Abducted Chinese scholar remains missing, family offers $50K reward

Abducted Chinese scholar remains missing, family offers $50K reward
Zhang YingYing, 26, who was abducted June 9 in Champaign, Illinois , remains missing and her worried family has raised the reward for information about her whereabouts to $50,000. A former graduate student, Brendt Christensen, 28, was indicted on July 12 on one charge of kidnapping. He is being held in Urbana pending arraignment, according to the University of Illinois police department. Zhang was a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois/Urbana-Campaign, and was planning to meet a rental agent about an apartment on June 9. She did not show up for the appointment and did not return the agent’s calls. A native of Fujian province, China, she was last seen getting into a car later identified as Christensen’s about 2 pm June 9. Traffic cameras showed her leaning through the passenger side door and talking to the driver, then getting in before the car drove away. Her friends reported the last message they got from her came about a half-hour later. Local police and the FBI were able to locate the car on June 27, and after further investigation arrested Christensen three days later. Her father, aunt and fiancé arrived in Illinois last month. At a news conference Friday, ...

BULLETIN: Chinese dissident writer Liu XiaoBo dies of cancer, age 61

BULLETIN: Chinese dissident writer Liu XiaoBo dies of cancer, age 61
Nobel laureate Liú Xiǎobō 刘晓波, who had been imprisoned in China in 2009 on charges of subversion, has died in a Liaoning hospital at age 61, news media reported today. Liu was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer earlier this year, and released on a medical parole in May. But his condition did not improve, and his health rapidly declined in the last two weeks. Doctors reported his internal organs were shutting down two days ago, but dialysis seemed to improve his condition somewhat. The writer co-authored Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto which urged the Chinese Communist Party to abide by the Chinese constitution’s protection of civil rights and political freedom. In 2009 he was arrested on charges of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 11 years in prison. A year later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia, as China refused permission for Liu or any member of his family to travel to Oslo to accept the prize. Liu Xia, his wife, has been under house arrest since 2010, despite no formal charges against her. She was allowed to visit her husband in hospital, however. As the government has heavily censored news of Liu and his Nobel ...

Chinese Nobel laureate Liu XiaoBo in critical condition

Chinese Nobel laureate Liu XiaoBo in critical condition
Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liú Xiǎobō 刘晓波 is in critical condition in a Chinese hospital, the South China Morning Post reported today. A medical team is on standby to resuscitate him if necessary. Liu, 61, was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and released from prison on medical parole in May. One of the principal authors of Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto, Liu was arrested and convicted in 2009 on charges of subverting state power. In 2010 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Chinese government had ignored international appeals for his release until his health deteriorated earlier this year. Since May Liu has been treated in a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province. His condition rapidly worsened last week. Two foreign doctors recommended he be flown to an overseas hospital for more aggressive treatments, but his Chinese doctors claim he is too weak to be moved. This quote from the South China Morning Post suggests it is the government that has advised against moving Liu, however. Asked on Monday if Liu would be allowed to go overseas for treatment, Reuters reported that foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “China hopes relevant countries will respect China’s sovereignty and ...

Chinese Nobel winner to be freed from prison for cancer treatment

Chinese Nobel winner to be freed from prison for cancer treatment
JISHOU, HUNAN — Eight years after being jailed for alleged political crimes, Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liú Xiǎobō 刘晓波 will be released on medical parole, the South China Morning Post reports. Liu, 61, has terminal liver cancer, his lawyer told the Post. He is being treated outside the prison in Shenyang, Liaoning province. As one of the authors of the pro-democracy Charter 08 Manifesto, Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, for “his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” According to Wikipedia, Liu is the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind while residing in China. One might assume that China would be proud, but the government has taken care to censor the news of Liu’s award and his incarceration. China’s government has not acknowledged the prize, other than to advise international delegates in 2010 to boycott the award ceremony or face “consequences.” Until Liu’s diagnosis in May, Beijing had refused international appeals to release him. His wife, Liú Xiá 刘霞, has also been under house arrest. Liu was arrested and tried in 2009 on charges of subversion of state power.

A birthday surprise — because it’s not my birthday

A birthday surprise -- because it's not my birthday
JISHOU, HUNAN — On Friday I told my freshmen that I would not be returning to teach them English in the fall. By way of explanation, I said I was now 61, one year over the mandatory “retirement” age for foreign teachers here. Well, I guess some of my students took that to mean I had just had a birthday, so two of them today went to a DIY cake shop and made me a small birthday cake (photo above). My birthday is in January, but no matter! They were showing their affection and care for me, so I just went along with it. Charissa and Jackie (pictured below) arrived after dinner with the cake, candles, paper plates and forks. They sang “Happy Birthday,” I made a wish, and blew out the candles. Though the decoration was a bit over the top, the cake tasted great, and it was a very nice surprise. The freshmen are now in some kind of special classes — I suspect a test run of some computer-based learning system. So, my last classes with them were a week ago. I’m an evaluator of their progress in the special classes, so I still will see them ...

Big news: some bad, some good 1

Big news: some bad, some good
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been quiet here for the last two weeks, because I have been very, very busy, and not just for the usual end-of-the-term onslaught of activities. I learned on June 2 that I had “aged out” of my job here in Hunan, and would need to leave China no later than June 30. That’s the bad news — a forced separation from this place and the people I’ve grown to love. While I can still visit, I can no longer teach in Jishou on a work visa, because in April Hunan province enacted a new rule — 60 is the maximum age for a work visa. I’m now 61. Now for the good news. Within a few days of posting my resume on Dave’s ESL Café I was offered a job at the Henan University of Technology in Zhengzhou. There, the maximum age is 64 (I asked several times to be sure), so conceivably I can work there another three years if I like — or as long as the province or the city doesn’t abruptly change the rules to screw over the foreigners again. In fact, several English language schools in China sent me offers, but ...

Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017

Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN — OK, I’m not really in Japan now, but I was when I took the picture. I’m just now trying to curate the hundreds of photos I took during my month in Japan, and thought I’d share this. It’s not super-sharp, because I had no tripod and tried to brace the camera against a window frame to steady it. The Chinese tune, “The Moon Represents My Heart,” (月亮代表我的心 Yuèliàng Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn) most famously sung by Teresa Teng (邓丽君 Dèng Lìjūn) has been playing in my head lately. So, for me at least, a picture of the Moon seems suitable for the occasion. Camera geek details: Nikon D3300, Tamron 70-300 mm zoom lens @ 135 mm, f/4 1/500 sec, ISO 12,800. Teresa Teng was from Taiwan, and became one of the first non-mainland singers to become very popular in China. Nearly everyone in China knows this song, especially those who came of age during the Opening Up of the 1970s. Sadly, she died young from asthma complications at age 42. Now, for your listening pleasure, Miss Teng. (Scroll down past the photo.)

Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals resume at Chinese exchanges — woo hoo!

Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals resume at Chinese exchanges -- woo hoo!
JISHOU, HUNAN — After five months of shutdowns, Chinese cryptocurrency exchanges have resumed Bitcoin and Litecoin withdrawals, meaning I could finally move the coins I’ve had at Huobi.com since February to my other wallets. Chinese regulators forced BTCChina, Huobi and OKCoin to halt the withdrawals (but not Chinese yuan withdrawals) in January, pending “investigations.” Basically, it boiled down to the government telling the exchanges to tighten ship, monitor who was moving money through the exchanges, and add policies to limit margin trading and end fee-less trades. Resumption of Bitcoin and Litecoin withdrawals comes a week after the three exchanges announced they would offer trading May 31 in Ethereum and Ethereum Classic — two of the hottest tokens in the markets. Interest in Ethereum has picked up in China, as I’ve mentioned before here. Makes me wonder if the exchanges did some bargaining with the national regulators to allow the new trading platforms in exchange (pardon the pun) for complying with the new rules. In any event, Bitcoin prices rose today over $2,400, perhaps in response to the Chinese exchanges regaining full integration with the world markets. The other two were also trading strongly today.

Fascinating graphic: the rapid growth of rapid transit in China and Taiwan

Fascinating graphic: the rapid growth of rapid transit in China and Taiwan
Peter Dovak, a graphic designer with a penchant for depicting rapid transit systems, has created this amazing animated GIF showing the expansion of subways in China and Taiwan from 1990. And they are still expanding. Changsha alone has opened only two of the five subway lines planned. Jshou, on the other hand, must struggle along with taxis and buses.

Chinese regulators may finally permit Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals

Chinese regulators may finally permit Bitcoin, Litecoin withdrawals
JISHOU, HUNAN — Word has it that the People’s Bank of China — China’s central bank — will finally allow exchanges to allow users to once again withdraw Bitcoin and Litecoin, possibly next month. Such withdrawals were halted in January as regulators examined the business practices of China’s major cryptocurrency exchanges. The supposed rationale was to limit fraud and criminal activity, but the basic reason was to stem a possible means of capital flight. The ban did not affect withdrawals to Chinese bank accounts, however. It applied specifically only to Bitcoin and Litecoin, the gold and silver of the cryptocurrencies. Other crypto-coins, like Ether and Zcash, were not included in the ban, as I later discovered. Anyway, as I’ve blogged earlier, the freeze on withdrawals closed off the principal method I used to transfer my monthly pay (in Chinese yuan) to my US bank account (in dollars). Bitcoin enabled me to move money quickly and cheaply. But since January, I’ve had to be more creative in transfers. A larger result of the withdrawal ban was to depress the market price of Bitcoin in China, sometimes by as much as $200, compared to the prices at foreign exchanges like Coinbase or ...

Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum — oh my!

Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum -- oh my!
JISHOU, HUNAN — It may seem like this blog is swinging toward the intensely techie, but bear with me. I’m your surrogate in the ever-changing financial technology (fintech) landscape. Government regulators required China’s Bitcoin exchanges to halt Bitcoin and Litecoin withdrawals back in January, and that situation still remains. But, when one door closes, another opens, as the saying goes. It turns out Bitcoin and Litecoin are not the only cryptocurrencies being traded in China. Yunbi.com is a Hangzhou-based exchange specializing in Ethereum, Zcash, Bitshares, and several other cryptocoins, as well as Bitcoin. I only learned about it a week ago, as it is relatively new. Curiously, government regulators have basically ignored Ethereum, which at this writing has the second-largest trading volume worldwide after Bitcoin, and just about every other token besides Bitcoin and Litecoin. Not that I’m complaining. Once I realized Yunbi would allow withdrawals of not-Bitcoins to recipients outside the exchange, I applied for an account. Yunbi required me to submit photos of my passport, bank card, and a selfie of me holding them, and within two days, I had opened an account there. While I may not be able to send funds outside China with Bitcoin or ...

Trying out Abra, a new mobile payment app

Trying out Abra, a new mobile payment app
JISHOU, HUNAN — While exploring ways to move my money more easily around, I stumbled across Abra, a mobile phone app that transfers funds using the Bitcoin network. I gave it a try, and I like it. For one thing, it simplifies my transfers from China to the USA. Before Abra, there were several steps to transfer money from my bank in China to my bank in the USA, whether I used PayPal or Bitcoin. Abra reduces that number, and removes some fees in the process. There still remains one major drawback: Abra has no working relationships with banks in China. So, I still need to jump through a few hoops to buy Bitcoin to drop into my Abra wallet, but once it is there, it’s a breeze to send it to my bank account in the States. I’ve done all sorts of stories about moving money across borders, but to review, here are the main steps. For PayPal: Log into my China PayPal account. Send funds from my Chinese bank to my American PayPal account. PayPal charges a 4% foreign exchange fee. Log into my American PayPal account. Transfer funds to my bank account. Not bad, right? Unless you ...
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