went further with the riff at the next year’s ceremony.

“At work, we emphasize the 996 spirit,” he said, referring to the practice, common at Chinese internet companies, of working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

“In life, we need 669,” Mr. Ma said. “Six days, six times.” The Mandarin word for “nine” sounds the same as the word for “long-lasting.” The crowd hooted and clapped.

Alibaba shared the remarks, with a winking emoji, on its official account on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. Wang Shuai, the company’s public relations chief, wrote on Weibo that Mr. Ma’s comments had reminded him of how good it was to be young. His post included vulgar references to his anatomy.

Alibaba also gives employees a handbook of morale-boosting “Alibaba slang.” Several entries are laced with sexual innuendo. One urges employees to be “fierce and able to last a long time.”

Feng Yuan, a prominent feminist in China, said the kind of behavior described at Alibaba could create the conditions under which bullying and harassment were quietly tolerated and promoted.

“In companies where men dominate, hierarchical power structures and toxic masculinity become strengthened over time,” Ms. Feng said. “They become hotbeds for sexual harassment and violence.”

Last month, Ms. Zhou shared her rape accusation on Alibaba’s internal website. According to her account of the events, her boss told a male client who was also at the alcohol-fueled business dinner, “Look how good I am to you; I brought you a beauty,” referring to Ms. Zhou.

Boozy meals have long been widespread in corporate China, where it can be seen as offensive to refuse to drink with a superior. Three days after Ms. Zhou reported the assault to Alibaba, her boss still had not been fired, she wrote in her account. She was told that this was out of consideration for her reputation.

“This ridiculous logic,” she wrote. “Just who are they protecting?”

Elsie Chen contributed reporting. Albee Zhang and Claire Fu contributed research.

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Yuan Longping, Plant Scientist Who Helped Curb Famine, Dies at 90

After graduating in 1953, Mr. Yuan took a job as a teacher in an agricultural college in Hunan Province, keeping up his interest in crop genetics. His commitment to the field took on greater urgency from the late 1950s, when Mao’s so-called Great Leap Forward — his frenzied effort to collectivize agriculture and jump-start steel production — plunged China into the worst famine of modern times, killing tens of millions. Mr. Yuan said he saw the bodies of at least five people who had died of starvation by the roadside or in fields.

“Famished, you would eat whatever there was to eat, even grass roots and tree bark,” Mr. Yuan recalled in his memoir. “At that time I became even more determined to solve the problem of how to increase food production so that ordinary people would not starve.”

Mr. Yuan soon settled on researching rice, the staple food for many Chinese people, searching for hybrid varieties that could boost yields and traveling to Beijing to immerse himself in scientific journals that were unavailable in his small college. He plowed on with his research even as the Cultural Revolution threw China into deadly political infighting.

In recent decades, the Communist Party came to celebrate Mr. Yuan as a model scientist: patriotic, dedicated to solving practical problems, and relentlessly hard-working even in old age. At 77, he even carried the Olympic torch near Changsha for a segment of its route to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Unusually for such a prominent figure, though, Mr. Yuan never joined the Chinese Communist Party. “I don’t understand politics,” he told a Chinese magazine in 2013.

Even so, the Xinhua state news agency honored him this weekend as a “comrade,” and his death brought an outpouring of public mourning in China. In 2019, he was one of eight Chinese individuals awarded the Medal of the Republic, China’s highest official honor, by Xi Jinping, the national leader.

Mr. Yuan is survived by his wife of 57 years, Deng Zhe, as well as three sons. His funeral, scheduled for Monday morning in Changsha, is likely to bring a new burst of official condolences.

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China Wants to Boost Births. But It’s Wary of Losing Control.

When Fan Jianhua had her third daughter last April, she was afraid that she would be fined for violating China’s birth limits.

Ms. Fan was already heavily in debt paying for treatment for her 6-year-old, who has leukemia. To her relief, when she registered her new baby with the police, she didn’t have to pay the $7,500 fine.

“I was really happy and could finally relax,” said Ms. Fan, 34, a stay-at-home mother in the central city of Danjiangkou, in Hubei Province.

Slowly, in fits and starts, China’s ruling Communist Party is loosening its long-held restrictions over childbirth and women’s bodies. Some local governments have tacitly allowed couples to have more than two children. Beijing has said civil servants will no longer be fired for such infringements. Party leaders have pledged to make population policies more inclusive, a signal that some have taken to mean the rules will be eased further.

decline in birthrates. A once-a-decade population census, released on Tuesday, showed that the number of births last year fell to the lowest since the Mao era. Low fertility translates to fewer workers and weaker demand, which could stunt growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

But the party is wary of giving up control and has resisted scrapping birth restrictions wholesale. Instead, Beijing has been taking a piecemeal approach by slowly dismantling the once-powerful family-planning bureaucracy and carving out exemptions. In many places, police officers, employers and city officials are deciding how strictly, or loosely, to enforce the rules.

That can mean more freedom for some, like Ms. Fan, to have more children. But it also creates uncertainty about the risks, adding to a reluctance about having more children.

The strategy could also founder amid broad cultural changes. Anxiety over the rising cost of education, housing and health care is now deeply ingrained in society. Many Chinese simply prefer smaller families, and the government’s efforts to boost the birthrate, including introducing a two-child policy in 2016, have largely fizzled.

“If the restrictions on family planning are not lifted, and they are encouraging births at the same time, this is self-contradictory,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research center. He said that removing all birth limits would convey an important message. “I think such a step has to be taken.”

official murmurs about a reconsideration of the one-child policy surfaced but were quickly dismissed. It took years before the government moved to allow all couples to have two children.

Now, the population is aging more rapidly than those of many developed countries, including the United States, and some argue that the government cannot afford to keep any restrictions on procreation.

“We have to take advantage of the fact that a certain number of residents now are willing to give birth but aren’t allowed to,” China’s central bank said in a working paper it published on April 14. “If we wait to lift it when no one wants to give birth, it will be useless.”

harshly enforced family-planning rules in what Beijing has depicted as a fight against religious extremism. The campaign has led in recent years to a rise in sterilizations and contraceptive procedures — forcibly imposed in some cases — in the region’s Muslim-dominated areas.

China’s family-planning policy has long given local officials a powerful weapon of control — one that may be hard, or costly, to wrest back. Before they were unwound, family-planning agencies hired around eight million people, down to the village level, who corralled women to be fitted with intrauterine devices or coerced them into abortions.

The officials also collected large fines from couples who broke the rules. One senior researcher at the Central Party School estimated in 2015 that the fees amounted to between $3 billion and $5 billion annually.

In recent years, the government has been reassigning family-planning employees to roles including in population research and tackling Covid-19. But local governments retain the power to enforce birth limits as they see fit, which has led to inconsistencies.

The central government said in May last year that civil servants did not have to lose their jobs for violating birth limits, yet months later, a village committee in the eastern city of Hangzhou fired a woman after she had a third child — prompting a public outcry.

Ultimately, the fate of China’s family-planning policies may change little. A generation of highly educated women are putting off marriage and childbirth for other reasons, including a rejection of traditional attitudes that dictate women should bear most of the responsibility of raising children and doing housework.

Liu Qing, a 38-year-old editor of children’s books in Beijing, said getting married and having children were never in her future because they would come at too great a personal cost.

“All the things that you want — your ideals and your ambitions — have to be sacrificed,” Ms. Liu said.

Ms. Liu said Chinese society imposed a motherhood penalty on women, pointing to the discrimination that mothers often faced in hiring.

“I’m furious about this environment,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person who would accept this reality and compromise. I just won’t.”

For other Chinese, having fewer children is a matter of necessity when holes in the country’s social safety net mean that a major illness can lead to financial ruin.

Ms. Fan, the woman in Hubei who was spared a fine, said that she and her husband, a laborer, were getting increasingly desperate. Public health insurance had covered half the cost of her daughter’s treatment for leukemia, but they were on the hook for $76,000.

She had a third child only because she heard that a sibling’s cord blood could help in the treatment of leukemia. But she later learned that such treatment would cost more than $100,000.

“I don’t dare think about the future,” Ms. Fan said. She added that if her daughter’s condition deteriorated or they went broke, they would have to give up treatment.

“We can only leave it up to her fate,” she said.

Research was contributed by Claire Fu, Liu Yi, Albee Zhang and Elsie Chen.

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Still Getting Your Head Around Digital Currency? So Are Central Bankers.

The question is whether the new technology is going to make the yuan an attractive alternative to other currencies. Chinese central bankers say it is not an effort to supplant the dollar, and Martin Chorzempa, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said digitization won’t fix issues that make the yuan unattractive as a reserve currency in the first place — like capital controls, which mean you can’t exchange it easily at all times.

Others worry that private-sector innovations like Bitcoin or “stablecoins,” which are backed by a bundle of assets or currencies, could become an attractive alternative to government-created cash if central banks don’t keep up.

Mr. Powell has argued that Bitcoin is more like gold than the dollar. It has value because it’s rare and people want to hold it, so it can even at times be traded for other goods and services, but it is not government-guaranteed money.

But global regulators did slow down Facebook’s stablecoin project, originally known as Libra and now called Diem, because they worried about the potential for money laundering and financial system disruption.

Mr. Powell said in testimony last year that Libra was “a bit of wake up call that this is coming fast and could come in a way that is quite widespread and systemically important fairly quickly,” highlighting the “importance of making quick progress.”

If tech companies come to dominate the payment system, that could create privacy and stability issues. In fact, China’s digital yuan was pursued partly in reaction to the rise and dominance of private-sector digital payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay.

A faster or instant payments system, like the FedNow instant payment technology that America’s central bank is now developing, could keep the Fed up-to-date without changing the system as much as a digital currency would. But digital dollar fans say the point is to prepare for the future — and the future might be central bank digital currency.

“Digital cash, if built in the right way, could be really groundbreaking,” said Neha Narula, who is the director of the Digital Currency Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is working with the Boston Fed on its project.

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Coinbase’s Washington Debut

Players, observers, lobbyists and the lobbied alike consider this a critical moment for crypto and its influencers. Succeeding or failing to persuade officials now will determine whether regulation allows the digital gold rush to accelerate or slows it to a sputter.

Here are four of the big issues keeping crypto lobbyists busy:

Reputation. The impression that crypto facilitates crime is voiced with some frequency by lawmakers and regulators, and it remains a significant hurdle to legitimacy. The Crypto Council’s first commissioned publication is an analysis of Bitcoin’s illicit use, and it concludes that concerns are “significantly overstated” and that blockchain technology could be better used by law enforcement to stop crime and collect intelligence.

Reporting requirements. New anti-money-laundering rules passed this year will significantly expand disclosures for digital currencies. The Treasury has also proposed rules that would require detailed reporting for transactions over $3,000 involving “unhosted wallets,” or digital wallets that are not associated with a third-party financial institution, and require institutions handling cryptocurrencies to process more data. The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental watchdog and standards body, recently provided draft guidance on virtual assets that would require service providers to hand over further information.

Securities insecurities. When is a digital asset a security and when is it a commodity? Not technically a riddle, this question has puzzled regulators and innovators for some time. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that are released via a decentralized network generally qualify as commodities and are less heavily regulated than securities, which represent a stake in a venture. Tokens released by people and companies are more likely to be characterized as securities because they more often represent a stake in the issuer’s project.

Catching up with China. The Chinese government is already experimenting with a central bank digital currency, a digital yuan. China would be the first country to create a virtual currency, but many are considering it. Some crypto advocates worry that China’s alacrity in the space threatens the dollar, national security and American competitiveness.

For more, see our previous weekend edition about the future of crypto regulation.

“With any new industry, figuring out Washington isn’t easy,” said Ms. Peirce, the S.E.C. commissioner. Entering a heavily regulated industry like finance and talking about technology that few officials understand only compound the difficulty for the crypto crowd.

Since joining the S.E.C. in 2018, Ms. Peirce has been a vocal supporter of blockchain both in the halls of power and in crypto insider circles, sharing her thoughts on hot topics like when there will finally be a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund in the United States. (Not soon enough, in her view, but perhaps soonish.)

As the sector matures, some things will get easier even while the landscape of players gets more complex. Blockchain businesses will increasingly speak to regulators who understand their language, Ms. Peirce said, like the new S.E.C. chair, Gary Gensler, a former M.I.T. professor who taught crypto classes and was coincidentally confirmed on the day that Coinbase listed.

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