Rental platforms face renewed crackdown in Beijing

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China: A significant number of short-term rental listings on platforms such as Airbnb in Beijing are reportedly being shut down on the orders of the city’s government.

Chinese investigative journalism website Caixin said that nine short-term rental platforms, including the likes of Airbnb,, Meituan and Tujia, were summoned to a meeting on 20 August by several government agencies and ordered to remove “non-compliant properties” within one week. The agencies are believed to include the Beijing Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the local office of the Cyberspace Administration, and the public security bureau.

Listings in rural communities have been unaffected thus far.

It comes as a consequence of authorities in China promising to crack down on “abusive” practices by real estate firms and online rental platforms, such as overcharging renters. President Xi Jinping is leading the charge by pledging to cap rental prices in a bid to increase the supply of affordable housing and achieve so-called “common prosperity”.

Urban areas such as Beijing and Shenzhen have been targeted for regulatory measures, as a decrease in the pool of available homes has coincided with a growth in the supply of rental properties. This is because these cities offer higher-paid jobs than in rural areas, which attracts ambitious millennials and graduates to move there, although they have little income to be able to afford anything other than rental housing and can therefore be more easily exploited.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of new residents and young people rent their homes in the major cities across China.

Chinese regulators’ hostility towards rental platforms has intensified since long-term housing app Danke Apartment – meaning ‘eggshell’ in Chinese – was left facing bankruptcy at the end of last year, after a 20-year old renter committed suicide when he was about to be evicted by his landlord. The renter said that the broker had “run away with his money” after he had already paid a year’s worth of rent online.

Under new regulations, landlords will be banned from collecting more than a month’s rent at one time, escrow accounts will be required for leasing companies and online rental platforms to hold customer deposits, and rent gouging and other abusive practices will be punished.

Last December, Beijing city authorities announced a ban on vacation rental lettings in neighbourhoods near the Forbidden City due to “security concerns”.

The city said that the directive, which also placed stricter controls on rentals in other parts of the capital, was part of a move to tighten control of short-term apartment rentals across the city and to ensure safety in the “core central administrative zone”, an area of 35 square miles around the Forbidden City and the Zhongnanhai compound.

The new policy came into effect in February.

Living in the Present

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Some years ago, my wife Angie and I were in China on vacation. While in Beijing we took a walk through (part) of the Forbidden City. It’s far bigger than I could have imagined, even overwhelmingly so. As you might expect, the vast majority of tourists there appeared to be the Chinese themselves. One person caught my attention amid the crowds: a young man walking backwards, holding two selfie sticks out at 45 degree angles to his body. This allowed him to continuously take pictures of himself with the various parts of the City as a backdrop. While I couldn’t help but smile, I wondered if he would ever be able to look at, let alone appreciate, the hundreds of pictures he was taking. The other thought I had, was how difficult it can be, especially these days with so many temptations, and to really be present to what’s going on in our lives.

Currently there is a lot of discussion about how poorly we as supposedly developed nations, have behaved in the past; whether it’s our role in slavery, colonialism, oppression, destroying cultures, and so on. We are also grappling with what our response should be for the sins of our ancestors. To a degree, it’s a healthy and important exercise.

A helpful parallel can be found on an individual level in our Catholic tradition. As Catholics we have the sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation if you prefer. This sacrament asks us to reflect on our sins: the things that keep us from oneness with God and our neighbor. And to truly resolve to do better right now and going forward, as well as to perform some sort (usually a token) of penance. Not only is it a grace-filled sacrament but also healthy for us as humans.

My sense is that what we are trying to do collectively as a society, in reflecting on our history can, like the sacrament of Confession, be very helpful and fruitful if we follow through on the key elements. First to recognize where we have not acted out of love; then to perform some sort of just atonement; and lastly, perhaps most importantly, look at what needs to change here and now.

For example, one might wonder if generations 50-100 years hence will, like we are today, ask some difficult questions about our behaviors such as:

Why did the richest country in history allow an estimated 16 million children to go to bed hungry?

Why did we cause so many people to die whether through abortion, capital punishment, or a lack of healthcare?

Why did we continue to abuse God’s creation, the planet earth, rather than treating it with respect?

Why did we allow systems and structures that enable a handful of people to control the vast majority of our country’s and even the world’s resources?

Obviously there are no easy answers to these uncomfortable questions. In fact you may not even think they are reasonable, helpful or appropriate questions. The important thing here though, is to stop, take a critical look at what’s going on and see how it compares with what you say you believe. And especially how it aligns with the Gospel teachings if you happen to be Christian. It’s all well and good to look into the past and lament how things were, but what about right now?

Jesus points out in Matthew 7, it’s much more important to take a hard look at our own lives before judging others. And this means not just our personal challenges or prayer lives, but what we are doing to create the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. This means not just looking at our own shortcomings, but also our engagement in the community, including keeping up with the difficult to hear news. Our support for initiatives that help the needy. And yes, even participating in the voting process at every level.

While there are many distractions and supposed entertainments vying for our attention, and the naysayers who tell us “what’s the use in trying to make things better”, we need to be sufficiently humble to do our bit. We shouldn’t expect that our will, will be done, but be content in the knowledge that we are trying to do God’s will, and also creating tomorrow’s history today.

Exhibition shows works with scientific aesthetics

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Art and science are, as Albert Einstein put it, “the branches of the same tree”.

Both exist in the pursuit of truth and beauty, nurturing the minds of the people and prompting social progress.

Charm of Science and Technology, an exhibition that opened at the National Art Museum of China on Sunday, and which will run through Monday, shows more than 100 artworks from the museum’s collection, which sparkle with the radiance of art and science. Broken down into three sections, it presents major events, accomplishments and luminaries in the Chinese sciences spanning more than seven decades.

A famous quote by Einstein is prominently displayed on the wall at the exhibition: “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in aesthetics, plasticity and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”

Wu Weishan, director of the NAMOC, says the exhibition not only reviews the toil and glories of modern Chinese science, it also invites people to examine the interaction between science and art.

He says many world-famous projects, since ancient times, have been the result of a marriage between art and science, such as the Forbidden City and Cologne Cathedral, while scientific works of momentum also present an artistic charm, such as Shui Jing Zhu (commentary on the water classics), which was about the ancient geography of China and authored by Li Daoyuan, who lived between the 5th and 6th centuries.

“Art and science are inseparable in helping people understand, transform and construct the world,” Wu says.

“On one level, this exhibition shows the beauty of reasoning, thinking and argumentation. On the other level, it shows how new technologies reinvent the way artworks are created and further influence their aesthetic value. For example, more artists are embracing 3D printing as an efficient aid to their work.”

Pieces on show reach back as early as the mid-1940s, with woodcuts being made to populate knowledge of agriculture and midwifery among farmers, in the border areas led by the Communist Party of China.

There are works from the 1950s and ’60s that show several hydrology projects and the development of China’s steel industry after the founding of New China.

The latest works hail heroes from the medical profession that are fighting against the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as those from the aerospace sector who have recently helped send Chinese astronauts into space, and hardware to the moon and Mars.

Also on show are works by artists from abroad, including a bust created by late artist Hsiung Ping-ming who grew up in China, but lived most of his life in France. The sculpture depicts his father Xiong Qinglai, a noted mathematician who headed the mathematics department at Tsinghua University in the late 1920s.

The Xiong family neighbored the family of Yang Wuzhi, also a mathematician, while at Tsinghua, and Hsiung and Yang’s son, C.N. Yang, forged a lifelong friendship across continents.

A bust of Yang, the Nobel Prize laureate, by Wu, a sculptor in his own right, is also on show.