Showing posts with label Borders. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Borders. Show all posts

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Should Shanghai Have Borders?

Today, as I saw this scene of people in Zhuhai looking across the harbor (Qianshan Waterway) at Macau:

view of Macau from across the harbor in Zhuhai

I recalled a scene from last summer in Shanghai of people looking across the river at Pudong district's modern skyline:

view of Shanghai's Pudong district from the other side of the river

Despite the similarities in the two scenes, including a bit of smog, while mainland Chinese need a permit to enter Macau, no permit is required for them to enter Shanghai's Pudong district -- one of China's most developed areas. Regarding Shanghai, a Chinese reader from there responded to my post about Macau's border with mainland China with these comments [English slightly edited for clarity]:
I can understand why Macau and Hong Kong have these rules.

I don't want my own culture to be changed, even my own city [Shanghai] will be captured. Lots of people are too aggressive here. So many people come here but they actually don't like it. They condemn our city, our language, our rules, and they want to change things here. They hate Shanghainese.
In response to the title of this post, no, she does not feel that Shanghai should have borders separating it from the rest of China. And though she will need a permit to do so, she hopes to visit both Hong Kong and Macau someday.

The reader's comments provide much fodder for discussion. For now, I share them simply to highlight a mainland Chinese perspective on the borders that may not have been expected without a deeper understanding of China. I am sure there are a variety of other perspectives that could be found in China and Shanghai as well. In the post about Macau's border I wrote [emphasis added]:
Despite growing up in a cultural environment very different from most Chinese, I suspect I would be asking questions very similar to those that some people in China are now asking.
The "some" is of course very key in terms of appreciating the variety of views held by China's people. Additionally, there can be a diverse set of factors guiding these views. Just the comments above from a single person touch on several very important issues for China such as the rapid pace of change, the variety of cultures, and the divisions between certain groups of people. Even an issue that could seem so straightforward from the outside, the views of mainland Chinese on borders restricting their own travel within China, is full of complexities. Once again, there are many layers.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

So Close Yet So Far: Chinese Citizens Without Permission to Visit China's Macau

While walking along China's Pearl River Estuary (珠江口) in Zhuhai, Guangdong province I briefly spoke with these two young women:

two young ladies in Zhuhai with sea and Macau in the background

This couple living in Zhuhai:

young couple siting on park bench in Zhuhai

These two tourists from China's Hunan province:

two young ladies posing in front of sea in Zhuhai

And these two young men visiting from China's Jiangxi province:

All of these Chinese had one thing in common: they were not able to visit the location seen in the background of the first and last photos -- Macau -- despite it being part of their own country and within reach by an easy overland walk. None of them had the appropriate special permit. Even if they had a passport they would not have been allowed to enter. Macau, like Hong Kong, is one of China's special administrative regions with its own laws, currency, police, and immigration policies. And like Hong Kong's border, Macau's border can be a blockade to people from mainland China.

However, if you are not from China getting into Macau can be much easier. According to a table on the website for the Macau Public Security Police Force's Immigration Service people from the following countries are currently exempt from needing to apply for any visa or entry permit and only need their passport:

AndorraIndonesiaBosnia and Herzegovina
EgyptMacedoniaSouth Africa
EstoniaMalaysiaSouth Korea
IndiaNetherlandsUnited Kingdom
Cape VerdeNew ZealandUruguay
Commonwealth of DominicaBulgariaU.S.A.
San MarinoMontenegroBrunei
-(a total of 69 countries)-

Additionally, Hong Kong residents are exempt from needing a visa or permit.

There are some minor loopholes to the restrictions for mainland Chinese. For example, if a mainland Chinese citizen has a passport, proof of an onward flight from Macau, and an entry visa to another country then they are able to enter Macau for a period of up to 7 days. In other words, in China a visa to another country can open the door to a section of one's own country.

Despite the restrictions, it could be argued that relative to Macau's population a large number of mainland Chinese have had access. In fact, as currently noted on Wikipedia "According to the 2006 by-census, 47% of [Macau's] residents were born in mainland China, of whom 74.1% were born in Guangdong and 15.2% in Fujian." Also, mainland Chinese play important roles as tourists and workers, especially for Macau's famous and very large gambling industry. The Independent reported several years ago:
Two-thirds of Macau's gamblers are mainland Chinese, most of them from just across the border in the prosperous province of Guangdong...

Only Macau residents can work as croupiers in the casinos, but pouring the tea, emptying the ashtrays, building the new casinos and guarding the loot as it is transported off to the banks is the enclave's army of 98,000 foreign workers. Like the gamblers, most of these migrant workers come from across the border in Guangdong...
As the article suggests, whether the permits for mainland Chinese are approved fairly is another question.

Whatever justifications there may be for the permits, their effects may be broader than they initially appear. In addition to impacting the travels of many mainland Chinese, these conditions may also affect people's sense of identity and self-worth. Some Chinese are publicly asking why people from a variety of other countries such as Japan, India, and Mongolia can more easily visit some parts of China than is possible for themselves. Some are also asking how they can expect to be treated as equals abroad when they are not even treated as equals within their own country.

It is not clear whether any significant changes are imminent and whether it is an issue of prime importance for many in country that faces a variety of immense challenges. Regardless, I could not stop myself from wondering what it is like for the people I met to gaze upon one of the more developed areas of China and know that they do not have permission to even walk along its streets. I try to imagine what it would be like for me to stand in the U.S. state of New Jersey and look across the water at New York City knowing that I would need to apply for a government permit to visit even though a Chinese citizen with a passport could enter at any time. Despite growing up in a cultural environment very different from most Chinese, I suspect I would be asking questions very similar to those that some people in China are now asking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

From Guangzhou to Zhuhai to Macau

[Update at end]

I have not posted during the past couple days due to some travel. It started in Guangzhou where I took a 40 minute subway ride to Guangzhou's South Train Station, one of several train train stations in Guangzhou and one of the many mammoth new train stations that can be found in a number of cities in China.

When I arrived I first sought out these machines to purchase a ticket:

automatic train ticket machines at Guangzhou South Train Station

ID is now required to purchase tickets. Unfortunately, the scanning system for the machines appears to only read Chinese Resident Identity Cards and not passports. After discovering this fact I went to the old fashioned ticket windows in a different section of the station:

ticket windows at Guangzhou South Train Station in China

Anyone familiar with Chinese train stations will appreciate my relief in finding such short and well defined lines. The scene would be very different in many other train stations in China. Even with the short wait, though, the train I wanted to ride had sold out since I had checked it on the automated machines. Fortunately, a few first class seats were remaining on the train departing only 30 minutes later. Some high speed rail lines in China have reported low ridership numbers. All I can say is that with trains departing every 15-30 minutes this line appeared to be very busy that day.

After purchasing the tickets I entered the sprawling main departure hall:

main departure hall at Guangzhou South Train Station in China
If only I had roller blades with me.

And after passing through security I was in the waiting area:

waiting area at Guangzhou South Train Station

But there was no need to wait and I headed directly to the train:

boarding train at Guangzhou South Train Station

While the train line I rode is sometimes referenced as "light rail", the trains do not in fact fit that classification. So, I will call it by its more proper name: the Guangzhou–Zhuhai Intercity Railway.

Traveling at speeds up to 200 km/h (124 mph) I arrived in about 50 minutes at the terminal station -- Zhuhai North Station. Apparently the line will someday extend to a more central location in Zhuhai. One can only hope. As it stood, after paying just 44 RMB (about US $7) for the train ticket I paid almost double that for the long taxi ride into town. City buses were available for only 1 RMB but they did not go exactly where I wanted and included many stops. Also, they were already full with recently arrived passengers, and I was not sure there would even be space for me when the next ones arrived. While I enjoy trying to ride "local" in China, this was a time where I decided to take a pass. Fortunately, I got my money's worth as my taxi driver apparently had aspirations to be a Formula One driver.

The day after arriving in Zhuhai I went to Macau. Similar to what I explained in my post about the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, you must pass out of mainland China through immigration in Zhuhai and then take a short walk before going through immigration once more to enter the special administrative region of Macau, despite it being part of China. And like Hong Kong, mainland Chinese need a special permit to enter Macau while many foreigners, including myself, only need a passport. From the time I left my hotel, walking to the border, going through two immigration channels, and finally arriving in Macau took less than one hour. It was even faster when I returned to Zhuhai due to shorter lines.

So, as you can see I've been busy moving about. No complaints from me though. The food in Macau is great:

African Chicken Macau Style
African Chicken Macau Style

And pretty decent food in Zhuhai can be very inexpensive:

dish of squid, fish, vegetables, and rice in Zhuhai, China
Squid, fish, vegetables and rice for about US $1.40

I share all of this not only to provide a "taste" of some of my recent meals but also of some of the travel experience one can find in China. The high speed train ride was certainly a very different world from many other travel experiences I have had, such as a horse cart in Xizhou, Yunnan province.

More posts, including some about Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and Macau soon.

Update (July 25, 2012): For more about the extension of the Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway see the newer post "The Future Intercity Railway Station at the Macau-Zhuhai Border".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hong Kong's Border: A Barrier for Many Chinese

Yesterday, as I walked on a bridge over a small river I took this photo:

people walking in one direction on an enclosed bridge

The bridge is significant because it connects immigration checkpoints for Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China. When I took the photo I had just passed through immigration in Hong Kong and was on my way to immigration in Shenzhen. In short, I needed my passport to depart Hong Kong, and yet again needed my passport, but with a Chinese visa, to enter mainland China. While Hong Kong is part of China, experiences such as this one can make it feel otherwise.

Perhaps this is no more strongly felt than by some of China's own citizens. While entering Hong Kong is simple for me as a US Citizen, with only a passport I'm granted 90 days visa-free upon arrival, it is very different for many people in mainland China. For example, here is an excerpt of some of the polices for citizens of mainland China as posted on Hong Kong's Immigration Department's web site:
Visit relatives

6. Mainland residents who wish to visit their relatives in Hong Kong are required to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao with an "endorsement for visiting relatives (Tanqing)" from the relevant Public Security Bureau Office.

Group tours

7. Mainland residents who wish to come here for sightseeing may join the group tours organized by designated Mainland tour companies. Group tour members need to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao and an "endorsement for group visit (Tuandui Luyou)" issued by the Public Security Bureau Office. As group tour visitors, they must arrive and depart together as a group.

Individual visits

8. Mainland residents from Guangdong Province and 28 cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Taizhou, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou, Tianjin, Chongqing, Chengdu, Jinan, Shenyang, Dalian, Nanchang, Changsha, Nanning, Haikou, Guiyang, Kunming, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Changchun, Hefei and Wuhan who wish to come here for sightseeing purpose in individual capacity are required to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao and an "endorsement for individual visit (Geren Luyou)" from the relevant Public Security Bureau Office.

Business visits

9. Mainland residents who wish to make business trips to Hong Kong in their private capacity are required to obtain an Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao and an "endorsement for business visit (Shangwu)" from the relevant Public Security Bureau Office.
To be clear, even if someone from mainland China has a passport they can be denied entry to Hong Kong if they have not applied in advance for a permit. And just because someone can apply for a permit doesn't mean they'll receive it. Also, people in different parts of mainland China are not treated equally. For example, point 8 only offers residents in select locations the opportunity to visit Hong Kong for sightseeing purposes if they're not a part of a group tour.

I recall one time in particular when a Chinese friend received a permit to visit Hong Kong and she was eagerly awaiting its abundant shopping opportunities (some international goods are cheaper or more available in Hong Kong than in mainland China). Unfortunately, upon getting off the bus in Hong Kong she had to immediately return to mainland China for work-related reasons. Although she wanted to return to Hong Kong the next day, she couldn't because her permit was only valid for a single entry.

A couple of months ago Su Gengsheng wrote a blog post detailing her own eye-opening experience of being denied an entry permit for Hong Kong by local police in Hunan province. A translation can be found in the post "Is Hong Kong really a part of China? Emotionally no." by Annie Lee on ChinaHush. While Su blamed a "chaotic management system" for her problems, Lee mentions another post with a different perspective:
After reading Su’s blog post, Netease certified columnist Nan Qiao commented the subject matter in his post “When will HK return to China”. He went on HK government site to check out the rules set by Hong Kong and concluded that Chinese are being discriminated from the fact that residents from 53 foreign countries such as the US, France, Japan, Britain can enter and stay in HK for up to 90 days visa-free; and residents from 11 other foreign countries get the visa-free stay for 30 days such as Costa Rica, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait etc; and some 17 other countries’ passports get 14 days visa-free stay. Of course China is not the only one that is keep out by visa, there are a bunch of other countries too, including Afghanistan, Albania, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya and so on.

“In HK and our central government’s eyes” wrote Nan Qiao, “are we Chinese family fellows the same as people from Afghanistan, Burundi, Cuba, North Korea, Iraq etc? People may think that these restrictions are reasonable considering mainland’s super large population. Then why Indians get to have 14 days visa-free stay in HK? Does India have a small population?”
Based on the conversations I've had, thoughts on whether and how the policy should change can vary quite a bit, particularly if comparing those of people in mainland China and Hong Kong. Whatever the justification for the policy, Nan's later comments at the end of his post touch on a broader point: what impact does the policy and its application have on how other countries treat or perceive China and its people? The answer to that question may matter more to many in mainland China than whether they can visit Hong Kong without needing to apply for a permit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bing Maps and Google Maps: The China-India Border

In my earlier post, I pointed out that both Bing Maps and Google Maps appear to explicitly indicate China's border surrounding the regions of the South China Sea and Taiwan in their China-based versions but do not do so in their US-based versions.  Leon White, who is working on his master's degree in international relations, commented on another disputed border of China that shows a similar pattern in how it is represented, but with a slight twist:
"I am currently writing my thesis on the 60 year old China-India border conflict, and the images of whole China at the end struck me as interesting...

... my main reason for writing is to highlight the differences in how these different mapping services portray the disputed border between China and India. The area most sensitive to China is the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as Southern Tibet. China has not exercised control over this area since it briefly advanced to its own claim lines in the border war of 1962 - the current Line of Actual Control (LAC) runs along the controversial McMahon Line, which connects Bhutan to Myanmar starting just north of Tawang town, roughly at the north-east point of the roughly rectangular shape of Bhutan.

All of these mapping services show the border according to China's claim, i.e. at the SOUTH-east point of Bhutan's border:,92.60376&spn=7.979828,14.27124&z=7&brcurrent=3,0x3761317e9c4a2cc1:0x1fc12c628413da99,1%3B5,0,1,2907956&cc=&s=tpl%3ACity&sc=0

China does NOT actually control this territory, and both parties recognise it as under dispute!

Bing appears to be trying to have it both ways, according to their Indian mapping service:

Only Google Maps US, which loads sporadically for me here in Beijing with the VPN off, is honest about the border dispute. Note the second part of the dispute in the west, confused up with the whole Kashmir issue:,94.152832&spn=16.273866,28.54248&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=58.076329,114.169922&z=6

And, just for laughs, the Chinese government's official mapping service:

Because every mapping services needs a flashy splash screen. I couldn't seem to find a link function on that site, but it did kindly provide me with a little red car in the middle of Sichuan for some reason. Reshma Patil, the correspondent for the Hindustan Times in Beijing, had the following to say about this service:

Sorry for the barrage of links. I suppose the conclusions to be drawn from this are fairly obvious. In order to operate in China, you must toe the line on where the government says the borders are, even though there is no hope in hell they are getting all of that territory back, just as India will never control the Aksai Chin under dispute in the west. Most academics and even the press in China realise this, although Tawang (birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama and potential reincarnation site of the next one) is still under serious dispute."
Based on what I found before, I'm not surprised by the variations in representing the disputed border between China and India.

That Google Maps US clearly represents this border as disputed but does not do so for Taiwan or the South China Sea is worth notice.  I suspect at least part of the reason is due to how Google Maps US represents the borders for islands that have no internal international borders - for example, Taiwan, Madagascar, and Hawaii.  In short, there is nothing explicitly indicating whether islands are part of another country or independent -- for example, no country border lines around Madagascar and no dashed line to explicitly show that Hawaii is part of the US.  However, one could infer Hawaii is part of the US due to it being labeled with its state abbreviation (HI) at certain zoom levels similar to other US states.  One could also infer that Taiwan is not a part of China according to Google Maps US.  At a zoom level where China's provinces are only labeled in Chinese, Taiwan is labeled in both Chinese and English (it is peculiar that Google Maps US does not provide the names of China's provinces in English).

The details provided by Leon White regarding the disputed border between China and India brought to mind something I've been pondering recently.  What is the difference between censoring information according to government rules and providing maps of disputed regions that conform to government rules?  Both can have great impact on how people see the world around them.  I'll share some of my thoughts on this topic later.