Who Mattered Most in China 2009

Who Mattered Most in China 2009

From big names that rocked headlines nationwide to the events that changed Shanghai, China’s fastest growing city, these are the people who shaped dialog nationwide this year

A presidential visit

Who mattered most in China in 2009

From controversial “Obamao” T-shirts to the media's hasty declaration of the president’s visit as a disappointment, Obama’s first trip to China’s was filled with highs and well-publicized lows. However, with a few weeks of reflection comes a more positive picture of the historic event. Sure, Obama skirted human rights issues and made a mouthful of his distaste for censorship, but his Shanghai townhall talk was -- after much debate -- broadcast online and live (on a station reaching 100 million households), and real progress was made on a host of other issues. If nothing else, it gave netizens fodder for one great video.

Ma Ming: Whistle blower

“All gold medals were actually pre-determined ahead of time!” With this line, thus did Ma Ming (not her real name) reveal the dirty secret behind this year’s National Games diving competition, as well as the reason for her resignation as referee. Correctly predicting the “winner” of the next four golds, Ma told a reporter that Zhou Jihong, the national team’s head coach, controlled “who lived and died.”

Ai Weiwei
: Artist with a mission

Who mattered most in China in 2009

Ai is never far from the headlines, but this year it wasn’t for his art. His campaign to document student casualties in last year’s Sichuan earthquakes led to a run-in with authorities in Chengdu at the trial of his friend Tan Zuoren, and a subsequent trip to a German hospital to be treated for head injuries.

Chinese laborers: Getting back their good name

The proliferation of shanzhai brands has led to the degradation of the "Made in China" label. To improve the image of Chinese products, the nation's four industry associations have launched an unprecedented advertising campaign on CNN. The 30-second commercial has been airing on CNN Asia since November 23 and has raised debate across the country about national branding and the direction of Chinese industry.

Jia Zhangke
: Politics and film

Who mattered most in China in 2009

Acclaimed by many as the greatest living Chinese film director -- and seen by some as something of a rebel -- Jia faced a backlash abroad this year for his decision to withdraw from the Melbourne International Film Festival. It would be, he said, “emotionally intolerable and practically inappropriate” to share a platform with Rebiya Kadeer so soon after the Xinjiang riots. Not everyone found this a surprise.

Apple: Phone wars

This October marked the official launch of the iPhone in China. The smart phone is sold through China Unicom from RMB 4,999. Internet users might be disappointed because the official iPhone doesn't support WiFi. According to The Wall Street Journal, China Unicom had sold more than 100,000 iPhones by early December. However, things look different online. Chinanews reports only five iPhone were sold through China Unicom's Taobao page. The iPhone’s launch shone a spotlight on China’s grey markets, where the iPhone has already been available for months, as well as on the resilience of the Chinese shanzhai market, which has already introduced iPhone innovations like the iPhone mini.

Han Han
: The bad boy

Who mattered most in China in 2009 - Han Han

Precocious polymath Han Han made waves this year with audacious plans for his own literary magazine, which launched amid much controversy and several false starts in November. Offering up to 40 times the standard pay rate for articles, and with a dedicated “braindead” column for controversial or substandard articles, the novelist-blogger-racecar driver received 10,000 submissions within five days.

Mickey Mouse: Disney's world domination

It won’t be long before Hong Kong's Disneyland has a sibling in China. Shanghai Municipal Government announced in November that the city will be home to the sixth Disneyland worldwide. To be completed in 2014, this RMB 25 billion joint venture will cover 10 square kilometers and is estimated to bring in more than RMB 10 million per year after opening its doors.

Bo Xilai
: Corruption on the agenda

Who mattered most in China in 2009

The governor of Chongqing had a year so good that he’s now projected to succeed Hu Jintao. With the city long paralyzed by gang activity and high-level corruption, Bo launched an unprecedented crackdown that saw some 5,000 people taken into custody. Among them was Wen Qiang, head of the city’s Justice Bureau, and alleged recipient of more than RMB 100 million in bribes.

Shanghai cabbies: Expensive rides

Due to the rise in oil prices and operation cost, Shanghai’s famously low taxi prices were raised in October. The unit price went from RMB 2.1 to RMB 2.4 per kilometer. The base-rate for downtown taxis increased to RMB 12 during the day and RMB 16 after 11pm. The new price structure will add approximately 10 percent to rider's next taxi bill. Needless to say Shanghailanders and Shanghairen alike didn’t welcome the increase with open arms.

Zhou Libo
: Shanghainese-only please

Who mattered most in China in 2009

Zhou Libo, 42, is arguably the most sought-after entertainment personality of 2009. The homegrown stand-up comedian reliably sells out shows and has introduced a modern vibe previously missing from Shanghainese dialect. He recently published the best-selling Shanghai dictionary "Hui Ci Dian” and controversially declined an invitation to perform in next year's CCTV Spring Gala.

The collapsed building: Corruption in the city

A 13-story residential building in Minhang -- still under construction -- toppled over in its entirety in June 2009, causing one death, but huge repercussion and protests among the local population concerning issues of local corruption. According to government officials, this well-publicized accident was caused by the digging of an underground garage nearby, but questions remain. The building site was cleared in August and the local government investigated and took action against the local parties they deemed responsible.

2010 Expo Chinglish censors: The 2010 rule book

Who mattered most in China in 2009

Shanghai is determined to wipe out Chinglish expressions on signs citywide before the 2010 Expo. In August, the Shanghai Language Work Committee dispatched student volunteers to check the English translations on public signs, raising objections from locals who contend that the signs are a part of Shanghai culture and the city's appeal.

Xu Zhiyong: Home-bound activist

Legal scholar and activist Xu Zhiyong made the cover of August's Esquire this year, despite spending most of the month under house arrest. His Open Constitution Initiative, a non-profit human rights group that had been working on civil action in the tainted milk scandal, was shut down in July, and Xu himself was held for tax evasion, drawing worldwide criticism. He was released on bail after three weeks.

Who mattered most in China in 2009
Lou Jing (娄婧): Race relations

The 20-year-old college student unwittingly became a poster child for China's mixed race citizenry. The child of a Shanghainese woman and a black man (who returned to his home country before her birth), Lou Jing’s appearance on a local TV talent show provoked a maelstrom of ugly racist comments on the internet, but perhaps prompted many to rethink what it means to be Chinese.

Shanghai straphangers: Metro Line Expo

Metro Line 7, Shanghai's ninth subway route, opened to limited use on December 5. The line roars through five districts, including the densely populated, outlying Baoshan and Putuo district, and is expected to transport 1 million passengers everyday. Nicknamed the "Metro Line Expo," it also contains five stops within the 2010 Expo area in Pudong and will form the backbone of the Expo's public transportation system.

Women with guns: Pretty in pink

Who mattered most in China in 2009

Never has October Holiday been celebrated like this in China. The cavalcade featured over 100,000 people in an impressive display of marching and militancy with the highlight being a cadre of female women soldiers in pink uniforms and white knee-high boots. This display of China’s military prowess was watched by millions around the world. After the parade, everything from China's automotive capabilities to its military recruitment was on the table for discussion.

ShanghaiLGBT: Showing PRIDE

It went off in fits and starts, with police forcing cancellations of some planned events, but the week-long ShanghaiPRIDE festival attracted international attention for achieving what many thought was not yet possible in China -- tolerance, if not support, for the local LGBT community. Organized by the ShanghaiLGBT group, ShanghaiPRIDE was China’s first gay pride celebration, and while there was no parade, it brought locals and foreigners, gays and straights together to celebrate with parties, film showings and performances.