Even if you were in total hibernation, you couldn’t miss the fact that the CPC’s 19th congress opens here in two days with a major speech from Xo Jinping.

Security is super-tight (another level of that extremely complex Chinese word, anquangan), with almost a million local people – often retirees – involved in keeping an eye on things, all party members in the city on roster at major sites, and of course extra internet security.

Along with the banners all over China and the shorthand ‘shijiuda’ (19th congress) on everyone’s lips, it is a fascinating time to be here.

I was planning to keep up to date with the many themes emerging, but it has simply become too much to do so – except for items that take my fancy.

So, to keep up with all manner of activities, with news, videos, interviews, in-depth analyses and so on, check out the dedicated English-language site at Xinhua news. If you want the latest information at your fingertips (that is, on a smartphone), download the new English language app from the People’s Daily. Or if you want the core site in Chinese, then go to the official site and use either the Chinese or English version.

Apart from the expected promotion – or propaganda in the good old sense of the word – of the CPC and China, the foreign language sites also include explainers concerning processes of election, breakdown of party members and delegates, and so on. And you may be struck by how often Marxist concepts and strategies appear in this material, giving you a sense of how vibrant Chinese Marxism really is.

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Beautiful night over Beijing, with rain clouds in the last light:

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Apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but I have been in Auckland for a couple of days and then Beijing. Let me begin with the Beijing events, the main one of which was the preliminary ‘conference of experts’ for a funded project called ‘Chinese Marxism: On the Sinification of Marxism in Chinese Academia’. I had to front up before some senior and well-known Chinese scholars, each of whom gave a detailed response to the project. This is something of a ritual in Chinese projects, after which everyone goes to dinner and raises a toast to the project. Apart from the news item, a few photos:

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The lecture at the University of Auckland was organised by Robert Myles and Caroline Blyth and was called ‘What Has Marxism to Do with Religion?’ They even made a youtube video, which is here in all its glory:

I have today signed the contract on a new and rather exciting grant. The project is called ‘Chinese Marxism: Concerning the Sinification of Marxism in Chinese Academia’. The project and its grant are significant on a number of counts. First, it is my first completely Chinese grant, in my capacity as being on the staff of Renmin (People’s) University of China – the university first established under Mao Zedong’s influence in Yan’an in 1937. Second, I am learning much about the way Chinese grants and research operate. Granting bodies take an idea and work with you on it, providing advice and guidance on the way. Third, it involved some personal meetings over breakfast to find out if I am a ‘friend’ (Zhongguo pengyou). Fourth, this is their first international grant.

Let me elaborate on the final point. Uniquely for China, they have about 200 city and provincial research institutes. These institutes mediate between government sectors and the research undertaken at universities and elsewhere. I see it as one of the many feedback mechanisms that operate here, in which the movement of ideas between government and researchers is encouraged. In Beijing, the institute in question is the Federation of Social Sciences, which has a number of branches. The branch with which I am engaged is the Centre for Studies on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. They have their own director, staff, book series, journals and so on. Obviously, at a city level, they tend to receive applications for grants from Chinese researchers. My application was the first one from a foreigner and they are excited to be moving into an international arena. One of my main points is that the project will also enable Chinese scholars to engage more regularly in international conferences related to Marxism – apart from international scholars engaging more fruitfully with the unique developments in China. In short, this is the first step in a longer project called ‘Socialism with “National” Characteristics’. I think I’ll be working with these and other people (such as the Academy of Marxism, within the Academy of Social Sciences) for quite some time.

Finally, alongside the obligatory conferences and publications, I am also expected to write a couple of articles for the flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily. The topics: the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics (from the perspective of a foreigner), and the decline of bourgeois democracy in the United States. I am busting to get into these pieces.

A few photos from the ceremony for signing the contract. The other scholar is the director of the Centre for Studies on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics – an absolutely lovely and helpful woman.

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I usually don’t mention news stories, but this one intrigued me. It is tucked away in a small corner of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) webpage and is entitled: ‘China pollution: Beijing’s improved air quality a result of good policy, city officials say’. The article mentions the notable improvement in air quality over the last few years, especially in the last year. I have noticed this myself and mentioned it here on a number of occasions. When I first began coming to Beijing some years ago, it was a rare day that you could see blue sky. Now, we have days on end with blue skies. It can still get bad, but those periods are becoming fewer. Often, I go for a run outside. The reason for improvements? By 2016 there will be no coal-fired power stations in Beijing (Australian coal industry take note); old cars are being pulled off the roads (half a million last year and more this year); and polluting factories are being closed down or moved. The last item is not quite a solution, but the general trend is one that I have experienced first hand.

I must admit that I have given in to buying an air cleaner for my apartment in Beijing. In general, the air is improving here, with weeks at a time having clear skies. On these days I go for a run outside, and use some outdoor exercise equipment. But the air can also become quite thick, although the particles you can’t see are the ones that can do the most damage. Hence the air cleaner.

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It is basically a strong fan with a good filter. It helpfully indicates when the air is clean, with a friendly blue light illuminating to tell you it is so. However, when the air is less beneficial, it displays an array of red lights: two means mildly polluted, four more so, and six … However, at some points the machine has a habit of suddenly switching from the blue light to six red lights, with no apparent reason.

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After a number of such occurences, I began to suspect that the light system was merely a gimick, to make one feel as though it was doing it’s job. However, then I hit upon the reason: whenever I break wind in its vicinity, it let’s me know it’s displeasure and sets about cleaning up the burst of air pollution.

Strange how “Blue Skies in Beijing” is not a headline. If you believe international reports, Beijing is constantly shrouded in impenetrable smog, like being inside a cigarette. To be sure, it can get pretty bad on some occasions, but it can also be clear, crisp and sunny. Like now. I’ve been outside running each day, sucking in the air with pleasure.