Hong Kong's brilliant, macabre newspaper section

June 5, 2013: 6:59 AM ET

There's nothing like the two columns called China Briefs in the South China Morning Post.

By David Whitford, editor at large



FORTUNE -- There are lots of things I'll miss when I leave Hong Kong next week after having lived here for the past three months: Jogging around the Peak on Lugard Road; the Star Ferry; the bar at the Foreign Correspondents' Club; dim sum at Luk Yu Tea House; massages at Sunny Paradise; and not least, the pleasure I get six days a week from perusing the "China Briefs" section in the South China Morning Post.

It's brilliant. Two columns of dependably maudlin, macabre, simply amazing or merely perplexing dispatches from the mainland, culled from local news agencies by someone who has an instinctual understanding of why newspapers came to be in the first place, and why, in one form or another, they'll always be with us.

Do these juicy tidbits give us an accurate and representative picture of life in China? Hardly. But the people exist. The stories are true. And to those of us on the outside looking in, the fascination is real. I've culled and edited a few standouts from the past couple of weeks:

A manager at an Internet café in Jinan Province was fined 1000 yuan ($163) for helping a customer register with a website affiliated with the People's Daily using a false ID card that carried the name, address and photograph of President Barack Obama.

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A middle-aged woman from Haikou was sentenced to life in prison after a dispute with a 40-year-old man over a parking space. The woman grabbed the man's genitals and squeezed so hard for so long that he lost consciousness and later died.

Education authorities in Henan Province have apologized after photos were posted online showing "a large number of pupils in soaked costumes singing and dancing in the rain as officials watched from a sheltered stand." The performance was in celebration of International Children's Day.

A Wuhan man's blind date came to a sudden and dispiriting end during a bus ride to a park when his new leather shoes made "farting sounds….Many passengers recoiled from the man, and his date became angry and got off the bus."

A Wenzhou teenager was recovering from intestinal surgery after swallowing a two-inch needle. "The 16-year-old said he was playing with the…needle when watching a comedy and accidentally swallowed it when he drank some cola. He did not feel anything wrong until three days later, when he had a stomach ache."

A 56-year-old unemployed Xiangyang man killed his wife by slamming her head against a wall. He wrapped her body in a blanket and hid it under their bed, where it was discovered a month later by the woman's son from another marriage. The murderer had moved to a hotel.

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A four-year-old boy left alone for half an hour in a Shenzen apartment building fell seven stories to his death. His mother discovered he was missing when she returned home "and found two stools beside the window."

In Guizhou Province, at least three people were killed when a truck hauling 50 tons of ammonium nitrate crashed into two cars, a minivan, a truck and a motorcycle. Meanwhile, an explosion in an unregulated fireworks factory killed the factory owner's wife, his daughter, and a neighbor.

Provincial police in Hunan will perform DNA tests on the badly decomposed remains of a woman discovered on the bank of the Xian River. Authorities suspect the body is that of a 21-year-old woman who went missing two months ago when she fell into a sewer during a rainstorm.

Four people were swallowed by a sinkhole at the entrance to an industrial park in Shenzen.

A resident of Xiangyang complained that when he called the local equivalent of 911 to report a car accident that injured three people, he was put on hold and forced to listen to a one-minute advertisement.

In Langzhong, a 500-pound aerial bomb believed to have "belonged" to the Japanese during World War II found its way to a local recycling center. "Police detonated it on a river bank….It's the fourth such discovery in the city since 2005."

"An 85-year-old man who scattered more than 20,000 yuan ($3,260) in cash in Bobai County's town centre at the weekend said he had thrown the money away because he was disappointed with his five children, none of whom wanted to take care of him….Witnesses said he cried as he threw the notes on to the town's streets."

A 23-year-old native of Shandong has been "accused of beating up his father…and threatening to bury him alive if he didn't pay 10,000 yuan ($1,630). The father gave his son 1,400 yuan and an IOU for the remaining 8,600."

"A businessman and his mistress died naked together in a bathtub at his shop in Ningxiang county."

In the Linchuan district of Fuzhou, internet café owners agreed to shut down voluntarily (after being promised compensation by the government) during the two weeks leading up to the national college entrance exam. Meanwhile, a father in Lechang who thought his son was spending too much time hanging out in an internet café phoned in a false bomb threat. The café stayed open but the father was sentenced to four months in jail.

A Wuhan bus driver was fired after a passenger posted a picture of him smoking ketamine behind the wheel.

A Wuhan bull who escaped from a slaughterhouse knocked a man off his scooter, ran through a night market while people were having dinner, and knocked down two pedestrians before being cornered by four police vehicles, subdued by a SWAT team, and killed.

A teahouse owner in Sichuan Province is said to be suffering numbness in his spine caused by playing mahjong every day for the past two decades. Meanwhile in Guiyang, a woman is in critical condition and a man has suffered a broken wrist after they both fell out of a second-story window. "They were suspected to have been fighting after getting drunk."

More than 60% of primary and middle school students in Beijing wear glasses, and more than 20 percent are overweight

And in Changsha, the Xiaoxiang Morning Post will distribute special badges to pregnant women "to help distinguish them from fat people."

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