China’s Public Square Debate over Nuclear Power: Refracting Germany

comments 17
East Asian modernity / Environmental Politics in East Asia / EU-East Asia relations / German / Huanqiu Shibao / Sino-German Relations

Anti-Nuclear Protestors Storming Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, 29 May 2011; image courtesy Le

Imagine my suprise to open the webpage of the Huanqiu Shibao this morning to find the headline “German Environmental Ministry Announces that Germany Will Close All Nuclear Plants by 2022.”  The following story/poll looks like this — and please note the minumum of spin:




In other words:

Do you or don’t you support China continuing to develop nuclear power plants? (Click “Support” “Don’t support”)

Huanqiu Shibao internet reporter Tan Liya reports that, according to an AFP report of May 30, Germany has decided to close all domestic nuclear power plants by 2022, creating among the significant industrialised nations on the earth the first country to renounce nuclear energy.

The Japanese earthquake and the leaks at the first reactor at Fukushima in March of this year have triggered a series of debates about the saftety of nuclear power in many countries.   According to German media reports, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets on May 28 to oppose the continued retention of nuclear power plants in Germany.

The poll seems ongoing at the moment, but about 115 comments are up on the Huanqiu story.  A sampling of “netizen” thoughts on the subject (obligatory Hitler references have been omitted):

中国万万不能弃核,现在的电都不够用,还要老限电。虽然有些人说没电人可以活,但如果真的让你在没电的世界呆上三月,你试试。只有提高科技技术,把安全指数提高才是解决问题的根本办法。德国为什么弃呢,因为他们有几十万人在游行,政府再不表态,他们国家等 不到核毁灭,也要打内战。

There is no way China can relinquish nuclear energy; already there is insufficient energy supply available for use, and the power lines are old.  Of course there are a few people who say “people can live without electricity,” but if this world were truly without electricity for more three months, you try it!  The basic soloution to the problem is to recognize that technical capabilities should improve and that high technical solutions can be found.  Why does Germany relinquish [nuclear power]?  Because they have hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating, the government cannot take the stand not to destroy nuclear power, or [they would also have to] fight a civil war.

"Atomic Power? No, Thanks." Image courtesy Stern magazine; click image for interactive map of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants

The Author

Lecturer of Chinese history at University of Leeds, and Editor-in-Chief of


  1. justrecently says

    the government cannot take the stand not to destroy nuclear power, or [they would also have to] fight a civil war.
    Civil war in Germany? Last time this country might have had one was from 1618 to 1648, and I’m not even sure that it would count as a civil war, either.

    • Adam Cathcart says

      Just goes to show you how far the faculty of projection goes….Which is to say that Chinese leaders always have the specter of civil war in their own country as a civil war. And the membrane between an orderly daily society and all-out chaos does of course seem to be much thinner in China than in other places. In a weird sort of way, though, for leaders to raise the prospect of civil war (if, that is, their preferred course is not followed) is a bit like Chairman Mao threatening to go up to the hills during the 1959 Lushan Conference. “You disagree with my views? What, do you want a civil war?” But the change is that the contemporary leadership doesn’t threaten to themselves take the army and “go up into the hills to fight guerilla war.” … Thanks, JR.

    • Adam Cathcart says

      Ok, fine, Crazypulsar, point taken. Lacking the time to translate all of the comments or do a full sample, I’ll just translate everything on the final page of comments which you cited:

      “希特勒也说过统治世界。。。。2022年太久了,变数多 [Hitler also said that he wanted to rule the world…2022 is too late, change it to arrive a little sooner]”

      “我国的核电站都建在东部南部沿海人口稠密的地区,一旦有事,确实会损失巨大 [Our country’s nuclear plants are all built on the east and southern coasts, areas with high population; if anything were to happen, the losses could be staggering]”

      “好样的!应该成为全球的表率![Awesome! Need to set a good example for the whole world!]”

      “等我死后,哪管他洪水滔天![Wait until after I die for the floods to come and the earth to tear asunder!]”

      “擦了!谁说的把核电站建沙漠的!!! NND我家就在沙漠边上。建到无人区也不行![Fuck! Who said to build a nuclear plant in Shamo!?! NND (?) my home is right next to Shaomo. Building a nuclear power plant in an uninhabited area is also not OK! ]”

      and also three longer comments, one of which I already translated in the post:

      “可控核裂变迟早淘汰。先别说日本那事,就是核废料处理也有隐患。美国流氓到现在就用的核废料做贫铀弹到处乱射。搞得伊拉克妇女生娃娃动不动就是个异形。中国核废料说的是挖坑埋了保证10万年地质安全。谁能保证100、200年后有人挖出来用上了那?就算核聚变研究十万年控不了,石油煤炭明年就用完。风能、太阳能、水能、潮汐能哪个不是永久能源?[To control nuclear energy is sooner or later (迟早 chi2zao) to be superceded/overcome (tao2tai4). First, not to mention the incident in Japan, where handling of nuclear waste was a catastrophe. Until now, the American thugs have used nuclear products to sow chaos with their nuclear missiles; that’s why women are having babies in Iraq that look so strange. China’s nuclear waste is said to be guaranteed secure in storage [挖坑埋] for 100,000 years. Who can guarantee that people will be around 100 or 200 years from now to manage this? To project the changes in nuclear energy over the next 100,000 years is impossible to control, while petroleum and coal supplies will be exhausted next year. Aren’t wind power, isn’t solar power, hydro and tidal power all inexhaustible resources?]”

      The third long comment goes into comparisons with France but starts by shorthanding all Germans as Nazis, which in my book disqualifies it from being taken too seriously.

      Some of the above translations may have errors, especially in technical terminology and in curse words (“擦了” is done mainly to avoid the censors, no?), as I didn’t use a dictionary. Maybe the world needs a trilingual dictionary (Chinese-English-German or French) of environmentally relevant language which could help with this kind of task in the future. Perhaps it is easier to translate Huanqiu when one is sucking down cigarette smoke, smelling instant noodles, and listening to a fraction of China’s quasi-enlightened sub-elite play first-person shooter games in the Internet cafes in North China (places Thomas DeQuincy, finally translated into French, surely would have identified as the contemporary and pixelated equivalents of opium dens).

      I hope this rejoinder goes some distance toward answering your critique, which was justified in spite of the fact that I likened it, your comment, to an atonal opera from the Weimar era which was based upon surreal Georg Buchner play from the era of Sturm und Drang literature. But perhaps a layering of past and present, and some Sturm und Drang, is justified: Existence is, after all, at stake, and nuclear power thus stands tall on the list of topics to touch on when discussing the big round table of current issues (malevolent North Korea most of all) with Chinese colleagues.

      Adam Cathcart

      • justrecently says

        Perhaps it is easier to translate Huanqiu when one is sucking down cigarette smoke, smelling instant noodles, and listening to a fraction of China’s quasi-enlightened sub-elite play first-person shooter games in the Internet cafes in North China

        I think I can confirm that sucking down cigarette smoke – from your own cigarette, that is – is can be useful when translating Huanqiu, Adam. If the end justified the unhealthy means would be a different question.

        • Adam Cathcart says

          Which raises another insouciant question — just how much more lightweight would Xinhua’s collective output be without cigarette and caffeine consumption? Someone has got to crank out those dispatches!

        • justrecently says

          Work places were spared by China’s new anti-smoking law (which prescribes no fines for breaking it anyway), but mereckons that the Huanqiu and Xinhua collectives’ venues are already very modern, très chique, and that there is no way that editorial or news departments would allow their staff to smoke in such places. You know, just like evil Google.

          Instead, they’ll probably provide a gym. And a war room with lots of tin soldiers and model ships (aircraft carriers etc) to play with. Defending the motherland is a matter of fitness and preparedness.

        • Adam Cathcart says

          You are such a card, JR, really. But I wonder what Mao thought about such things as children’s toys which you mention. He wrote about everything else, but the role of toys in early childhood education can help to supplement patriotic sentiments as embedded in song — Iris Chang knew that quite well!

      • By the way , some professional words like this sentense,someone have mentioned on the comments. “可控核裂变迟早淘汰”………
        “可控核裂变” is not “To control nuclear energy “like you have translated. it’s ” controlable Nuclear fission “.

        why he said this coz human could make nuclear enegy but can’t control them, like fukushima..

        other way to have nuclear enegy is also use “核聚变” “Nuclear fission”

        “擦了” is not or avoide censors, it’s just a cyberwords that imitate the pronouncation of ” cao”, something like “god damned”. so prononcation as ” cai” , people doing this just for fun and imitate some local language . Not everywords is for avoide censors,there are no camera everywhere.

        • Adam Cathcart says

          Thank you! This is very helpful. I’m glad I didn’t use a dictionary, although this new one (英汉法德日俄空间科学词典 ) might have come in handy. Fusion nucléaire=核聚变 [he2ju4bian4]= nuclear fission. You would think that someone who is supposedly keyed into what Chinese media are saying about North Korea — a discourse which certainly includes a fair amount of nuclear terminology — would have known that term more instinctively! Well, the autodidact is, at least, awake. Thanks also for the note on net language.

  2. justrecently says

    I feel you’ve completely misguided me, Adam! INFAMY!
    Anti-CNN wan sui!!

    • Adam Cathcart says

      Fantastic, JR! Indeed, by providing the link and by translating a single comment, I have done just enough to lead my readers astray. Because readers, when it comes down to it, are like young Wozzeck, being fed what we, the officers of non-Global Times yet staunchly committed to Sino-Anglophone internet Huanqiu-transferdom, decide. Unless, that is, we are called out by a presence which appears out of the thin ether, akin to an Alban Berg tone-row, bearing logical critiques dropped down clattering, the commentary like a Messer plunged into a sea of untruth — “Das Wasser, das Wasser ist Blut!” — and we return to our shore, our bruising yet grin-inducing world in which the informational patriarchs are all dead, no authority truly exists at all, and we can only believe ourselves…. Ach, if only I had the time or the thick skin to wade deeper into Huanqiu’s boards, then, oh then, the world might be more just. But I don’t, and it isn’t. And your 万岁,Herr Hauptmann, is richly deserved!

  3. King Tubby says

    Re: the concept of civil war or the concept of revolution in China.

    Revolution first. This is an antiquated 20th century concept still being given oxygen by some western anti-China mini-pundits. One relatively unified underclass class (however constructed) rising up and destroying the existing monopoly CCP power/business elite, and in so doing, erecting an alternative political program of government. In this wishful thinking set, some type of western democratic model is substituted.

    Civil war. Two or three (regular and irregular) military forces contend for political power. Hardly likely unless the PLA breaks into factions.

    I believe that China will relive some of its past periods of domestic tumult if the whole CCP gig comes adrift. The country is simply too big geographically and too complex in terms of its many and various class and highly localised interests. And an overarching civil society simply does not exist.

    More like an implosion. Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia will devolve into a mix of separatism and inter communal bloodshed. Rural unrest will pit local counties against each other over water and agricultural resources. Unpopular cadres will need to beware of farm tool retribution. Probably also a few localised millenial movements.

    Urban uber nationalism among the unemployed ant communities possibly. The urban middle classes wont know which way to jump as inflation eats away at their standard of living. Economically stronger provinces such as Guangdong will look to their own economic interests, namely overseas. One thing is certain, Beijing will lose it overarching top down ability to command, being more concerned with water and food provision problems.

    All of the above of course hinges on the trajectory taken by the economy in the next 5 to 10 years.

    • Adam Cathcart says

      Thanks KT, for one of the more succinct critiques of this whole idea of China breaking down fully. Have you read “Fragile Superpower” yet? I’ve been meaning to get to that, haven’t as yet…. I’m particularly interested in your idea that “revolution” as commonly thought of is not applicable to China. As you suggest, maybe the CCP, removed even though it is from its own revolution, knows this and is in the business of preventing the scarring breakdown of various parts, rather than preventing some coordinated underclass uprising. Makes me want to read more Mao…

  4. King Tubby says

    “As you suggest, maybe the CCP, removed even though it is from its own revolution, knows this and is in the business of preventing the scarring breakdown of various parts, rather than preventing some coordinated underclass uprising. ”

    Totally agree, Adam. Sort of a continuous security game of whack a mole and preventing the moles from assembling.

    There is no geographical coordination between any of the discrete class interests I mentioned, because there is no overarching and commonly shared civil society, just a number of different parallel universes. The security apparatus knows full well that any coordination across the social surface would pose serious political problems, so it cordons off and deals with local disturbances one way or another (pleading, bribery, legal harrassment, brute force, etc), and it has been pretty successful to date.

    A very pragmatic and non-ideological approach to population security management.

    The Shanghai truck drivers strike was pretty interesting though, and the authorities immediately recognised its volatile and nationwide potential and caved in. However with rising energy prices, China’s logistics problems are not going to go away since truckies are a particularly hard nosed bunch of individuals with serious truck bank mortgages to service.

    • Adam Cathcart says

      Enjoyed your takedown of king Princeling Bo Xilai. I tend to think that the “red song” campaign isn’t much about socialist morality, more like a fig leaf with which to cover up the massive liberalization/economic inequality emerging in Chongqing’s overheated economy. But what do I know? I only spent about 3 days of the last 365 in Chongqing and need to find a way back there, as bar none, it is one of the most fascinating cities on Planet China.

  5. Pingback: Hydropower: Dam if you Do, Dam if you Don’t | Justrecently's Weblog

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