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China Limits Kids to 3 Hours of Video Games Per Week While Cracking Down on Big Tech

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The moves come after months of rulings and changes that seek to address work-life imbalances within Chinese society, alongside wealth and education inequities.


Less Gaming for Kids

Chinese authorities have enacted sweeping changes across most aspects of society over the past week in hopes of reducing student stress and improving people’s work-life balance, though some of the changes are likely to face backlash.

Among the least popular changes, at least for those they affect, are restrictions regarding the amount of time minors can spend playing video games. New rules enacted on Friday now state that minors are only allowed to play video games on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or on holidays for one hour per night between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. The government hopes to reduce the time children spend gaming so they can instead focus on other activities that are seen as more productive to a healthy lifestyle, such as sports and extracurriculars.

The changes are stricter than a past law, which limited playtime to 1.5 hours during the week and three hours on the weekends and holidays. However, minors were able to largely circumvent the rules. Gaming in China requires using an I.D., so children would simply use an adult’s I.D., such as their parents, to play as long as they’d like. That practice is likely to continue for some time, at least until tech companies can comply with new laws that force them to implement systems to verify who is playing the game. One such system in development by the gaming giant Tencent would have facial recognition technology to continuously monitor who is playing.

It’s unclear if the changes will actually encourage minors to engage in other activities, but it will clearly impact the country’s growing esports scenes, as most players start when they are minors.

Aside from gaming restrictions, other changes include moving forward with plans to ban exams for children between the ages of six and seven. In a statement Friday, the Ministry of Education said exams harm the “physical and mental health” of such young students. It has also limited the number of exams other students can take, writing, “First and second grades of elementary school will not need to take paper-based exams.”

“For other grades, the school can organize a final exam every semester. Mid-term exams are allowed for junior high.”

The Ministry added that students were not allowed to organize their own exams and said, “examinations disguised under various names like academic research is also not allowed.”

All of these changes follow a ban on homework for young children and a 1.5 hour nightly limit on homework for older kids. Additionally, the country moved last month to ban for-profit private tutoring, a major industry in China that was criticized for placing undue pressure on low-income families who felt they needed the services so their children could “compete” with wealthier students when it came to college entrance exams.

Overall, officials hope that education inequities, and the related wealth inequity, within Chinese society will diminish with what is viewed as a more “even” playing field.

996 Schedule Scrutiny

The changes to education have a direct effect on China’s tech industry, as many of the industry giants had established lucrative subsidiaries in the space. However, the government has sought to curb the power of these companies. Beyond limits to for-profit tutoring, agencies have also moved to ban other practices that they view are detrimental to the lives of everyday people.

Of particular concern is the industry’s use of 996, or the practice of forcing employees to work 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. six days a week. While Chinese law allows for some mandatory overtime, 996 practices blatantly break the law and push employees into experiencing extremely unhealthy work-life balances.

Following months of criticism by current and former officials, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the practice was illegal. It, alongside the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, issued a warning to employers about continuing the use of 996, leading many to assume the government is serious about cracking down on the practice.

According to an interview conducted by The South China Morning Post with Lou Jiwei, a former finance minister, tech companies saw the 996 schedule as a “gift” to employees, despite the fact that it clearly violated Chinese labor laws.

“If there is no proper regulation, everyone will adopt 996, which will reduce jobs and be harmful to society,” he continued.

Meanwhile, tech moguls like Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, have defended the schedule. In fact, Ma claimed in an essay that 996 was a “gift” that allowed Alibaba, Tencent, and other tech giants to grow into the behemoths they are today.

Read what others are saying: (BBC) (South China Morning Post) (The Guardian)

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China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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