404: The City Left Behind by China’s Nuclear Ambitions
Li Yang grew up in what he thought was a boring town. It was called 404, like the error code, and sat a couple hours from the nearest city in the sun-beaten Gobi Desert of western China. There was no commercial movie theater—just a zoo with a handful of cages, several small videogame arcades, and a skating rink that eventually closed. To Yang, it seemed small and backward. He dreamed of the day he’d leave and “see the big, outside world,” he says.
But despite the humdrum, 404 wasn’t exactly boring: It was once part of a massive nuclear weapons base in the People’s Republic of China. In 1955, following threats of nuclear attacks from the US, Chairman Mao Zedong resolved to stock his own atomic arsenal. The USSR promised to provide blueprints and a prototype for a bomb, and as part of the quest, helped build the Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex, dubbed Plant 404. Though an ideological squabble caused the Soviets to withdraw just after construction started, China plowed forward. The site hosted the nation’s first nuclear reactor, which generated an estimated 0.9 tons of weapons-grade plutonium between 1966 and 1984, as well as plutonium processing factories and nuclear warhead workshops. (Later, the complex was converted for use by the civilian nuclear industry.)
China staffed its war complex with the country’s finest scientists, technicians, and other workers, who lived in a closed settlement absent from most maps. Yang’s grandparents and parents moved there in 1958, leaving their home in Beijing to forge a new one on a windy frontier 1,000 miles away. At its height, Yang’s parents told him, the town had a population of some 50,000 people.
But by the time Yang was a kid, the population had dwindled. He remembers just about 100 kids in his grade. After dinner, people chatted under a statue of Chairman Mao in the square and took strolls. “Some walked around in the park, others along the half-mile main road,” Yang says. “Because the city was so small, people might meet each other several times in one night, until they were too embarrassed to say hello.”
Yang finally got his wish to leave in 2003, enrolling in college in Sichuan province and eventually settling in Beijing. But as he got older, he started to miss 404 and the simplicity of life there. He couldn’t move home if he wanted to, though. In the mid-2000s, according to Chinese media, residents seeking a better quality of life voted to relocate their housing to the more desirable city of Jiqyuguan.
Yang’s nostalgia grew so strong, though, that in 2013 he packed a couple cameras in his car and drove back to 404 to photograph what remained. The guards let him in since he’d lived there. The town wasn’t entirely empty—some people chose to stay, Yang says—but it was eerily quiet. He wandered old haunts on foot, memories flooding back as he visited his old elementary school classroom, the public baths where he used to shower, and even his family’s former house, now demolished. One of two poplar trees Yang had planted out front was dead.
He returned three more times to produce the images in his series 404 Not Found. To Yang, they represent the home of his childhood—“the place I want to go back to but can’t,” he says. For others, they’re a fascinating glimpse at a remote town born from geopolitical strife during a period in Chinese history not often seen—however dull it might have seemed to the teenagers who lived through it.
A book on the series is out from Jiazazhi Publishing Project.
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Reading the CCP Notice on Diligently Studying and Implementing the Standards and the Regulations
In various European countries, different persons are using their own technique to read Chinese legal texts, so I thought I would share mine as I go on constructing it. This is an important endeavor: European sinologists and political scientists were perhaps the first ones who attempted to read and understand Chinese legal texts. Their techniques – as well as the ones used in Australia – however, rest for the most part upon the tacit, and practical knowledge each interpreter has acquired over the years by trial and error. This knowledge should be made explicit: multitasking and information overflow (very few people still read the paper texts of legal documents) are changing the way we read, with the result that these techniques are slowly being lost.
In this post I will explain by simple questions and answers what I focus on when I read some legal texts, using the ‘Notice on Diligently Studying and Implementing the CCP Standards on Integrity and Self-Restraint (original|translation) and the CCP Regulations on Disciplinary Punishments’ (original|partial translation) as an example. The full text of the Notice can be found here (Chinese).What typology of the document is this?
The Notice on Diligently Studying….as its title says is a Notice/通知. Notices/通知 are used either to disseminate documents or to issue communications to Party or to state bureaucracies. The ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ were issued by a notice. The goal of the Notice on Diligently Studying…is not disseminating these texts but explaining why and how the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ should be taught and studied and making their study mandatory.
Is it a public document?
If it is not a public document, then you cannot read it…if it is a public document, then the next questions to ask are:
Which institution issued it?
The Notice was issued by the General Office:
The Central General Office is responsible for coordinating the enactment of Party laws and regulations; its agency for regulatory work is responsible for specific duties.
Where was it published?
The Notice was published on the front page of the paper edition of the People’s Daily, in a column:
….and on the landing page of the People’s Daily website
and on the front page of the Procuratorial Daily, the People’s Police Daily etc. The importance of any document is signaled by the media outlet where the document is published and by its positioning on a newspaper or internet website.
When was it published?
The timing when speeches, notices, regulations etc. are published can and does vary. Xi Jinping’s speech on culture and the arts, for instance, was delivered on 15 October 2014 but, its full text was released on 15 October 2015, eleven days before the date of the Fifth Plenum. The ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ were issued on 18 October, and the Notice came out today – on the closing day of the Fifth Plenum.
Is an official translation available?
If an official translation is available, then an official translation should be used and read alongside the Chinese text. Great care goes into producing the official translation of legal and political documents. The choice of words used to translate the equivalent Chinese characters can be taken to reflect how legal concepts and/or political concepts are (in part) understood by those who supervised the translators, and how they are meant to be understood by readers. The risk inherent in producing one’s own translations of available documents (or improving available official translations) is pre-imposing our own understanding of legal or political concepts on the text. For instance, translating 宽严相济 as ‘tempering justice with mercy‘ is a choice that produces definite effects on what the text will mean to U.S. trained lawyers. ‘Balancing leniency and severity’ may sound unfamiliar to the ears of a U.S. trained lawyer but, it has the advantage of being closer to at least some of the ideas the sight of 宽严相济 evokes. Not all of the ideas that come to one’s mind whenever one sees 宽严相济 (or anything else) are legal concepts. It is possible that seeing the four ideograms will remind one of the proverbs (成语 chengyu)， stories from the Chinese classics, episodes in Chinese history etc. All of these ideas can, in turn, shed light on the broader meaning of 宽严相济 in Chinese law because they are part of the context where 宽严相济 was created and used.
Is this document as important as it seems?
To this question, there are many possible answers. To some the Notice may be unimportant – the sky is high and the Emperor far away, therefore local Party organs may or may not abide by the Notice they would argue. Others may say that even though study sessions on the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ may be mandatory, those attending study sessions will pay more attention to their iPhones and iPads screens than to the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’.
To me, the Notice is very important because it is one of the various explanatory texts that are being produced at the moment of writing. Some of these texts explain the genesis of the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’, while the Notice explains why and how they should be taught and studied.
Why, according to the CCP, the ‘Regulations’ and the ‘Standards’ should be taught and studied.
This point is illustrated by the opening sentence(s) of each one of the paragraphs of art. 1 of the Notice:
To take care of the affairs of China the focus must be placed on the Party. ‘To rule the state one must first rule the Party’, and ‘the Party should be governed strictly’. 
Since the 18th Party Congress the Party with Comrade Xi Jinping as its General Secretary has upheld ‘the Party should rule the Party and the Party should be ruled severely’ (…) it has summarized the lessons of Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, Xu Caihou, Ling Jihua, Guo Boxiong (…) the fruits of these experiences in severely ruling the Party have been summarized and turned into moral and disciplinary requirements (…) 
Natural requirements of ‘Comprehensively severely ruling the Party’ are ‘combining ruling the Party according to regulations and ruling the Party according to virtue/morality’ (de 德) 
In documents as this one, the opening sentence of each paragraph is the most important one, because it sets forth the premises, which are then elaborated by the rest of each paragraph, that should guide the correct use of the ‘Standards’ and ‘Regulations’. I will explain how I read sentences as ‘To rule the state one must first rule the Party’, and ‘the Party should be governed strictly’ in a later post.
How the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ should be taught and studied, and by whom.
The ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ should be taught by the Party Committee Core Groups, by Party schools, by schools of public administrations and by cadre training institutes in 2016 and 2017. The ‘Notice’ does not specify which method should be used to study or teach these documents.
Study and teaching are necessary to understand the real significance of the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’. The significance is illustrated by the Notice as follows: 1) the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ add greater specificity to the rules set by the Party Statute. 2) Political discipline is the most important kind of discipline, on grounds that state capacity and legitimacy derive from the ability to maintain political discipline. 3) Party members must be held to a higher standard of behavior than persons not affiliated to the Party.
These three points are meant to guide, to frame how the ‘Standards’ and the ‘Regulations’ are to be understood, and in turn, used.
“Enforced vacations” for activists who annoy the coronation of Xi
With the National People’s Assembly (ANP) also began the “forced vacation” for many Chinese activists, who have been forced to leave Beijing to avoid disturbances during this meeting in which the reform of the Constitution is finalized that will allow Xi Jinping to be president for life.
“For the dissidents, the ANP is like a purgatory,” prominent human rights defender Hu Jia, who was forced by authorities to go to Zhongshan, in the province of Canton, told Efe on the phone today. March, when the full legislative body of China has concluded.
As it has been a custom every year during the ANP, which this year will renew the leadership of the Government, some agents arrived at Hu’s home in Beijing last Friday and took him away by car. First, he was transferred to Shenzhen and, a few days later, to Zhongshan.
“Every day two policemen follow me very closely, but I imagine that there will be more agents watching,” explains the renowned activist installed in a hotel in Zhongshan, where the authorities are covering all expenses and also has some freedom to communicate with the Exterior.
Hu is already used to these “forced trips” with which the communist regime tries to silence the dissidents during the ANP or other important meetings that attract the attention of the international community.
Especially, the ANP of this year has a special character before the controversial elimination in the Constitution of the presidential limit of two mandates that will allow Xi to continue in power for an indefinite period.
“This year’s ANP is super important because Xi is going to have his crown (…) he wants to ascend his throne and he does not want there to be noise,” Hu says.
This unusual method of silencing critical voices has been repeating itself for years. Some of them travel accompanied by police officers and are usually housed in hotels and remote resorts with all expenses paid.
“It is difficult to know the exact number of people forced to travel since the police threaten them not to speak,” Frances Eve told Chinese Human Rights Defender (CHRD) researcher Efe.
In his opinion, “it is an absurd practice since it is also a free holiday for the police that accompanies them.” The reality is that activists are deprived of their freedom in these trips, it is a form of detention.
One of the dissidents who has also been forced to leave this year, Li Wei, has reported being beaten by agents during his stay in the city of Hangzhou (east), according to CHRD, which also has evidence of the arrest of two activists, Huang Fangmei and Geng Caiwen.
“It is scandalous,” says Amnesty International (AI) researcher Patrick Poon, who uses this method to “eliminate any dissenting voice during these official meetings.”
This year, however, there is much more tension in the environment due to the constitutional reform, which has also caused an increase in control in social networks, where the comments related to the possible life presidency of Xi, the leader, have been censored. Chinese with more power since Mao Zedong.
“China’s lawyers’ associations have issued warnings warning or reminding their members to be careful with their comments during this meeting,” says Poon.
Since the Chinese Magna Carta came into force in 1982, it has been amended four times, the last one in 2004.
It was precisely fourteen years ago that these controls began to be carried out on the activists during the ANP for fear of their criticisms, according to Hu.
“The worst year was in 2006. They kidnapped me for 41 days and tortured me, and for thirty days I went on a hunger strike,” Hu recalls.