Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Assasins among us?

The Ismaili sect: from the 9th century AD

The Ismailis break away from the main body of the Shi'as on the question of the line of imams in succession to Muhammad (precisely the issue on which the Shi'as and Sunnis have broken away from each other ). Between Shi'as and Ismailis the dispute concerns the seventh imam, in the later years of the 8th century. The Shi'as give this position to Musa; the Ismailis support his elder brother, Ismail.

By the 9th century the Ismailis are an identifiable sect, based in Syria and strongly opposed to the rule of the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. In the 10th century they establish their own rule over the entire coast of north Africa, technically part of the caliphate.

The Fatimid dynasty: AD 909-1171

An Ismaili leader, Ubaydulla, conquers in 909 a stretch of north Africa, displacing the Aghlabids in Kairouan. He founds there a dynasty known as Fatimid - for he claims to be a caliph in the Shi'a line of descent from Ali and Fatima his wife, the daughter of Muhammad.

Sixty years later, in 969, a Fatimid army conquers Egypt, which now becomes the centre of a kingdom stretching the length of the north African coast. A new capital city is founded, adjoining a Muslim garrison town on the Nile. It is called Al Kahira ('the victorious'), known in its western form as Cairo. In the following year, 970, the Fatimids establish in Cairo the university mosque of Al Azhar which has remained ever since a centre of Islamic learning.

At the height of Fatimid power, in the early 11th century, Cairo is the capital of an empire which includes Sicily, the western part of the Arabian peninsula (with the holy places of Mecca and Medina) and the Mediterranean coast up to Syria.

A century later the authority of the Ismaili caliphs has crumbled. There is little opposition in 1171 when Saladin, subsequently leader of the Islamic world against the intruding crusaders, deposes the last of the Fatimid line. And there is no protest when Saladin has the name of the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad included in the Friday prayers in Cairo's mosques. After a Shi'a interlude, Egypt is back in the Sunni fold.

The collapse of the Fatimid caliphate does not mean the end of the political influence of the Ismailis. There has been a dispute in 1094 over who shall be caliph. The Fatimids in Egypt select one of two brothers. Ismailis in Persia and Syria prefer the other, by the name of Nizar.

The Nizari become a separate and extremely alarming sect. From the late 11th century they begin seizing territory in northern Persia. They make a religious virtue of terrorism and murder in pursuit of their ends. They are known to history as the Assassins.

Assassins: 11th - 13th century

It is not known why their contemporaries give the name Assassins to the Nizari Ismailis who become promiment in the 11th century. All that is certain is that the political activities of the Nizari amply justify the subsequent use of 'assassin' in its modern meaning. (The old theory that the word comes from hashish, which the Assassins supposedly use to get in the mood for murder, derives from Marco Polo and other western writers but seems to have little basis.)

The Assassins first show their hand when they begin to seize strongholds in Persia in the late 11th century, particularly the almost impregnable fortress of Alamut. In the 12th century they also acquire bases in Syria.

The Assassins train terrorists and employ a network of secret agents in the camps and cities of their enemies. These enemies are legion. Foremost among them are the Seljuk Turks and the caliphs in Baghdad (the Assassins murder two caliphs). But the terrorists also act against their fellow Ismailis, the Fatimids in Cairo. They assassinate at least one prominent crusader. Most eccentrically of all, they make two attempts on the life of Saladin.

No way is found to eliminate this troublesome sect until the Assassins are finally crushed between two great rival powers in the 12th century - the Mameluke sultans of Egypt and the Mongols, led by Hulagu.

The Aga Khan: from 1818

Deprived of their military power, the Assassins survive in Persia as the Nizari Ismaili, a minor heretical sect of Shi'ite Islam. Their leaders still claim descent, through Nizar, from Ali and Fatima. In 1818 one of them is granted the title Aga Khan by the shah of Persia.

In 1840, after an abortive uprising against the next shah, this first Aga Khan flees to India. There he and his descendants remain leaders of an Ismaili community numbered, in Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India and elsewhere, in several millions. The present Aga Khan, born in 1946, is only the fourth in the line.

Read more: http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab17#ixzz0aUAzqWHi

Assassins (Hashishiyyin) (Persia & Syria, 11th-12th Century)

From Amy Zalman, Ph.D.


The Assassins, or hashishiyah, were a medieval Shiite sect known as the Nizari Ismailis. They were primarily in Syria and Persia (present day Iran).

Hashishiya means hashish user, and the name comes from the lore that followers of the group drugged themselves before carrying out assassinations. No one knows if this is actually true.

A translation of hashish-users, Assassins, entered Western language with the Crusader tales. According to orientalist Bernard Lewis, the Italians were already using "Assassin" generically in the 14th century to mean "professional murderer."

Hassan Sabbah.

Sabbah was an adherent of the Nizari Ismaili Shiite sect, whose members lived in Persia and Syria from the 11th century until the destruction of their dynasty by Mongols in the 13th century. Sabbah, eager to return Persia to Shii hands, committed himself to helping achieve the transformation by force. In 1090, he seized territory in northern Persia (today, Iran), an area that was then ruled by Sunni Saljuq Turks.

Under Sabbah's direction, an organization developed that could challenge the Saljuqs. Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf describes an organization that today would quickly be labeled terrorist:

All members, from novices to the grand master, were ranked to their level of knowledge, reliability and courage. They underwent intensive training courses of indoctrination as well as physical training. Hasan's favourite technique fng terror among his enemies was murder. The members of the sect were sent individually - or more rarely, in small groups of two or three - on assignments to kill some chosen personality.

They generally disguised themselves as merchants or ascetics and moved around in the city where the crime was to be perpetrated, familiarising themselves with the habits of their victims. Then, once their plan was ready, they struck. Although the preparation was always conducted in the utmost secrecy, the execution has to take place in the public, indeed before the largest crowd. That was why the preferred site was a mosque, the favourite day Friday, generally at noon.

For Hasan, murder was not merely a means of disposing an enemy, but was intended primarily as a twofold lesson for the public: first, the punishment of the victim, and, second, the heroic sacrifice of the executioner, who was called fidâ'î (plural : fidâ'în, or fedayeen), or 'suicide commando', because he was almost always cut down on the spot. (From A History of the Assassins

The Legend of the Asssassins:

Crusaders, who were camped out in areas around Jerusalem to protect Christian pilgrimage routes, returned to Europe with fantastic tales of the assassins as stealthy political murderers following their cult leader, Sabbah. In Western tales, Sabbah was known as the Old Man of the Mountain.

One of the most famous accounts was one told by Marco Polo, which one scholar has dismissed as a "fully embellished and utterly fanciful account" in which "the Nizaries were basically depicted as a drug-crazed and secret order of assassins driven to senseless murder by their mischievous Old Man." (Farhad Daftary, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 122:3. 2002)

The Assassins were considered so powerful that they were believed to be behind a number of political murders in Europe, though they never were.
The Murder of Conrad de Montferrat, King of Jersualem:

One of the most well-known political murders attributed to the assassins was that the Conrad de Montferrat. Conrad I of Jersusalem, as he was also known, was an Italian military commander in the Holy Roman Empire. After a short stint working for the Byzantine emperor, Montferrat set off for Syria/ Palestine to join the Crusaders in their battle against Saladin's Muslim fighters.

Two days before being crowned King of Jersualem, Conrad was stabbed in the side and back by two Assassins disguised as monks while walking to his palace. He died shortly afterward. Both Assassins were captured and tortured on the rack, where one died and a second confessed that Richard I of England had ordered the assassination. The probability that this is so was given credence in contemporary Arab and Western accounts, but there has never been a definitive answer to Conrad's assassination.

Ironically, the Assassins were sometimes allies of the Christian army, since they shared a common enemy, the Seljuq Turks.

Hasan Sabbah and his unconditionally obedient assassins, the fedayin, the false paradise and great library of fort Alamut, the instant death dealt by the trust of a dagger to important officials by their seemingly obedient assassin servants have been part of a legend woven throughout the centuries. In this short article, rather than give a detailed historical account of this radical Islamic sect that terrorized the Middle East for decades, as there are already a number of competent books and Internet resources that can well fulfill this task. We will suffice with an evaluation of this order that has left its mark on history.

The word “assassin” is derived from the Arabic “asessen”, which means protector or guardian (some claim the “guardian of the mysteries”). Their enemies called them “Hashishi” (the Arabic for Hashish users) in contempt by taking advantage of the similarity in pronunciation. The western equivalent word “assassin”, a political killer is derived from this sect. In reality, the assassins are a branch of the Nizari Ismailis. A heterodox opposition group that originated after the Caliph Nizar son of the recently deceased Caliph el-Mutansir was overthrown by the commander of the army, Bedr ul Jemali in 1094 in favor of his brother.

Those who undertook the assassin cause were called the “daye.” This was originally the title for Nizari Ismaili missionaries. The word Arabic fedayin comes from this word as does the Persian word for self-sacrifice, “fedakar.” In his youth, Hasan Sabbah was a brilliant student in both the sciences and theology, he gave himself to the Ismaili cause after receiving lessons from the daye, and used his intelligence and knowledge to establish a terrifying disciplined order unrivaled in history. After capturing fort Alamut built on top of an inaccessible mountain, in a remote region of Persia, he proceeded to capture a chain of similar forts. Among those who retold the legend of the Sheik or “Old Man of the Mountain” (Sheik ul Jebel), the following account from Marco Polo is most famous:

“The Old Man was called in their language aloadın. He had caused a certain valley between two mountains to be enclosed, and had turned it into a garden, the largest and most beautiful that ever was seen, filled with every variety of fruit. In it were erected pavilions and palaces the most elegant that can be imagined, all covered with gilding and exquisite painting. And there were runnels too, flowing freely with wine and milk and honey and water; and numbers of ladies and of the most beautiful damsels in the world, who could play on all manner of instruments, and sung [sic] most sweetly, and danced in a manner that it was charming to behold. For the Old Man desired to make his people believe that this was actually Paradise. So he had fashioned it after the description that Mahommet gave of his Paradise, to wit, that it should be a beautiful garden running with conduits of wine and milk and honey and water, and full of lovely women for the delectation of all its inmates. And sure enough the Saracens of those parts believed that it was Paradise! ,

“Now no man was allowed to enter the Garden save those whom he intended to be his ashıshın. There was a Fortress at the entrance to the Garden, strong enough to resist all the world, and there was no other way to get in. He kept at his Court a number of the youths of the country, from twelve to twenty years of age, such as had a taste for soldiering, and to these he used to tell tales about Paradise, just as Mahommet had been wont to do, and they believed in him just as the Saracens believe in Mahommet. Then he would introduce them into his garden, some four, or six, or ten at a time, having first made them drink a certain potion which cast them into a deep sleep, and then causing them to be lifted and carried in. So when they awoke, they found themselves in the Garden.

“When therefore they awoke, and found themselves in a place so charming, they deemed that it was Paradise in very truth. And the ladies and damsels dallied with them to their hearts' content, so that they had what young men would have; and with their own good will they never would have quitted the place.

Alamut Fortress

“Now this Prince whom we call the Old One kept his Court in grand and noble style, and made those simple hill-folks about him believe firmly that he was a great prophet. And when he wanted one of his Ashishin to send on any mission, he would cause that potion whereof I spoke to be given to one of the youths in the garden, and then had him carried into his Palace. So when the young man awoke, he found himself in the Castle, and no longer in that Paradise; whereat he was not over well pleased. He was then conducted to the Old Man's presence, and bowed before him with great veneration as believing himself to be in the presence of a true prophet. The Prince would then ask whence he came, and he would reply that he came from Paradise! and that it was exactly such as Mahommet had described it in the Law. This of course gave the others who stood by, and who had not been admitted, the greatest desire to enter therein.

“So when the Old Man would have any Prince slain, he would say to such a youth: "Go thou and slay So and So; and when thou returnest my angels shall bear thee into Paradise. And should'st thou die, nevertheless even so will I send my Angels to carry thee back into Paradise." So he caused them to believe; and thus there was no order of his that they would not affront any peril to execute, for the great desire they had to get back into that Paradise of his. And in this manner the Old One got his people to murder any one whom he desired to get rid of. Thus, too, the great dread that he inspired all Princes withal, made them become his tributaries in order that he might abide at peace and amity with them.”

However, there are also certain alternative views regarding the assassins in a more favorable light. Ismail Kaygusuz in his book Hasan Sabah and Alamut (in Turkish) wrote the following:

“Hasan Sabbah's Alamut nation built on the basis of peace, equality and equal distribution lasted for 176 years. Alamut was a nation stretching from the Pamir mountains to the southeastern Mediterranean and Palestine governed by 300 head, who worked in coordination without private property, under fort settlements called “Dar ul Hijar” (migrant homes

“Hasan Sabbah did not train assassins (killers), not did he establish a narcotic heaven in his fortress nation as claimed by his enemies. But the fact that his enemies (the Sunni Baghdad Caliphs, the Selchuk Sultans, Crusaders, Mongols) were superior in numbers, propagated his Alamut defense in a guerrilla image. It is known that Hasan Sabbah trained an armed unit of select warriors (fedayin). Contrary to these “fedayin” claims, assassinations were conducted only against officials, who were oppressors.”

Much has been written about the assassins due to recent events in the Middle East. Bernard Lewis in his book, The Assassin – A Radical Sect in Islam, has made the following comment on the subject:

Fedayins jumping off Alamut fortress to their doom

“Certainly, the resemblance between the medieval Assassins and their modern counterparts are striking: the Syrian-Iranian connection, the calculated use of terror, the total dedication of the assassin emissary, to the point of self-immolation, in the service of his cause and in the expectation of heavenly recompense. Some have seen a further resemblance, in that both directed their attack against an external enemy, the crusaders in the one case, the Americans and the Israelis in the other.

“There may indeed be such a resemblance, but if so, it is in the misapprehension rather than the reality of these attacks. According to a view widespread in the Western world since medieval times, the anger and the weapons of the Assassins were directed primarily against the Crusaders. This is simply not true. In the long list of their victims, there were very few Crusaders, and even these were marked down as the result of some internal Muslim calculation. The vast majority of their victims were Muslims, and their attacks were directed not against the outsider, seen as basically irrelevant, but against the dominant elites and prevailing ideas in the Islamic world of their time. Some modern terrorist groups do indeed focus on Israelis and on Westerners. But others, probably in the long run more important, have as their targets the existing — in their view apostate — regimes of the Islamic world, and as their objective, the replacement of these regimes by a new order of their own. These points emerged very clearly from the statements made by the assassins of the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. When the leader of the group proudly proclaimed: 'I have killed pharaoh,' he was clearly not condemning pharaoh for making peace with Israel, but as the prototype — in the Qur'an as in the Bible — of the impious tyrant.

“There are also interesting resemblances and contrasts in their methods and procedures. For the medieval Assassins, the chosen victims were almost invariably the rulers and leaders of the existing order — monarchs, generals, ministers, major religious functionaries. Unlike their modern equivalents, they attacked only the great and powerful, and never harmed ordinary people going about their avocations. Their weapon was almost always the same — the dagger, wielded by the appointed Assassin in person.

“Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is an ethical religion, and terror and blackmail have no place in its beliefs or commandments. Even while ordaining holy war as a religious duty, Islamic law lays down elaborate rules for the conduct of warfare, including such matters as the opening and termination of hostilities, the treatment of noncombatants, and the avoidance of certain indiscriminate weapons.”

Despite their Islamic appearance, the Ismailis embraced many pre-Islamic doctrines. The rule of the Fatimid caliphate, descending from the Imam Ismail, was known for its promotion of science, religious tolerance and, and ideals of social equality and justice. The Ismaili Assassins were a secret society with 9 degrees of initiation. The higher degrees were known for their radical heterodox doctrines. Cihangir Gener wrote the following in his book History of Esoteric Doctrines (in Turkish):

“Between 874 and 1256, the Ismailis were very influential in the Middle East. Their pwer has increased to such a level that the Ismaili Imam, Hasan the 2nd announced the Sharia (Islamic Laws) were abolished in the middle of Ramadan in 1164. He proclaimed to the people that fasting, daily Islamic prayers and other Islamic conditional requirements were no longer obligatory. His son Imam Mohammed the 2nd continued his policies. Islamic obligations returned only after the Selchuk regime removed the Ismaili pressure over the Baghdad caliphate.”

According to certain recent views, Haci Bektash Veli the founder of the Turkish Bektashi Order of Dervishes was a “daye.” It is not known to what extent the Order of the Knight Templars were influenced by the Assassins, but there are claims that it was highly significant. According to evidence provided by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh in their book, The Temple and the Lodge, and other recent works, Freemasonry has its origins in the Templars and not in medieval mason’s guilds as some claim. Similarly, another western secret society, the Rosicrucians have their origin in the Ismaili Brethren of Purity according to Emile Dantinne in his article the Islamic Origins of the Rose Cross. Cihangir Gener wrote the following in his book History of Esoteric Doctrines (in Turkish):

“Hugs de Payens and other knights visited Hasan Sabbah at the Alamut fortress upon invitation. Here the knights personally observed the system founded by Hasan Sabbah and received first hand information on the organization and esoteric doctrine. The Templars, who were the foremost advocates of Catholicism upon entering Jerusalem, after going deeply into the Ismaili teachings, gradually distanced themselves from Catholic doctrines and adopted esoteric doctrines, which gives precedence to reason. While this change in the Templars’ beliefs spread throughout Europe due to the powerful organization they established, it caused a weakening of the Catholic Church. While the Templars’ relationship with the Ismailis caused a complete change in their philosophy, it eventually laid the seed of their destruction. The papacy seeking an excuse to disband the Templars, accused them of “having relationship with the Muslims” and even “Islamization.”

According to S. Ameer Ali, “The development of all heterodox secret societies has its origins in Crusaders contact with the Ismailis. All organizations such as the Templar and Hospitalers knights, the Jesuits founded by Loyola modeled the ideals of dedication to their cause on dedicated individuals the likes of which cannot be found in our present day. The origin of stern Dominicans, the mild Franciscans and all brotherhoods can be traced back to either Cairo, or Alamut. The Knight Templar especially show the most resemblance in their religious fervor and hierarchical structure to the Ismailis of the East."

In 1256, The Mongol Hulagu Han transformed the Middle East into a pile of rubble and ash. The Kingdom of Alamut was wiped out along with Baghdad and Harran.

History of Terrorism

Terrorist acts or the threat of such action have been in existence for millennia. Despite having a history longer than the modern nation-state, the use of terror by governments and those that contest their power remains poorly understood. While the meaning of the word terror itself is clear, when it is applied to acts and actors in the real world it becomes confused. Part of this is due to the use of terror tactics by actors at all levels in the social and political environment. Is the Unabomber, with his solo campaign of terror, a criminal, terrorist, or revolutionary?

Can he be compared to the French revolutionary governments who coined the word terrorism by instituting systematic state terror against the population of France in the 1790s, killing thousands? Are either the same as revolutionary terrorist groups such as the Baader-Mienhof Gang of West Germany or the Weather Underground in the United States?

So we see that distinctions of size and political legitimacy of the actors using terror raise questions as to what is and is not terrorism. The concept of moral equivalency is frequently used as an argument to broaden and blur the definition of terrorism as well. This concept argues that the outcome of an action is what matters, not the intent. Collateral or unintended damage to civilians from an attack by uniformed military forces on a legitimate military target is the same as a terrorist bomb directed deliberately at the civilian target with the intent of creating that damage.

Simply put, a car bomb on a city street and a jet fighter dropping a bomb on a tank are both acts of violence that produce death and terror. Therefore (at the extreme end of this argument) any military action is simply terrorism by a different name. This is the reasoning behind the famous phrase "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". It is also a legacy of legitimizing the use of terror by successful revolutionary movements after the fact.

The very flexibility and adaptability of terror throughout the years has contributed to the confusion. Those seeking to disrupt, reorder or destroy the status quo have continuously sought new and creative ways to achieve their goals. Changes in the tactics and techniques of terrorists have been significant, but even more significant are the growth in the number of causes and social contexts where terrorism is used.

Over the past 20 years, terrorists have committed extremely violent acts for alleged political or religious reasons. Political ideology ranges from the far left to the far right. For example, the far left can consist of groups such as Marxists and Leninists who propose a revolution of workers led by a revolutionary elite. On the far right, we find dictatorships that typically believe in a merging of state and business leadership.

Nationalism is the devotion to the interests or culture of a group of people or a nation. Typically, nationalists share a common ethnic background and wish to establish or regain a homeland.

Religious extremists often reject the authority of secular governments and view legal systems that are not based on their religious beliefs as illegitimate. They often view modernization efforts as corrupting influences on traditional culture.

Special interest groups include people on the radical fringe of many legitimate causes; e.g., people who use terrorism to uphold antiabortion views, animal rights, radical environmentalism. These groups believe that violence is morally justifiable to achieve their goals.

Terror in Antiquity: 1st -14th Century AD
The earliest known organization that exhibited aspects of a modern terrorist organization was the Zealots of Judea. Known to the Romans as sicarii, or dagger-men , they carried on an underground campaign of assassination of Roman occupation forces, as well as any Jews they felt had collaborated with the Romans. Their motive was an uncompromising belief that they could not remain faithful to the dictates of Judaism while living as Roman subjects. Eventually, the Zealot revolt became open, and they were finally besieged and committed mass suicide at the fortification of Masada.

The Assassins were the next group to show recognizable characteristics of terrorism, as we know it today. A breakaway faction of Shia Islam called the Nizari Ismalis adopted the tactic of assassination of enemy leaders because the cult's limited manpower prevented open combat. Their leader, Hassam-I Sabbah, based the cult in the mountains of Northern Iran. Their tactic of sending a lone assassin to successfully kill a key enemy leader at the certain sacrifice of his own life (the killers waited next to their victims to be killed or captured) inspired fearful awe in their enemies.

Even though both the Zealots and the Assassins operated in antiquity, they are relevant today: First as forerunners of modern terrorists in aspects of motivation, organization, targeting, and goals. Secondly, although both were ultimate failures, the fact that they are remembered hundreds of years later, demonstrates the deep psychological impact they caused.

Early Origins of Terrorism: 14th -18th Century
From the time of the Assassins (late 13th century) to the1700s, terror and barbarism were widely used in warfare and conflict , but key ingredients for terrorism were lacking. Until the rise of the modern nation state after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the sort of central authority and cohesive society that terrorism attempts to influence barely existed. Communications were inadequate and controlled, and the causes that might inspire terrorism (religious schism, insurrection, ethnic strife) typically led to open warfare. By the time kingdoms and principalities became nations, they had sufficient means to enforce their authority and suppress activities such as terrorism.

The French Revolution provided the first uses of the words "Terrorist" and "Terrorism". Use of the word "terrorism" began in 1795 in reference to the Reign of Terror initiated by the Revolutionary government. The agents of the Committee of Public Safety and the National Convention that enforced the policies of "The Terror" were referred to as 'Terrorists". The French Revolution provided an example to future states in oppressing their populations. It also inspired a reaction by royalists and other opponents of the Revolution who employed terrorist tactics such as assassination and intimidation in resistance to the Revolutionary agents. The Parisian mobs played a critical role at key points before, during, and after the Revolution. Such extra-legal activities as killing prominent officials and aristocrats in gruesome spectacles started long before the guillotine was first used.

Entering the Modern Era: The 19th Century
During the late 19th century, radical political theories and improvements in weapons technology spurred the formation of small groups of revolutionaries who effectively attacked nation-states. Anarchists espousing belief in the "propaganda of the deed" produced some striking successes, assassinating heads of state from Russia, France, Spain, Italy, and the United States. However, their lack of organization and refusal to cooperate with other social movements in political efforts rendered anarchists ineffective as a political movement. In contrast, Communism's role as an ideological basis for political terrorism was just beginning, and would become much more significant in the 20th century.

Another trend in the late 19th century was the increasing tide of nationalism throughout the world, in which the nation (the identity of a people) and the political state were combined. As states began to emphasize national identities, peoples that had been conquered or colonized could, like the Jews at the times of the Zealots, opt for assimilation or struggle. The best-known nationalist conflict from this time is still unresolved - the multi-century struggle of Irish nationalism. Nationalism, like communism, became a much greater ideological force in the 20th century.

The terrorist group from this period that serves as a model in many ways for what was to come was the Russian Narodnya Volya (Peoples Will). They differed in some ways from modern terrorists, especially in that they would sometimes call off attacks that might endanger individuals other than their intended target. Other than this quirk, we see many of the traits of terrorism here for the first time; clandestine, cellular organization; impatience and inability for the task of organizing the constituents they claim to represent; and a tendency to increase the level of violence as pressures on the group mount.

The Early 20th Century
The first half of the 20th century saw two events that influenced the nature of conflict to the present day. The effects of two World Wars inflamed passions and hopes of nationalists throughout the world, and severely damaged the legitimacy of the international order and governments.

Nationalism on the Rise
Nationalism intensified during the early 20th century throughout the world. It became an especially powerful force in the subject peoples of various colonial empires. Although dissent and resistance were common in many colonial possessions, and sometimes resulted in open warfare, nationalist identities became a focal point for these actions.

Gradually, as nations became closely tied to concepts of race and ethnicity, international political developments began to support such concepts. Members of ethnic groups whose states had been absorbed by others or had ceased to exist as separate nations saw opportunities to realize nationalist ambitions. Several of these groups chose terror as a method to conduct their struggle and make their situation known to world powers they hoped would be sympathetic. In Europe, both the Irish and the Macedonians had existing terrorist campaigns as part of their ongoing struggle for independence, but had to initiate bloody uprisings to further their cause. The Irish were partially successful, the Macedonians failed.

Damaged Legitimacy

The "total war" practices of all combatants of WWII provided further justification for the "everybody does it" view of the use of terror and violations of the law of war. The desensitization of people and communities to violence that started in World War I accelerated during World War II. The intensity of the conflict between starkly opposed ideologies led to excesses on the part of all participants. New weapons and strategies that targeted the enemies' civilian population to destroy their economic capacity for conflict exposed virtually every civilian to the hazards of combatants. The major powers' support of partisan and resistance organizations using terrorist tactics was viewed as an acceptance of their legitimacy. It seemed that civilians had become legitimate targets, despite any rules forbidding it.

Cold War Developments
The bi-polar world of the Cold War changed perception of conflicts the world over. Relatively minor confrontations took on significance as arenas where the superpowers could compete without risking escalation to full nuclear war. Warfare between the East and the West took place on the peripheries, and was limited in scope to prevent escalation. During the immediate postwar period, terrorism was more of a tactical choice by leaders of nationalist insurgencies and revolutions. Successful campaigns for independence from colonial rule occurred throughout the world, and many employed terrorism as a supporting tactic. When terrorism was used, it was used within the framework of larger movements, and coordinated with political, social, and military action. Even when terrorism came to dominate the other aspects of a nationalist struggle, such as the Palestinian campaign against Israel, it was (and is) combined with other activities.

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided direct and indirect assistance to revolutionary movements around the world. Many anti-colonial movements found the revolutionary extremism of communism attractive. Leaders of these "wars of national liberation" saw the advantage of free weapons and training. They also realized that the assistance and patronage of the Eastern Bloc meant increased international legitimacy. Many of these organizations and individuals utilized terrorism in support of their political and military objectives. The policy of the Soviet Union to support revolutionary struggles everywhere, and to export revolution to non-communist countries, provided extremists willing to employ violence and terror as the means to realize their ambitions.

The Internationalization of Terror
The age of modern terrorism might be said to have begun in 1968 when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an El Al airliner en route from Tel Aviv to Rome. While hijackings of airliners had occurred before, this was the first time that the nationality of the carrier (Israeli) and its symbolic value was a specific operational aim. Also a first was the deliberate use of the passengers as hostages for demands made publicly against the Israeli government. The combination of these unique events, added to the international scope of the operation, gained significant media attention. The founder of PFLP, Dr. George Habash observed that the level of coverage was tremendously greater than battles with Israeli soldiers in their previous area of operations. "At least the world is talking about us now."

Another aspect of this internationalization is the cooperation between extremist organizations in conducting terrorist operations. Cooperative training between Palestinian groups and European radicals started as early as 1970, and joint operations between the PFLP and the Japanese Red Army (JRA) began in 1974. Since then international terrorist cooperation in training, operations, and support has continued to grow, and continues to this day. Motives range from the ideological, such as the 1980s alliance of the Western European Marxist-oriented groups, to financial, as when the IRA exported its expertise in bomb making as far afield as Colombia

Current State of Terrorism
The largest act of international terrorism occured on September 11, 2001 in a set of co-ordinated attacks on the United States of America where Islamic terrorists hijacked civilian airliners and used them to attack the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Other major terrorist attacks have also occured in New Delhi (Indian Parliament attacked); Bali car bomb attack; London subway bombings; Madrid train bombings and the most recent attacks in Mumbai (hotels, train station and a Jewish outreach center). The operational and strategic epicenter of Islamic terrorism is now mostly centred in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

World Security Enters New Phase

The year of 2009 has witnessed an increasing amount of terrorism around the world—requiring serious countermeasures.

In Europe, the radical group ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) launched a series of terrorist attacks in Spain on the 50th anniversary of its founding, demonstrating its relevance—and its deadly abilities. Other European nations, notably Germany, have also thwarted similar terrorist plots.

Perhaps more troubling of all was an incident in September when New York City officials neutralized another potential terrorist attack, which would have been the largest of its kind since September 11, 2001.

In the Muslim world, meanwhile, religious militants and insurgent violence have steadily gained strength. In Iraq, for example, there have been more than 2,100 terrorist attacks this year, far more than the 1,492 attacks reported in 2008.

Al Qaeda, of course, has been causing unrest in Yemen and other regions, too. Somalia's Youth Party, for example, has recently created general chaos amid a deteriorating political situation. This situation has been worsened by collaborations with violent terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

Then there is North Africa, where extremist forces in Algeria—and other countries like Mauritania and Mali beyond—remain largely unchecked. This has resulted in the export of threats and violence to the outside world, mainly Europe.

In Central Asia, the Islamic Jihad Union has made a major comeback, threatening the security situations in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

At the same time, across South Asia in Pakistan and Afghanistan, suicide attacks continued to increase steadily, while overall terrorist attacks have peaked in number.

In fact, according to Jane's Information Group in London, terrorist activity in South Asia represents as much as half of the total figure worldwide.

In Southeast Asia, on the other hand, Thailand and the Philippines have been racked by continuous terrorist incidents. Nearby, Islamic extremists have once again gained ground in Indonesia, the world's most populous, though moderate, Muslim nation.

Terrorism spreads

Al Qaeda has used its organizational fluidity as a means to adjust to new tactics to expand and consolidate its strength.

This year, Al Qaeda's top leaders, including its second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a series of video messages emphasizing new alliances with Tehrik-e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP) as well as other terrorist forces. Indeed, there is plenty to suggest that Al Qaeda continues to have a strong foothold in Pakistan.

In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, branches of Al Qaeda have also reorganized and united. The militants have also made it widely known that they plan to join local insurgent forces and domestic rebellions to attack the government and local Western targets.

Al Qaeda has also intensified efforts at self-promotion, in its attempts to gain greater sympathy and support from Muslims all over the world.

To do so, Al Qaeda and its offshoots have repeatedly publicized and marketed their brand of extremism via online forums, electronic periodicals and video speeches, among other mechanisms.

The TTP, on the other hand, has consistently rallied its forces as a bulwark against local Pakistani counter-insurgency operations and paramilitaries. Indeed, ever since Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed by U.S. forces in August, the new TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud has sworn to retaliate.

The TTP, in fact, has already succeeded in attacking the Islamabad office of the United Nations' World Food Program, and Pakistan's main army headquarters. These attacks came even after Islamabad launched crackdowns against militant sanctuaries in South Waziristan.

To the north, the Afghan Taliban has reinforced its strength, committing highly elusive hit-and-run terrorist attacks. Overall, the group has been maintaining a highly lethal and skilled campaign of suicide bombings and guerilla warfare in the face of powerful joint attacks by U.S. and Afghan military forces.

Taliban forces have also spread to the northern and western parts of Afghanistan like an inkblot. Statistics show that, from the beginning of 2009 to the end of October, there have been some 1,200 terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, alarmingly more than the total number of 615 for the previous year.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are optimizing their vast rural and mountain terrain with which they are familiar. In these, the Taliban have unlimited opportunities to target Western forces.

As a result, the death toll for NATO and U.S. military forces in Afghanistan has risen sharply in recent months, with 295 casualties from January to September, compared with the total number of 294 in 2008.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia's Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has reactivated after a long period of silence, posing a new threat to both Indonesia and nearby countries in the region. On July 17, most notably, Jakarta's the J.W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels were struck by bombings, killing and injuring dozens. According to the International Crisis Group, JI has a core structure of some 900 loyalists, while most of its leaders have not even come close to seeing justice.

The normally peaceful India has also seen a disturbing rise in terrorist attacks. The number of terrorist incidents in India this year as of October has surpassed 1,000, much higher than that of the previous year, which stood at 839.

Among the most active groups in India have been Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul-Mujahedin and the United Liberation Front of Asom. These are all extreme leftist organizations, and have posed a major threat to the country.

Antiterrorism actions

Since U.S. President Obama took office in January, Washington has replaced its counterterrorism strategies with more pragmatic policies.

OFF THE RAILS: A damaged railway carriage perches near a village in Russia's Novgorod region on November 28. A bomb attack on the upscale passenger train traveling between Moscow and Saint Petersburg the night before killed at least 39 people (XINHUA/AFP)

From simply changing the very designation of the "Global War on Terror" to "Overseas Contingency Operation," the Obama administration has sent an enormous goodwill gesture to the Muslim world. In the eyes of many, it has been long overdue.

Militarily, the United States has at once isolated and struck at radical Taliban forces while drawing more moderate Taliban elements to its side.

Diplomatically, the United States has offered incentives for and pressures on countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan to intensify their antiterrorism efforts. At the same time, Washington has pushed its European and Japanese allies to share responsibilities and to contribute to the reconstruction of these countries and regions.

Overall, the United States has faced multiple challenges. First, the Taliban in Afghanistan has enhanced its strength. Second, the process of rebuilding Afghanistan has been fraught with difficulties. Controversies over the Afghanistan presidential elections have weakened the legitimacy of the newly elected administration, for one thing. The inadvertent result of this has been an increase in public support for Taliban.

The capability building up of the Afghan National Army and National Police in terms of equipment, preparation for war and handling of various security issues, on the other hand, has taken place very slowly.

Third, Pakistan can hardly make claims it has made any substantial progress fighting against terrorism. Since May, Pakistan has stepped up efforts in cracking down on the TTP, which has generated some positive results. But in general, it lacks the military and financial resources to vanquish the group once and for all.

Fourth, the U.S. administration is facing increasing anti-war sentiment at home. An August poll by The Washington Post and American Broadcasting Company, for instance, showed that more than half of the American public opposes sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Fifth, allied support has its limits. NATO forces are mostly stationed in the northern parts of Afghanistan and other places where the Taliban is relatively inactive. Lacking coordination, these forces have yet to join together in combating terrorism.

Focal points

With an upsurge in international terrorism and a sharper U.S. policy toward combating it, the contest between terrorism and international counter-terrorism forces has entered a new phase. The outcome will, to a great extent, define the future of world security.

Looking forward, there are three major points that will affect the trend of international counterterrorism efforts.

The first will be the United States' newly adjusted antiterrorism policy. On December 1, President Obama announced his new strategy against terrorism—dispatching 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, thus enhancing Kabul's capabilities in security and law enforcement. This will also increasing aid in local construction, and attempt to add gains in support from allied countries to fight against Al Qaeda terrorist forces. But whether or not the United States will reach its targets remains constrained by many factors.

The second will be how far Pakistan can go in combating terrorism. Though the Pakistani authorities have made some progress in their military actions, local, political, economic, religious and nationality issues will add to the complexity of future situation.

The third will be how the chaos in the Middle East and North Africa evolves. The answer to this lies in the degree to which the environment of politics and extremism allow it to continue.

The author is an associate research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

China Considers Compulsory Green Energy Purchases by Grid Operators

Power enterprises refusing to buy power produced by renewable energy generators will be fined

China's top legislature Tuesday discussed a legal amendment to require electricity grid companies to buy all the power produced by renewable energy generators.

The State Council energy department and the state power regulatory agency should supervise the purchases, said the draft amendment to the Renewable Energy Law, which was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) for its second reading.

According to the draft, the State Council energy department, in conjunction with the state power regulatory agency and the State Council finance departments, should "determine the proportion of renewable energy power generation to the overall generating capacity for a certain period."

A national plan on renewable energy development issued in 2007 set a target to increase renewable resources to supply 15 percent of its total energy consumption by 2020, in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainable economic growth.

Power enterprises refusing to buy power produced by renewable energy generators will be fined up to an amount double that of the economic loss of the renewable energy company, the draft said.

However, some lawmakers said the development of renewable energy in China faced many problems such as difficulties in connecting with the grid, over-production of wind power and solar cell material, and a lack of innovative key technologies.

They suggested that revision of the law should focus on prevention of blind development of renewable energy.

Industry experts estimated that one third of the country's installed capacity of wind power could not be well connected to the grid.

Of various types of renewable energy in China, lawmakers said, hydropower's quality and technology was the best. They suggested to further standardize hydropower development.

Other lawmakers said the country should support the development of biomass energy using crop straw so as to improve ecological environment and farmers' income.

Lawmaker Wang Shucheng, a former Minister of Water Resources, supported the proposal of grid companies buying all the power produced from renewable energy.

Wang opposed a previous idea of setting a minimum purchase quota for electric power generated by renewable energy, which would be "a hit to the fledging wind power industry" and was unfeasible.

Grid companies said a quota was hard to determine as generation of solar and wind power was subject to "natural factors" such as wind force and light.

Industry insiders were cited in an NPC report as saying that if grid operators completed the minimum purchase quota for renewable energy, they would have no incentive to buy more renewable energy power, "which is not in line with the principle of promoting renewable energy development."

Wang suggested the use of "smart grids" as a solution to the blind development of wind power. The smart grid includes an intelligent monitoring system that can integrate alternative sources of electricity, such as solar and wind.

Renewable energy includes non-fossil fuels such as wind and solar power, hydropower, biomass, geothermal and ocean energy.

The law, which took effect in January 2006, was aimed at promoting the use of renewable energy, increasing energy supply, safeguarding energy security and protecting the environment.

It covered pricing management and supervision measures.

Premier Wen Jiabao told the Copenhagen Climate Change conference on Friday that between 2005 and 2008, renewable energy increased by 51 percent in China, representing an annual growth rate of 14.7 percent.

Wen said in 2008, the use of renewable energy reached an equivalent of 250 million tons of standard coal.

"A total of 30.5 million rural households gained access to bio-gas, equivalent to a reduction of 49 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions," he said.

Signaling an official effort to shore up clean energy development and fight climate change, the law required the government set up a special fund to support renewable energy scientific research, finance rural clean energy projects, build independent power systems in remote areas and islands, and build information networks to exploit renewable energy.

The fund will be managed by finance, energy and pricing sectors of the State Council.

In 2008, China used more hydro and solar power than any other country and its use of wind power ranked fourth.

(Xinhua News Agency December 22, 2009)

Chinese Vice Premier Calls for Deepened Medical Reform

The aim is to make the country's medical service more accessible and affordable

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday called for stepped-up efforts to deepen medical reform in order to make the country's medical service more accessible and affordable.

At a meeting of the leading group for medical reform under the State Council, Li urged to accelerate the building of an essential drug system and the reform of public hospitals.

Noting that the essential drug system had met wide public support since its launch, Li urged authorities to take measures to reduce the prices of overpriced medicines, and to help grassroots health institutions retain sustainable development.

He said 60 percent of grassroots health institutions should use medicines on the essential drug list and sell them at controlled low prices by the end of next year.

The Vice Premier also pointed out that public hospital reform was an important as well as difficult part of the reform.

Efforts must be made to improve public hospitals' services, management and efficiency, he said, adding that the non-governmental sectors should also be encouraged to run hospitals in order to meet the needs of the people.

Li also called on government departments to strengthen leadership and provide financial support for the medical reform.

(Xinhua News Agency December 22, 2009)

China Calls for Proper Handling of Sensitive Issues Amid French PM's Visit

Both countries should properly deal with sensitive issues, enhance political trust, expand pragmatic cooperation in an effort to bring bilateral relationship to a new high

China on Tuesday said the proper handling of sensitive issues was crucial to stronger Sino-French ties, and proposed deeper political trust and wider pragmatic cooperation.

"Both countries should properly deal with sensitive issues, enhance political trust, expand pragmatic cooperation in an effort to bring bilateral relationship to a new high," Chinese President Hu Jintao told visiting French Prime Minister Francois Fillon Tuesday afternoon.

Fillon's visit was seen by observers as a symbol of the recovery of bilateral ties that were frozen in 2008 caused by frictions over Tibet and other issues concerning China's core interests.

France in April pledged not to support "Tibet independence" in any form.

"I've met twice with President Sarkozy on the sidelines of international conferences this year," Hu recalled, referring to the first one in London in April and the other in New York in September.

"We've reached important consensus on consolidating and developing China-French relationship and bringing it back to the track of sound and stable growth," Hu said.

Fillon, on his first visit to China since taking office in 2007,said bilateral relations was in rapid development after the meetings between the two presidents.

Reviewing the past, Hu said the 45-year China-France diplomatic relations had overcome difficulties and moved forward despite vicissitude in international arena.

"The establishment of China-France comprehensive strategic partnership in 2004 provided a broad prospect for bilateral relations in the 21st century," Hu said.

Fillon echoed Hu's views, saying both countries would have a promising prospect in the cooperation on nuclear energy, trade, science and technology, education and culture.

China and France unveiled their biggest nuclear energy joint venture and inked two deals on aviation cooperation during Fillon's three-day visit.

The venture, with a registered capital of about 16.7 billion yuan ($2.5 billion), will annually generate 26 billion kilowatt-hours on-grid energy when completed in 2014.

During their hour-long meeting at the Great Hall of the People, Hu and Fillon also exchanged views on international issues.

"As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, China and France share same or similar views on many major international and regional issues, enjoy common interests and assume important responsibilities on international affairs," Hu said.

Fillon expected both countries to jointly oppose trade protectionism, weather the impacts of global economic downturn and restructure international financial system.

Before their meeting, top Chinese legislator Wu Bangguo also met with Fillon on bilateral relations.

As Fillon's entourage included some French legislators, Wu called for more legislative exchanges at different levels in a bid to lay a more solid public foundation for China-France relations.

Fillon flew back home late Tuesday night.

(Xinhua News Agency December 22, 2009)

A Rice Paddy's Potential

By staff reporter LI GUOWEN

THERE is a small piece of village land near Fuzhou City, Jiangxi Province that has changed many hands since it was surveyed and registered in 1949. Wang Huojin, a village old timer, remembers it grew one crop a year 60 years ago, and the yield was merely 200 kilograms. Today its two crops produce 750 and 800 kilograms respectively.

The plot is now contracted to the Juyuan Agricultural Sci & Tech Development Co., Ltd. and company spokesman and General Manager You Bufa is confident his company can increase that output further through improved irrigation and cultivation. Juyuan now runs more than 3,000 mu (200 hectares) of farmland in Changkai Town, which encompass 1,000-odd plots around three villages. In China farmlands are parceled into plots and contracted to villagers who use simple field ridges, ditches or footpaths for demarcation.

Productivity Swings on Ownership

After the founding of the People's Republic, farmlands held by landlords were redistributed to individual peasants to work them. This land reform led to a rise in agricultural productivity.

It was 1952 when reforms were conducted in Fuzhou, and the 0.1-hectare paddy field in Donghu Village was allotted to Wang Yousheng, with a few other plots. They provided for all the Wang family's needs. But six years later the People's Commune campaign swept across the nation. All rural lands were taken back by the villages, and put under collective management. During the following two decades, the annual yield of the 0.1-hectare plot swung between 150 to 200 kilograms.

By the end of 1978 a village in Anhui Province tentatively initiated the household contract responsibility system, contracting farmlands to its residents. Under this system farmers lease lands in household-sized parcels from their villages who still own the land and therefore have the management rights. The practice was later sanctioned by the central government, and promoted nationwide. By early 1983 the system had been adopted by 93 percent of China's rural areas.

It was 1980 by the time the household contract responsibility system was introduced into Donghu Village, and the 0.1-hectare plot went to Wang Yuquan. Motivated by the idea gain was tied to effort, the Wangs put their whole heart into the land, and soon boosted its single-crop yield to 500 kilograms.

As the years went by, the plot was shifted to other households in regular land redistributions that the village conducted, and its output remained largely stable – between 500 and 600 kilograms, still considered a decent yield compared to past performance but not enough to reward its proprietor with the higher standards of living seen in cities.

Since the mid-1990s China's countryside has seen an ever-mounting exodus of young laborers seeking employment in cities, where the economy is more dynamic and the living standard higher. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, 225 million farmers held down non-agricultural jobs at the end of 2008, with 140 million working away from their hometowns – equivalent to the combined populations of Germany and France.

As migrant workers are still entitled to farmlands at home, they often release their fields to relatives or neighbors. For many years, that was done without monetary compensation, and what's more, the original land holder had to pay the agricultural tax. Zou Manshui, an agricultural officer in Fuzhou, confirmed that some lands were left fallow in the region in past years because of a shortage of farm hands to work them. "Many of the younger generation of 'rural residents' grew up in cities where their parents went to take odd jobs, so they have little knowledge or interest in farming," Juyuan's General Manager You Bufa noted, and adds, "Most people tending the fields now are in their 50s or older." It is this reality that gave rise to private plantations and a class of professional management companies like Juyuan.

Size Equates to Profit

That 0.1-hectare of land in Donghu Village was reallocated to Wang Xuexiang in 2000. Wang, then in his late 60s, had two sons who both found their fortunes out of town. So when his health deteriorated in 2005, he had no choice but to lease his land to fellow villager Wang Delong. The rent was a nominal 50 kilograms of rice a year, priced at barely over RMB 100. Wang Delong does better: cultivating 40 mu (approximately 2.7 hectares) leased from other farmers, he harvests 35,000 kilograms of grain a year that net him more than RMB 20,000.

To further stimulate profit and the number of big growers like Wang Delong, China repealed the agricultural tax and increased agricultural subsidies on January 1, 2006. In Fuzhou's Linchuan District alone more than 14,500 hectares of farmland was sub-contracted in 2009, accounting for 28 percent of the district's total. One hundred and sixty-five households now cultivate more than 100 mu (6.7 hectares) each. Their holdings add up to 30,000 mu (2,000 hectares), or four percent of the district's total. Besides state subsidies, these families receive RMB 16 per mu per year from the district authority.

Li Jianfa is known for his green thumb in his hometown of Shangrao, another city in Jiangxi. Beginning in 2007 Li and two of his friends began to contract paddy fields in Linchuan District. "I looked for parcels next to each other. The rent I budget for has been on the rise; it used to be RMB 80 per mu but it's up to RMB 130 a year," Li said.

This year Li and his partners amassed a farm of approximately 1,000 mu (67 hectares) and purchased three harvesters and two tilling machines. "Scientific farming" is now Li's catchphrase. "As soon as I acquire a piece of land, I immediately send soil samples to the Jiangxi Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and follow its experts' advice on application of fertilizer and other farming process." After three years of overseeing his field, Li Jianfa knows every nuance of timing and fertilization that affects its output.

Every mu gives Li a return of RMB 300 a year, after deducting costs for rent, fertilizer, pesticide, seeds and labor. In 2009 he and his friends saw a revenue of more than RMB 300,000.

An Uneasy Relationship with Capital Assets

The success of big grain growers is changing how country folk view their options. For decades Chinese farmers saw no way of making good money in the fields, and flocked to cities in the hope of a better life. You Bufa was among the migrant workers native to Fuzhou before he sniffed out the promise of agribusiness and founded the Juyuan Corporation. By 2009 his company signed on more than 3,000 mu (200 hectares) of lands in Changkai Town, the largest project of its kind in the city that also happens to encompass the 0.1-hectare plot in Donghu Village. This is leased to Juyuan at RMB 310 per year and produced more than 1,500 kilograms of rice in 2009 for a net profit of RMB 450 for the company.

Juyuan now runs three plantations, all administered in corporate style. The crops are attended to by hired veteran farmers and the finances are handled by professional accountants. Almost all farm work, including transplanting and reaping rice seedlings, is done using the company's 50 agricultural vehicles. Besides tilling its 3,000 mu of lands, Juyuan provides services ranging from machine repair, pest prevention and manure/water management.

While delighted over the dynamics of his business, You Bufa harbors secret worries about the future. "Most sub-contracts for lands are renewed on a yearly basis. Though I am lucky to get three-year terms, it is not good enough for long-range investment. One of the troubles I face is not being able to incorporate the small plots that make up my holdings into one contiguous piece, so as to make full use of big farming machines." You agrees that the local government is doing its best within its resources to facilitate land subcontracting. The district government of Linchuan has set up an agency that collects and releases information on land transfer, offers matchmaking services for land owners and leasers, and mediates disputes – any of which might serve You in unifying the plots.

Mr. You is also alarmed by the risks natural disasters pose to his business; agricultural insurance is still nascent in China, providing little protection for crop growers. Any investment therefore carries with it the possibility of losses that could not be redressed. "Amassing and managing capital assets in agriculture is still new in China," concluded You. "Things will smooth out later. All the signs show we are heading in the right direction."

Virtuous Circles Beat Vicious Cycles

Hunan TV Profits from Programming Responsive to the Financial Crisis

By staff reporter ZHANG XIAOGUO

THE global financial crisis has swept most industries in China since the end of 2008; of course we assume the media business couldn’t escape this nightmare. It has certainly been a blow to many media outlets in China that survive mainly or partly by relying on advertising income. According to CTR Market Research, advertising spending in China edged up only two percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2009, the smallest increase in ten years. But there’s a glaring exception: the case of Golden Eagle Broadcasting System (GBS), a media conglomerate that owns Hunan TV. Sheng Boji, its deputy editor-in-chief, says the company’s advertising earnings reached RMB 1.266 billion in the first half of 2009, up 20.7 percent over the same period of last year, and the advertising revenue from its hottest program “2009 Happy Girls Contest,” a kind of local American Idol, has set a record of over RMB 100 million. We can’t help but wonder, how can the media in less-developed Hunan Province make it under what everyone else acknowledges are harsh conditions?

Sheng was at the time making an appearance at the 2009 Asian Media Forum in Changchun, capital city of northeastern China’s Jilin Province. The annual event was launched in 2003 by the Asia Media Research Center, an academic research organization jointly founded by the Communication University of China and the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies. This year it spotlighted problems and opportunities left for the media in the wake of the financial crisis. Tens of high-ranking government officials, media experts and experienced staff from big-name domestic and foreign communications giants presented at the conference, exchanging their ideas and contributing practical solutions for navigating the economic storm.

The Lipstick Effect

Social wisdom and collective experience suggest that people seek cheaper means of entertainment, like watching TV or movies, browsing websites or reading magazines, to alleviate the pressures of daily life in these troubled times. Called the “lipstick effect” by experts in social research, it is also confirmed by statistics. In the first half of 2009, book sales in the domestic market increased by 20 percent, and the box office in China’s big and medium-sized cities totaled RMB 2.3 billion, representing a 35.29 percent increase in movie-going over the same period in the previous year.

However, seeing an opportunity is one thing, while taking it is another. How does the media produce “lipsticks” in the shades preferred by consumers?

“First and foremost, we never stop investigating what they want to watch. For example, currently many people are grappling with unprecedented financial pressures, so we intentionally set about making some programs which not only pleasantly distract and entertain people, but also comfort, encourage and support them in overcoming temporary difficulties,” says Sheng. “We did a lot of market research. The crisis has left more adults at home, either out of work or taking unpaid leave. Our producers were quick to purchase the broadcasting rights to Korean soap operas that are popular with this group of viewers. In addition, our producers especially created programming that engages viewers by allowing them to participate,” Sheng enthuses. Tracking revealed that in the first half of 2009, Hunan TV’s audience share of 45 to 54 year-olds registered 28 percent higher than the same period last year, moving from the ninth to the sixth highest nationwide, and that of people aged 55 to 64 rose 16 percent.

“To make best-selling ‘lipstick,’ another key strategy for us is that our producers base programming choices on their fit with advertisers as well as audiences,” states Sheng. “After the initial design of a show is done, our staff in the advertising department will consult with the advertisers to discern improvements in line with their opinions,” he elaborates. Using this strategy, more and more of their shows have reached most-watched status, which translates into increased profits. The programming successes have attracted the attention of more advertising decision-makers in businesses, including international giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and P&G.

Sub-prime Times and Niches

Besides broadcasting long-running crowd-pleasers like “Citadel of Happiness” in prime time on weekend evenings, Hunan TV never underestimates the potential of less choice time slots, and carefully conceives of programming for them. The efforts have paid off in spades. In the first half of 2009 its afternoon viewership (13:00 to 17:30) and those who tune in by late evening (22:00 to 24:00) accounted for 4.67 percent and 5.37 percent respectively of the national total, both the highest.

Why give up on a good thing? According to Sheng, the GBS has repositioned its subordinate TV stations to meet the demands of different subgroups, making each station professionally attuned to its niche viewers. For example, the TV drama channel focuses on TV series appealing to retired people and men. The cartoon channel provides popular animated series and movies, as well as creative and educational shows, to make it the first choice of most children around the country. In this way, different channels attract people of different ages with different interests, but cover the whole spectrum. And as the staff gains more experience, they build even more detailed and intimate pictures of the niche audiences they court. A virtuous circle of success has formed composed of professional stations fending off the vicious cycles of failure spawned by the international financial crisis.

Of equal importance to increased income is reduced expenditure. “Since the beginning of 2009, we have merged the advertising departments of our affiliated TV channels and other media into one advertising section, gaining us resource efficiency,” and this, notes Sheng, “avoids waste and strengthens communication.”

Again, the decision proved sound. More and more viewers have tuned in, luring more advertisers. Under unfavorable economic conditions, Hunan TV Station keeps producing miracles.

Love for Fun a Perpetual Opportunity

The success of Hunan TV and GBS as a whole may be taken as confirmation of the substantial demand generated by the huge Chinese market. Appetites for recreation and distraction in fact grow, instead of fall, in times of economic turmoil. In the case of China, where the people, 1.3 billion of them, are getting better-off and more sophisticated, mass media remains a gold mine not yet fully explored.

When an increasing number of Chinese look for foreign movies on the Internet, often grappling with poorly translated subtitles, they are sending the message that their need for fun and information is not sated, suggesting vast untapped opportunities for the media industry, in and out of China.

China rejects WTO move on raw materials

China said it was disappointed at the decision of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Monday to establish an expert panel to investigate alleged Chinese restrictions on raw materials exportation, saying that such an action was "not conducive" to the solution of the dispute.

"We understand that the panel will be established today and look forward to defending our rights and interests before the panel," the Chinese delegation said at a meeting of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body.

The panel decision was made following a joint request made by the United States, the European Union and Mexico.

The US and the EU first brought the case to the WTO in June, and they were later joined by Mexico. The three parties accused China of violating WTO rules by restricting the exports of raw materials, such as coke, bauxite, fluorspar, magnesium, silicon metal, zinc, etc.

China has said that its relevant export regulations are to "conserve the environment and exhaustible natural resources", stressing the country has "consistently respects and abides by the WTO rules and its own commitments."

Following failed consultations to find a solution to the dispute, the three parties first made a panel request on November 19, but it was rejected by China in accordance with relevant procedures.

At Monday's meeting, the Chinese delegation also expressed concerns about the way in which the three complaints had framed their panel requests.

It pointed out that the three complainants had failed to observe the requirements on panel requests imposed by a relevant article of the WTO's Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU), thus prejudicing China's ability to prepare its defense in the case.

"Since the complainants wish to proceed with panel establishment today, China will seek a preliminary ruling on the consistency of the requests with Article 6.2 of the DSU," the Chinese delegation said in a statement.

It usually takes 45 days for panalists to be appointed. And the panel will need at least half a year to finish its investigations and issue the final report.