got to perform in clubs.

The number of hip hop music venues and clubs has grown over the years, and national competitions like the China Iron Mic helped to spur on the scene in many cities.

Yet in a society that doesn’t encourage self expression, the rebel spirit of hip hop never really managed to take centre stage but stayed in its own ecosystem.

For most rappers it has remained a hobby – some would even pay out of their own pockets to record albums.

All for show?

Rap of China, therefore, was a game changer. It was said to be the most expensive reality show in history with an investment of 200 million yuan ($30m; £23.7m). Some 700 aspiring rappers auditioned.

Al Rocco mainly raps in English. He was eliminated in Rap of China in the first round because he didn’t rap in Chinese. He then wrote an expletive-laden song, The Rap of China DISS, to show his contempt for the format.

Rapper Al Rocco
Image captionAl Rocco says the show is about drama, not music

Although the show provided money for hip hop music to grow, “it’s not real hip hop that is in the show,” Al Rocco complains. He thinks the programme focuses on drama rather than the music itself so people who didn’t know about hip hop would tune in to see it.

“China is a hard market,” says Al Rocco, a Hong Kong-born rapper who lives in Shanghai. “Hip hop is so small in China even though we’ve been doing it for so many years. You need money to bring that to the world,” he says.

Adding drama was not the only criticism Rap of China faces. Many have accused it of having an unfair selection process that favoured some contestants, and others pointed out that the set-up and theme were strikingly similar to South Korean hip hop reality TV show Show Me the Money.

But the criticism that matters most to rappers and diehard underground hip hop fans in China is whether going mainstream would mean the end of what they see as “real hip hop”.

Wang Bo, or MC Webber, who many consider to be China’s hip hop authority, was one of the many underground rappers who tried to steer clear of the show.

Wang thinks even Xi Ha, the Chinese translation of “hip hop”, was created to help make a quick profit. Over-commercialising hip hop will drain the creativity of young people and reduce the songs to “fast food music”, he wrote on his microblog.

However, MC Hotdog, who now has his own hip hop business managing rappers and performances, says he’s hopeful about the new changes.

“It was hard to keep hip hop real before in China because of all the politics in China,” MC Hotdog said.

“Now that the money problem is solved, hip hop artists don’t have to worry about their livelihood. They will have more room to keep it real.”

“Real hip hop”, MC Hotdog says, is for those underdogs in society to have a voice of peace, love, independence and unity.

“We are not highly commercialised like in the US where hip hop is just about money and sex,” MC Hotdog says. “What China offers is our long history and deeply cultured literature.”

‘We will make it Chinese’

This is not the only thing that China will offer though. Rap of China also had to face China’s increasingly stringent internet censorship.

MC Sun Bayi
Image captionMC Sun Bayi says yes to hip hop – albeit in line with Socialist values

The latest restriction is for online multimedia content like mini movies, reality shows and commentary programmes to avoid producing content that is vulgar, sensational or political.

The “healthy and positive” environment the authorities require is not entirely in line with what’s considered “real hip hop”, but what we already see is hip hop living in harmony with Chinese characteristics.

“Like Chairman Mao said, borrow what’s good from the West and use it in China,” says one of the contestants MC Sun Bayi, who is known for performing in formal business attire.

“The Chinese invented gunpowder and the Westerners made firearms with it. Now they have hip hop, and we will make it Chinese.”

“I don’t like rapping about what I shouldn’t rap about anyway, especially things not in line with Socialist values,” MC Sun Bayi says, shrugging off concerns that hip hop is losing its edge.

“This is the Chinese version of hip hop,” he concludes.

Chinese web users make light of Golden Week travel woes

Chinese web users make light of Golden Week travel woes

People playing frisbee along the Chengdu-Xiamen expressway in southern ChinaImage copyrightPEAR VIDEOImage captionPear Video says that some frustrated travellers in southern China got out of their cars to play frisbee

China’s “Golden Week” national holiday is under way, and social media users are making light of travel problems that are dogging the annual getaway.

Social media are dominated by video and images of the congestion that is hampering travel to popular…

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Chinese web users make light of Golden Week travel woes

People playing frisbee along the Chengdu-Xiamen expressway in southern ChinaImage copyrightPEAR VIDEO
Image captionPear Video says that some frustrated travellers in southern China got out of their cars to play frisbee

China’s “Golden Week” national holiday is under way, and social media users are making light of travel problems that are dogging the annual getaway.

Social media are dominated by video and images of the congestion that is hampering travel to popular destinations such as Beijing.

Official newspaper China Daily estimates that some 650 million people will travel within China this week, with a further six million heading abroad.

Golden Week is one of only two extended periods in which Chinese people can take time off during the year, the other being Chinese New Year, which falls in January or February.

‘People, people, people…’

Sina Weibo hashtag landing page #ImOnTheLongRoadDuringTheLongBreakImage copyrightSINA WEIBO
Image captionOver 13,000 Weibo users have used the hashtag #ImOnTheLongRoadDuringTheLongBreak

Related hashtags have been going viral on popular microblog Sina Weibo since people began embarking on journeys a few days ago.

Tens of thousands of users are posting using #ImOnTheLongRoadDuringTheLongBreak and #OnTheRoadDuringGoldenWeek to discuss the delays and congestion. Images of extreme congestion posted via Sina Weibo have been a big draw.

And mainstream news portals including Sina News have warned travellers to take extra precautions, posting survival guides and warning of the dangers of dehydration and heatstroke.

The official China News Service agency has shared a composite of pictures and videos, attracting more than 1,000 user comments. “People people people people people people,” says one caption. Beijing’s Tiananmen Square is shown thronged with selfie-stick users.

Regional newspaper Jiangnan Metropolis Daily shows birds-eye photos taken from inside a railway station in south-eastern Jiangxi, complete with a crying emoji. In some of the images it is almost impossible to see the station floor because of the crowding.

‘Hahaha!’

Popular media have carried humorous videos showing how embattled travellers have put on a brave face. Some of the videos have had millions of views and thousands of comments.

Cover News shows surveillance footage over Southwestern city ChengduImage copyrightCOVER NEWS
Image captionOne video has captions of users complaining about queues (L) while a user in the opposite lane (R) says “Hahaha!”

They include a video by news portal Cover News, showing gridlocked traffic heading towards the south-western city of Chengdu, and empty lanes exiting the city. Captions superimposed over images of the congested lane say things like “more queues!”, while captions over cars in the empty lane say “Hahaha!”

Video website Pear Video noted that a member of the transport police became an overnight online celebrity in northern Xi’an for entertaining queues of travellers outside a railway station.

The police officer tells them to behave as if they are Terracotta Warriors as they move forward in the queue, and tells them “go with your feelings, and don’t hold anybody’s hand”. The video has been viewed more than five million times.

Chinese tourists stuck on a delayed Caribbean flightImage copyrightGUANGZHOU DAILY
Image captionThousands of users joked about Chinese tourists stranded in the Caribbean, albeit because of Hurricane Maria

Social media users point out that Chinese travellers abroad have also been affected by travel problems. A video posted on Guangzhou Daily received seven million views after it showed a plane full of Chinese travellers passing the time by waving flags and singing the national anthem.

The newspaper says the 381 passengers had had their flight from the Caribbean back to China delayed for two days as a result of Hurricane Maria.

By Kerry Allen