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2 September 2014 Last updated at 08:26

China's museum boom hatches roast duck tribute

Martin Patience reports from Beijing on China's eclectic range of museums

When you think of museums in China you may have calligraphy, landscape paintings or even Ming vases in mind. Not, I would suggest, a giant statue of a golden duck.

But one of Beijing's latest cultural offerings is a museum dedicated to the capital's most famous culinary dish - roast duck.

It was built by the well-known Quanjude restaurant chain and most of the visitors are actually peckish customers waiting to be fed.

"It's funny," said one high-school student visiting the museum. Funny, perhaps, but to be fair to the museum, which opened earlier this summer, it is also pretty informative.

The exhibits include clay models showing you how to prepare roast duck, restaurant advertisements from a bygone age, and various pictures of famous people - including, surprisingly, the actor Charlie Chaplin - eating Peking duck.

This photo taken on 24 July 2014 shows a golden duck in the museum at the Quanjude restaurant in Beijing Visitors can feast their eyes on a giant golden duck at the museum

The museum is part of an astonishing building boom quite unlike the world has ever seen. Last year, a new museum in China opened its doors almost every day. This year a further 100 are slated to be built.

BBC China Blog

The BBC China blog is where our teams across the country will provide a flavour of their latest insights.

We'll focus on the new and newsworthy, but also use our journalists' expertise to shine fresh light on China's remarkable transformations and upheavals.

Most of the posts will be written or filmed by journalists in our main bureau, in Beijing, or in our other bases in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Please let us know what you think and send us your ideas. You can also get in touch with us on Twitter by tweeting us at @BBCChinaBlog

Chinese visitors are now spoilt for choice. Among the country's more bizarre offerings are museums dedicated to watermelons, socks and even concrete.

"The boom is going to continue because the funding is there and the interest is there," says Cathy Giangrande, a co-author of the Chinese Museums Association Guide. "China is trying to reach the number of museums they have in the US per head of the population."

Ms Giangrande says that the building boom represents a major change in Chinese history.

"Less than 50 years ago everything was being destroyed during the Cultural Revolution," she said. "So anyone who was a private collector or had a private museum was banned.

"It wasn't something the government was proud of or wanted the public to learn from. That's now all changed. They really are on a learning journey."

This photo taken on 24 July 2014 shows clay figures portraying the production of Peking Duck, in the museum at the Quanjude restaurant in Beijing. The exhibits include clay models showing you how to prepare roast duck
Picture of a display at the roast duck museum in Beijing The roast duck museum was built by the Quanjude restaurant chain
This photo taken on 24 July 2014 shows a chef slicing Peking Duck for diners at the Quanjude restaurant in Beijing. The museum is attached to a Quanjude outlet where visitors can try the specialty - Peking duck

China's cultural scene has certainly flourished in recent years from art, to music and, of course, museums. Curator Cheng Guoqin says part of the reason the government supports the opening of new museums is that it improves the country's image.

"The government has realised that economic success is not enough," she says. "It realises that soft power and the creative industries must play an important role."

But she says that bricks and mortar are only part of the story. "For a museum the real definition is not just displaying art but preserving art and educating the public," she said. . "On this point, I think we're still lagging far behind."

The Chinese government still censors what the public can and cannot see - anything politically sensitive remains strictly off limits.

But in terms of choice from the traditional to the contemporary, from natural history to, well, the just plain wacky, your average Chinese museum visitor has never had it so good.

When Chinese children forget how to write

Celia Hatton on the struggle to remember thousands of characters

In China, it takes blood, sweat and months of studying dictionaries to become a Character Hero.

Millions tune in every week to watch teenagers compete for the title. Character Hero is a Chinese-style spelling bee, but in this challenge, young contestants must write Chinese characters by hand.

Every stroke, every dash must be in the correct spot.

After two tense rounds, Wang Yiluo is bumped from the contest. She bows to the panel of celebrity judges and quickly exits the bright lights of the television studio.

Backstage, she admits that she spent months studying dictionaries to prepare for the contest. The stakes were high; at 17, this was the last year she could appear on the show.

"I wanted to compete before I was too old," she explained.

Perhaps the show's popularity should not be a surprise. Along with gunpowder and paper, many Chinese people consider the creation of Chinese calligraphy to be one of their primary contributions to civilisation.

TV still of Chinese television show Character Hero Millions watch Character Hero, where teenagers compete to write Chinese characters

There's no Chinese alphabet. Instead, each word is represented by a character, or a compound of two or three characters.

A respected Chinese dictionary lists more than 85,000 characters. An estimated 7,000 are in daily use.

But the knowledge of how to compose those characters is in danger.

All over the country, Chinese people are forgetting how to write their own language without computerised help.

Software on smart phones and computers allows users to type in the basic sound of the word using the Latin alphabet. The correct character is chosen from a list.

The result? It's possible to recognise characters without remembering how to write them.

But there's still hope for the humble paint brush. China's Education Ministry wants children to spend more time learning how to write.

In one Beijing primary school we visited, students practise calligraphy every day inside a specially decorated classroom with traditional Chinese paintings hanging on the walls.

Soft music plays as a group of six-year-olds dip thick brushes into black ink.

They look up at the blackboard often to study their teacher's examples before painstakingly attempting to reproduce those characters on thin rice paper.

TV still of Beijing children practising Chinese calligraphy Rather than an alphabet, characters are used to represent words in China
TV still of Beijing children practising Chinese calligraphy China's Education Ministry wants children to spend more time learning how to write by hand

If adults can survive without using handwriting, why bother to teach it now, we ask the bespectacled calligraphy teacher, Shen Bin.

"The ability to write characters is part of Chinese tradition and culture," she reasons. "Students must learn now so they don't forget when they grow up."

But even Ms Shen can't avoid the effects of modern technology.

"It's common even for teachers like me to forget certain words," admits the calligraphy teacher with a laugh.

"Here, we're all remembering how to write together."

Protests point to Macau awakening

A man, left, votes on a tablet next to a volunteer with a banner promoting informal civil referendum in a street of the former Portuguese colony, Macau, Sunday, 24 Aug 2014. Macau residents can vote online in the unofficial referendum on direct elections

Most people know the Chinese city of Macau only as the casino gambling capital of the world.

The former Portuguese colony powered past Las Vegas for the title back in 2006.

Now, the special administrative region brings in more money every two months than Vegas makes in an entire year.

If Macau were an independent country, it would be the world's fourth richest per person - behind Luxembourg, Norway and Qatar, and just ahead of Switzerland, according to the newest figures from the World Bank.

But success has brought many problems: a large wealth gap, lofty prices and traffic congestion.

Rapid economic growth and its subsequent unresolved social problems have fuelled a political awakening in Macau.

On Monday, more than 1,000 dealers, servers and other employees marched from the Sands China casino to government headquarters.

Their route took them past casinos owned by all the Las Vegas- and Macau-based gambling giants.

Their demands? Salary hikes, the barring of foreign workers from certain casino jobs, improved benefits and greater protection from second-hand smoke.

Casino workers Casino workers have demonstrated for better pay and conditions
Ah Yuen Ah Yuen and other union members support the unofficial referendum

"A lot of our members feel they have been put under so much pressure from their employers that they can't take it any more. They must stand up and ask for the benefits they deserve," Ah Yuen, a director of the Macau Gaming Industry Frontline Workers union, told me.

"Just look at how the economy has grown, and how much money the casino industry makes. It grows by more than 10-fold every year. But our salaries haven't caught up. I can't afford to buy property. I have to work for another 30 years to afford a two-bedroom flat."

Mr Yuen and many union members say they staunchly support an unofficial referendum on Macau's political future that was partially shut down by police over the weekend.

Five volunteer activists were arrested.

Macau residents wishing to take part in the referendum, whose results are not backed by the force of law, were originally meant to be able to vote in person and online.

There were two questions on the ballot: whether there should be universal suffrage for the 2019 election for chief executive, and how confident voters were about Fernando Chui, the only candidate for the upcoming chief executive vote on Sunday.

About half an hour after the voting stations opened on Sunday, police arrived and disrupted the exercise, saying organisers had no right to gather personal information from voters.

Jason Chao, president of the Open Macau Society, one of three organisations that sponsored the vote, disagreed with the police, saying they had asked voters for permission and needed the information in order to prevent counting errors.

Jason Chao Jason Chao accuses the authorities of human rights violations

Mr Chao, a software developer, is one of the most high-profile of a new generation of pro-democracy leaders in Macau, a formerly sleepy colonial enclave that seemed less concerned with politics than neighbouring Hong Kong.

"The civil referendum is a chance for citizens to experience the exercise of civil rights," he told me in front of Macau Government House, a vividly pink Portuguese building.

"I denounce the government's serious abuse of power in cracking down on our voting booths. It's unjust, and it's a serious case of human rights violation."

He added: "There are issues citizens face on a day-to-day basis: inflation, high property prices and traffic congestion. I think citizens now begin to realise what is the root of all these community issues. People know we should hold our government leader accountable to us, thus we can bring more effective changes to those community issues."

The organisers of the referendum have accused Mr Chui, the sole Beijing-friendly candidate for chief executive, of being the driving force behind Sunday's police action.

When asked about the accusations, Vong Hin Fai, a spokesman for Mr Chui's campaign, declined to comment.

Volunteers display a banner and give out flyers on a street to raise awareness of an unofficial referendum in Macau on 24 August 2014. Activists in Macau are canvassing for votes on the street

The politician, who has been in power since 2009, is expected to be elected on 31 August by a group of 400 electors with more than 95% of the vote.

Activists believe the unofficial vote will show he would win far fewer votes in a popular election.

Despite the closure of the five polling stations, voters are still able to vote online.

As of 20:00 local time on Monday (12:00GMT), just under 6,000 votes had been cast.

It is a modest number compared to the 800,000 ballots that were cast in a similar referendum in Hong Kong in June.

But Macau, with a population of less than 600,000, is much smaller than Hong Kong, with its seven million residents.

Though activism has had a much shorter history here, the rising frequency of street demonstrations suggests the city's political awakening is just beginning.

Dog on tracks sparks Hong Kong protest

Protest over dog 22 August 2014 Protesters vented their fury at Hong Kong's MTR for failing to rescue the dog

Residents of south China are often caricatured as enthusiastic eaters of dog meat.

But in Hong Kong, where the slaughter of dogs and cats is illegal, more than 100 distraught animal lovers have converged at the headquarters of the city's Mass Transit Railway Corp to protest against station staff allowing a train to run over a stray dog this week.

"We are very, very angry with them," Tam Tak Chi, a protest leader, told the BBC's China blog.

"I think the MTR Corporation has apologise and to tell the Hong Kong people what they will do to prevent this from happening in the future."

Mr Tam, himself an owner of a Golden Retriever and a King Charles Spaniel, said it was the first time a dog had been killed on Hong Kong's railway tracks.

This city of seven million people is well known for its intense pace of urban living and its tiny, expensive flats.

But there are many dog lovers here. Proud owners walking their well-dressed pet pooches, or pushing them in doggie strollers, are a common sight.

Protest in HK Mourners have laid flowers, petitions and performed traditional Chinese ceremonies at the station to remember the dog's life

On Friday, animal rights activists demanded to know why trains were allowed to enter Fanling station on the East Rail line, when staff were already aware of the stray.

Mourners have laid flowers, petitions and performed traditional Chinese ceremonies at the station to remember the dog's life.

Some of them were photographed weeping profusely.

In protest, Mr Tam and other activists tried to jump onto the tracks at the station where the killing occurred.

They were restrained by station staff.

An online petition calling for justice for the yellow mixed-breed has collected nearly 90,000 signatures so far, according to public broadcaster RTHK.

The MTR Corporation has said it was "saddened" by the event.

A voter carries her dog as she joins others lining up outside a polling station during an unofficial referendum in Hong Kong June 22, 2014. Hong Kong people love their dogs - this woman took hers to vote in an unofficial referendum earlier this year

The stray was first spotted on the tracks at a nearby overground station on Wednesday morning.

Trains were stopped from entering the station as staff tried to coax the dog to safety.

But they failed. One staff member was injured, the company said.

About 20 minutes later, the dog was spotted at Fanling station.

Staff stopped an oncoming train, but the animal could not be located.

The train was eventually allowed to pull into the station.

"After the train was subsequently allowed to depart, the dog was found dead on the track," the corporation said in a statement.

Its explanation has angered many pet lovers in Hong Kong.

The popular Apple Daily newspaper has published photos of the dog apparently trying to climb from the tracks onto the safety of the train platform, while staff and passengers watched.

In an online posting, one person who says he had tried to pick up the dog was told by station staff to step back.

"They way they shooed the dog away was ridiculous," said the anonymous poster. "The entire station was looking at the dog running for its life."

New York kittens In August 2013, services were halted on two of New York's subway lines for about two hours after a pair of pet kittens jumped onto the tracks in Brooklyn

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Hong Kong has said it was concerned about the incident and believes it could have been handled better.

Animals have disrupted service on busy public transport networks in other cities.

In August 2013, services were halted on two of New York's subway lines for about two hours after a pair of pet kittens jumped onto the tracks in Brooklyn.

They were eventually rescued.

And last September, a cow wandered onto train tracks at a station in Somerset in the UK.

The morning rush hour service was reportedly disrupted for two hours.

The cow was later removed.

The MTR Corporation has promised to work with the SPCA to prevent animals from venturing onto its tracks in future.

Were some Hong Kong marchers paid?

Pro-China protestors, opponents of the pro-democracy "Occupy Central" movement, march through the streets of Central District, Hong Kong, China, 17 August 2014. Tens of thousands of people joined Sunday's march, though exact estimates vary

Boisterous demonstrations are a feature of life in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese city that enjoys the freedom of speech and assembly.

Citizens tend to be extremely politically savvy, as well as practical.

That's why rallies tend to take place on Sundays and public holidays, when most people have time off.

The general public, from the very young to the elderly, also seem to be impervious to extreme heat and rain, turning up to march for miles despite inclement weather.

In recent years, the larger protests, the ones drawing thousands and even tens of thousands of participants, have tended to be organised by groups that, broadly speaking, fall under the pan-democratic political umbrella.

Anyone attending those rallies can usually expect to see:

1. Young participants: Recent rallies have been family affairs. But on the whole, the demographic skews toward people under 40.

2. Loss of mobile phone coverage: Mobile signals weaken considerably along the route. Everyone is too busy posting on social media sites.

3. Spotless routes: Public etiquette dictates no rubbish be left behind.

But Sunday's rally has upended the usual script for Hong Kong demonstrations.

Organised by the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, it was the biggest pro-China demonstration for many years.

The turnout was large, with estimates ranging from 40,000 to more than 250,000 people.

A pro-Beijing protester waves a Chinese national flag and thumbs up to other supporting protesters during a march in the streets to demonstrate against a pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign in Hong Kong 17 August 2014 Some supporters of the protest turned up with Chinese flags

Though some youngsters came with their parents, the crowd was largely middle-aged and elderly. They were mobilised by dozens of pro-China organisations.

There was no issue with mobile coverage during the rally, as few people used smartphones.

Afterward, paper flowers, flags and other demonstration materials were found strewn on the streets.

Paid to march?

But the biggest difference from previous protests was a flurry of accusations from media outlets - including Ming Pao, RTHK, ATV, TVB, Now TV, Oriental Daily News and Apple Daily - that organisers had hired marchers.

They report some had been paid between HK$200 ($26, £15) to HK$800 for turning up.

BBC China Blog

The BBC China blog is where our teams across the country will provide a flavour of their latest insights.

We'll focus on the new and newsworthy, but also use our journalists' expertise to shine fresh light on China's remarkable transformations and upheavals.

Most of the posts will be written or filmed by journalists in our main bureau, in Beijing, or in our other bases in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Please let us know what you think and send us your ideas. You can also use #BBCChinablog to keep up to date with our reports via Twitter.

In a televised report from news channel Cable TV, a reporter and camera operator went undercover, joining members of a youth group that collected marchers from a Hong Kong suburb.

After boarding a bus, the demonstrators, including the journalists, each received a payment of HK$250. They were instructed not to mention having received any money.

In its report, Cable TV said it had found out about the payment offer online.

Leo Wong, an assignment editor for Cable TV, told me this was the first time the channel had sent reporters to attend a political demonstration in exchange for money.

"We heard about it, so we went to check it out, out of curiosity. We didn't make it up, out of our imagination," he said. "We think many people in Hong Kong received this kind of message."

He added he would have been just as willing to send reporters to verify similar offers made by pro-democracy groups.

Cable TV is not known for a strong pan-democratic bias. It is owned by Wharf Holdings, a business conglomerate whose chairman is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to China's parliament.

A spokesman for the Alliance for Peace Democracy has disputed the Cable TV report, calling it erroneous, even as he admitted that the contents of another Cable TV report, in which participants were allegedly given HK$380, were true.

'Mobilised by conscience'

Organisers have lauded the protest as an opportunity for normally apolitical citizens to speak up against the civil disobedience movement called Occupy Central.

But the reports of hired demonstrators have caused Sunday's rally to be labelled "ridiculous" and "nonsensical" on social media.

Johnson Yeung, one of the organisers of the recent 1 July pro-democracy demonstration, called the most recent protest a "tragedy".

"We can see that in our past experience, the people who joined the rallies were mobilised by themselves, by their own conscience, not by their organisations or community groups," he said.

Mr Yeung said Occupy Central would not be swayed by the pro-China demonstration, and would most likely begin their campaign in mid-September, organising yet another kind of political rally for the Hong Kong public.

Zhou Yongkang: Erasing the memories

This image shows a model rocket that has been placed in front of Zhou Yongkang's signature A model rocket has been placed in front of Zhou Yongkang's signature, blocking it from view

The Chinese say that when a wall is falling, millions will push it.

Zhou Yongkang, the most senior party leader netted so far in China's recent clampdown on corruption, probably knows how it feels better than most now.

The 72-year-old is a former security chief who once headed China's Ministry of Public Security. He was also a member of the top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee.

In July, it was announced that Mr Zhou was being investigated for "serious disciplinary violations".

State media described him as the "fallen tiger" and "no longer a cadre". Now there are reports that Mr Zhou's once-proud alma mater, the China University of Petroleum, has been trying to erase or minimise evidence of his existence on campus.

Chinese former Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang shakes hands with delegates as he attends a group discussion of Shaanxi Province during the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in this file photo taken on 12 March, 2011 Zhou amassed a great deal of power in his rise to become China's internal security chief
'Vanity fair'

A picture circulating on China's Twitter, Weibo, shows a model of a rocket which has now been placed right in front of Mr Zhou's signature on an inscription of the university's motto.

BBC China Blog

The BBC China blog is where our teams across the country will provide a flavour of their latest insights.

We'll focus on the new and newsworthy, but also use our journalists' expertise to shine fresh light on China's remarkable transformations and upheavals.

Most of the posts will be written or filmed by journalists in our main bureau, in Beijing, or in our other bases in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Please let us know what you think and send us your ideas. You can also use #BBCChinablog to keep up to date with our reports via Twitter.

Also, according to China's state-run Global Times, reports and pictures from when Mr Zhou visited the campus to mark its 60th anniversary have been erased from the school's website. Now, hardly any trace of Zhou Yongkang, once described as an "outstanding alumunus", can be found.

Hundreds of Weibo users have pointed out that universities in China should not brag about government leaders' influence or patronage, or try to erase it when it has failed them. It only shows the atmosphere of our society today, many said, to frown on the fallen and fatten the powerful.

"Universities have become a vanity fair," one Weibo user lamented. "Where did independence and freedom go?"

Another said: "Good job steering by the wind. Universities are now so bureaucratic and corrupt that they bend their knees to flatter."

One comment got many thumbs-up from other Weibo users: "Perhaps the Petroleum University should repave the road Zhou walked on, demolish the meeting hall he was in, smash the toilet he used and cut off the headmaster's hand that he shook."

Protecting fair skin with China's 'face-kini'

Picture of women at Qingdao wearing Face-kinis. The "face-kini", seen here in Qingdao, has sparked millions of comments on social media

Perhaps drawing inspiration from Spiderman, beachgoers in China's eastern city of Qingdao have come up with a novel way of protecting their skin from the sun.

They call it the "face-kini". It was first sported by middle-aged women as a practical addition to their swimsuits, but now the face-kini has gone global.

New York-based style magazine CR Fashion Book, founded by former Vogue Paris editor Carine Roitfeld, recently published a photo shoot of models with pouting red lips, wearing face-kinis, chic swimsuits and fancy jewellery.

The transformation of what's considered the epitome of "old woman style" in China to high fashion has amused Internet users.

In two days, the subject sparked almost 12 million posts on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Weibo.

"Chinese old women are at the centre of the global fashion world," said one comment. "It looks like bank robbers are raiding the beach," others joked.

Picture of a woman in Qingdao wearing a Face-kini. In China, there are many products available to help keep skin fair

When it comes to avoiding the sun, it seems Chinese creativity is unlimited.

Apart from the face-kini, the Chinese use special UV-blocking sun umbrellas which can be attached to bike handles.

There are also sun-blocking removable sleeves and Batman-style capes. The list goes on.

On Chinese television, commercials for magic whitening creams abound. White is seen as beautiful here, or as the old Chinese saying goes: "One touch of white disguises 100 kinds of ugliness."

One Weibo user explained that being white was a sign of prosperity.

BBC China Blog

The BBC China blog is where our teams across the country will provide a flavour of their latest insights.

We'll focus on the new and newsworthy, but also use our journalists' expertise to shine fresh light on China's remarkable transformations and upheavals.

Most of the posts will be written or filmed by journalists in our main bureau, in Beijing, or in our other bases in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Please let us know what you think and send us your ideas. You can also use #BBCChinablog to keep up to date with our reports via Twitter.

"Since ancient times, a classic beauty in the eyes of the Chinese has white skin," he said. "Girls raised in wealthy families could afford to stay indoors and away from hard labour, and their rosy white skin was a sign of their good fortune."

It's a curious contrast to the fact that people in many Western countries pay for tanning.

Tanning salons are just now starting to take off in big Chinese cities, where Western influences are more pervasive.

Liu Yupu, or "China tanning boss" as he goes by on Weibo, took the sudden popularity of face-kinis with a pinch of salt.

He said: "These days, if you had just been to a tanning salon in China, your parents and close friends may call you an idiot, but you'll also get plenty of compliments."

But can a beautifully-tanned woman turn as many heads as the face-kini on the Qingdao beach?

New Zealand politician rejects pro-China Tibet document

Christchurch City Mayor Bob Parker speaks to the media during a press conference at The Christchurch Civic Offices on 3 July 2013 in Christchurch, New Zealand Sir Bob said he did not sign up to the pro-government document produced by China

The former mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand, Sir Bob Parker, says he is not happy to be associated with the document which China is calling the 'Lhasa Consensus.'

Produced at the end of the recently-concluded Fourth Forum on the Development of Tibet held at the Tibetan capital this week, the document is highly critical of the Dalai Lama as well as the Western media.

It also speaks in glowing terms about China's economic policies in Tibet.

China claims that the 100 or so conference attendees "unanimously agree that what they have actually seen in Tibet differs radically from what the 14th Dalai and the Dalai clique have said."

"Participants notice," it says," that Tibet enjoys sound economic growth, social harmony, deep-rooted Tibetan culture and beautiful natural scenery, and the people enjoy a happy life".

Sir Bob is still in Tibet, being given a tour of the countryside and other sites of interest.

Speaking to him on his mobile phone I asked if he had indeed endorsed the statement.

"Not at all," he said. "I'm aware that the statement was made but I certainly haven't signed up to it. I think a number of people who were there were a little surprised to hear about that statement."

"Certainly the conference that I've been attending has been focused on sustainable development and there were no real political themes running through it at all."

Free Tibet, the UK-based group that campaigns against what it calls China's occupation of Tibet, believes though that foreign participants should have been aware that the conference, organised by China's ruling Communist Party, was always going to be a deeply political affair.

"The statement issued at the end of this event makes clear that the whole thing was an utterly cynical exercise in propaganda which Western participants blindly or willingly allowed themselves to become part of," the group's director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said in a statement.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gestures to devotees before he starts teaching on the fifth day of Kalachakra near Leh, India, Monday, 7 July 2014. The 'Lhasa Consensus' was said to be highly critical of the Dalai Lama
A Tibetan pilgrim spins prayer wheels on the pathway below the Potala Palace on 19 June 2009 in Lhasa, Tibet The conference took place in Tibet's capital, Lhasa

Another of the foreign attendees was the UK Labour Party politician Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, who sits on the party's front bench in the House of Lords.

While in Lhasa, he has given an interview to Chinese state-run TV in which he praises the government's economic policies as having produced some "remarkable accomplishments" such as raising Tibetan living standards and life expectancy.

He is also quoted by state run newspapers as suggesting that Western media organisations are often prejudiced by their "enthusiasm" for the Dalai Lama.

The Labour Party says that Lord Davidson is on a private visit to Tibet.

Asked whether he would be willing to give an interview to clarify whether or not he has been accurately quoted, a party spokesman said he is declining all such requests.

Lord Davidson, Member, House of Lords, United Kingdom Lord Davidson is a Labour party front-bencher in the House of Lords, the UK's upper house

Sir Bob Parker though is happy to go on the record explaining why he chose to attend the conference.

"I came here as a New Zealander with a unique opportunity to get into Tibet and see some of these unique communities with my own eyes," he told me.

"There seems to be a good degree of openness and happiness in the communities that I've been to."

"But I'm not a Tibet expert, I'm not a global politician, I'm just a citizen who had a chance to come to a very special part of the world to see some of these things with my own eyes."

Free Tibet argues that much of Chinese economic development has been a vehicle for the mass migration to Tibet of the majority Han Chinese population and the stripping out of Tibet's resources.

As a result, it says, Tibetans are largely shut out of their own economy.

It suggests few foreign visitors would be aware of this fact "from the window of a car or the comfort of a plush meeting room."

"It remains to be seen," the group asks in its latest statement, "whether the report that they all agree with the outrageous and wholly inaccurate statements in the 'consensus' is true."

We know now that at least one of them doesn't agree. Sir Bob says he will be making his displeasure clear to the Chinese authorities.

"I'm not happy to be included in a document that states some very powerful political perspectives. I don't actually think that's fair and I don't think that's what I signed up to do by coming here and I will be making that point," he said.

"Having said that I'm thrilled to have come here and had a chance to look at the countryside and to meet people."

Changing minds through Xinjiang portraits

Kurbanjan Samat: "The subjects I photograph are all ordinary people from Xinjiang"

"I've met hundreds of people in more than 20 cities in China," Kurbanjan Samat explained. "My subjects' stories keep me going."

Uighur photographer Kurbanjan works tirelessly to repaint the image of his home region, Xinjiang, in the minds of many Chinese people.

To show that Xinjiang has more than fruit vendors and pickpockets, Kurbanjan started a photo project last December called I'm From Xinjiang.

It now includes more than 100 portraits of people from Xinjiang, with their ethnicities and occupations.

Occupying a vast land in China's remote north-west, Xinjiang is home to many ethnic minorities including the biggest among them, Uighurs, who are Muslim.

Photograph of Parhat Alimjan.

I'm Parhat Alimjan. I'm a Uighur from Xinjiang. I'm 27 years old. I have a journalism degree from the Communication University of China. My friends and I have an ethnic rock band called Bilaye. I'm also a guitarist for a reggae band called One Drop. In 2010, I went to perform in North Africa with a bunch of musicians. I was too focused on music, and forgot my personal life. My family wants me to get married soon, so I want to find a girlfriend first.

Photograph of Elik Abdurehim.

I'm Elik Abdurehim. I'm from Xinjiang. I'm Uighur and 61 years old. I opened a restaurant in Urumqi in 1982, right when China was going through the Reform and Opening Up. An inspection team from Beijing came to our bazaar, and really liked the atmosphere there. They talked to the Urumqi government, and moved me and a dozen Xinjiang businessmen to Beijing. I sold fruits and Xinjiang barbecue. The Beijing people loved it. Now my third son is sick with cerebral palsy. We have spent all of our savings. My dream is for him to recover soon. I also want my other children to get a good education, and remember our culture and traditions.

Photo of Nefise Nehemat

I'm Nefise Nehemat. I'm from Xinjiang. I'm Uighur, and I'm 35 years old. I have a one-and-half-year-old son. After graduating from East China University of Political Science and Law in 2008, I've been a lawyer at the Shanghai Jindu Law Office. My childhood dream was to become an altruistic lawyer in China's biggest cities. This year, I started my master's degree at the Emory University in the US. My dream is to become a People's Congress member, and fight for the rights of female ethnic minorities.

Photo of Zhang Zhiqiang

My name is Zhang Zhiqiang. I'm from Xinjiang. I'm Han, and I'm 35 years old. I'm running a mobile phone business in Shenzhen. I turned Muslim when I was doing business in Kazakhstan. I pray five times a day now. My dream this year is to find a Muslim girl to marry.

Photo of Bayirta and Bayin

My name is Bayirta. Bayin is my wife. We are Mongols from Xinjiang. I'm 30 years old this year. I used to be a guitarist and composer for Manishi - the first Tibetan aboriginal band in China. My wife used to be a singer. In 2013, we had a half-month traditional Mongol wedding in Xinjiang's Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture of Bayingolin, and we threw another wedding in a Tibetan restaurant in Beijing. We are hoping to set up our own band this year.


After violent attacks earlier this year blamed on Uighurs, "Uighur separatists" has become a hated term. Many Chinese find it hard to trust Uighurs and people from Xinjiang in general.

"Just when the first batch of photos was getting some positive reaction on the internet, the Kunming attack happened," Kurbanjan said. "I had to speed up my work."

The mass stabbing at Kunming train station killed 29 people in March. Not long after, explosions in an outdoor market in Xinjiang's capital city, Urumqi, killed another 31.

"I was in pain," Kurbanjan said. "The misunderstanding between our people has deepened, but I don't want the gap to widen. I want to bring us closer."

Since then, Kurbanjan has detailed the pursuits of ordinary Xinjiang people living in big cities across China. From street vendors to movie stars, Kurbanjan hopes their stories touch people's hearts.

"No matter whether they are elite or ordinary people, I put my subjects on the same level," Kurbanjan said.

"Chefs, vendors, white-collar workers; they are all humans. I tell their stories to inspire young people in Xinjiang and to show the rest of China the true colours of our people beyond the TV."

Coming from a humble family in Hotan in western Xinjiang, Kurbanjan understands how far everyone from his region has to work to find success.

When he first arrived in the capital, Beijing, he worked at a barbeque meat stall and traded jade until he found his passion in photography.

"It takes three times more effort for a person from Xinjiang to succeed than others," Kurbanjan said. "My subjects encourage me. I draw energy from their hard work."

Photo of Memedik Dilkar

My name is Memedik Dilkar. I'm from Xinjiang. I'm Tajik, and I'm 24 years old. My hometown is in the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang. I was an account manager in Xinjiang after graduating from a junior college in 2012, now I'm getting a degree at the Minzu University of China. I want a bachelor's degree. My dream is to find a good job.

Photograph of Tiliwaldi Sidik and his son

I'm Tiliwaldi Sidik. I'm an Uighur from Xinjiang. I'm 30 years old. After graduating from the University of Xinjiang, I've been teaching Chinese in a local school. I got married in 2008. Now I'm getting a master's degree in Uighur language at the Minzu University of China. My wife has returned to Xinjiang, but my son stays here with me, because there're better schools in Beijing. Although my wife and I have to be apart, it's worth it in the long run.

Photograph of Xawkat Repik

I'm Xawkat Repik. I'm Tatar, and I'm from Xinjiang. I'm 30 years old. I've been a bone surgeon for seven years. I was working in Xinjiang before I got married in 2010. In order to be with my wife who was living in Beijing, I fought for opportunities to work in Beijing. Now I'm a doctor at the Chinese Armed Police Hospital. Many patients from Xinjiang always come to me when they have problems. Some call me as soon as they get to Beijing to ask for directions. It's rare for them to have a doctor who speaks Uighur.


Now Kurbanjan is compiling his photos into a book. It's nerve-wracking for him to handle everyone's stories without getting caught up in their frustrations.

"I feel the pressure, too. Often my subjects dump their negative emotions on me, and there are vicious messages online," Kurbanjan said.

"But I couldn't care less about the criticism. I want to stay positive."

When the BBC followed Kurbanjan to photograph a subject, he was banned from entering a company because of his ID card, which notes that he is originally from Xinjiang.

Minutes later, another woman from Xinjiang was barred from entering the same building, despite being invited for a job interview.

In the boiling summer heat, Kurbanjan stood there in a daze.

"I would lose my temper if it were a few years ago, but now, I won't. Anger does not change anything," he said.

About this Blog:

Welcome to the BBC China blog, where our teams across the country will be updating you with their latest insights.

The idea is to focus on the new and newsworthy, but also to use our journalists’ expertise to shine fresh light on China’s remarkable transformation and the upheaval it is bringing to millions of lives.

We also hope the blog will offer a new dimension to our coverage, allowing us to explore stories and themes which we cannot easily get to in our usual news stories and features.

Most of the posts will be written or filmed by journalists in our main bureau, in Beijing, or in our other bureaus in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Please let us know what you think, and which subjects you would be interested to know more about. You can also use #BBCChinablog to keep up to date with our reports via Twitter.

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