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  Beijing Scene

Indentured Learning

Officials of a school in Hunan province were recently discovered forcing students to buy and spend money printed by the school. The school began to issue its own currency to make up for flagging revenues, the Life Times newspaper reports. The operation was run by teachers whose salaries were linked to profit levels. Each week students were required to change at least RMB4 into school currency, which could be used to buy goods only at the school store. Prices there were sometimes twice that of local shops. The scam, uncovered by a Central Television (CCTV) reporter, was enforced by keeping students on the premises between classes and punishing them for buying items off-campus. According to national banking laws, it is illegal to issue currency other than renminbi for the purpose of buying or selling in China. Despite this, an increasing number of schools have been printing their own money over recent months.

Online Fool Backfires

An Internet company was forced to shut down after issuing a fake computer virus meant as an April Fool's Day joke and marketing ploy, the Beijing Morning News reports. On March 31 police from the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in southern Guangdong province were notified that a virus called "yaaf" had been emailed to at least 2,000 Internet users across major Chinese cities, including those in Guangdong and Hunan provinces, as well as the cities of Shanghai and Beijing. The email message read: "By the time you open and read this you will have contracted a computer virus. The virus will wipe out everything in your hard drive. The only way to clear your computer of this virus is by logging onto www.21f.net (21st Century Fortune) every day for at least one hour a day for at least 49 days. After doing so, you will not only be protected against this virus but all computer viruses." After police confirmed that the email was sent by the company they quickly shut down its operations. Police said the email, which was meant as a prank and a way to get people to visit the site, was the first of its kind in China. As it turns out, "yaaf" stood for "you are a fool."

Quickie Divorce

You've heard of one-hour photo developing and 30-minute pizza delivery. Now get ready for the ten-minute divorce. To help accommodate the increasingly busy lifestyle of modern Beijing denizens, a new courthouse in the capital now specializes in helping unhappy couples undo their vows in less time than it takes to commit to them, the Xinhua News Agency reports. Previously, the quickest divorce proceeding required at least one week. No sooner did the Beijing Western District People's Court open its doors on March 31 than a disgruntled couple rushed in pleading for a speedy way to say "I don't." The court only handles so-called "amicable" divorce cases, in which both parties mutually agree to dissolve the marriage. The judge took two minutes to confirm that both husband and wife agreed to mutual terms of divorce. Then the clerk took eight minutes to type up the agreement and other paperwork before stamping it with a seal. According to the judge, last month the court opened on a trial basis. Of the 110 cases handled, 90 percent were for speedy divorces.

Game Over

Three 12-year-old children were brutally murdered by an angry arcade owner over a dispute involving RMB2.50, the Life Times newspaper reports. After being cheated out of the money by the three students, Jin Xiangwu, the owner of a game room in Luoyang, Henan province, tricked them into returning in exchange for free games. When the youngsters came back, he herded them into a locked room and swiftly killed them. One child was beaten over the head with a steel chain and the other two were stabbed repeatedly with a knife. With the help of his brother, the owner cleaned up the scene of the murders and burned the bodies. A few days later the two brothers were captured and confessed to their crime. Jin will be executed while his brother received a ten-year prison sentence. The increasing number of children loitering in video arcades after school has resulted in a rise in incidences of fights and theft. Despite such grisly e pisodes, the number of unsupervised students hanging out in game rooms remains high.

Virtual Veneration

A new website has dragged the traditional Chinese "Tomb-Sweeping Festival" into the age of the Internet. The China-based site, Netor.com, offers an online service facilitating one-click ancestor worship from the comfort of your living room. The Clear Brightness (qingming) festival, China's traditional day of ancestor worship observed for millennia, fell on April 4 this year. It is traditionally the time when families return to their hometowns and pay tribute to their forebears. Offerings of food are made, and paper money and other symbols of wealth burned at the graveside. But now busy urbanites can dispense with these formalities, and pay their filial dues with a simple digital alternative. Netor.com offers free online services, including lighting a candle, requesting a song, and a three-step method to leave a message for the dead. They have also built over 500 memorial "pages" for famous deceased Chinese including Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Confucius and Bruce Lee. The most popular is that for Taiwan singer Deng Lijun. The site estimates that by May it will have over 1000 memorials, making it the biggest online condolence service in Asia. An English-language version is currently under construction.

Cancer Kills One in Five

Cancer is now a huge killer in China, with rates of both incidence and fatality on the rise. According to recent statistics, the affliction is causing one out of every five deaths in China, the Yangcheng Evening News reports. This was publicized at the recent National Convention on Tumor Prevention and Treatment held in Guangzhou. According to data from China's National Tumor Prevention Office, the number of new cancer patients per year in China has increased from 900,000 to 1.6 million over the past 20 years, with annual cancer-related deaths rising from 700,000 to 1.3 million. The office also noted that with China's death rate from cancer increasing from 84 to as high as 135 out of every 100,000 stricken, cancer now trails only cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease as China's leading cause of death. In addition, the World Health Organization predicts that cancer will overtake both these types of diseases to become mankind's leading cause of death in the 21st century, the newspaper reports. The situation in Guangzhou is particularly serious. Worsening air pollution and a rising number of smokers, especially women, is resulting in cases of lung cancer increasing by more than 10 percent annually.

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