Mobile and Morbid

The Middle Kingdom under the present Mao Dynasty is always good for warm, fuzzy human interest stories. Here's one from USA Today: how a fleet of 'death vans' not only facilitates the mind-boggling number of executions that take place in China, but the illegal organ harvesting industry from which local officials stand to profit.

For years, foreign human rights groups have accused China of arbitrary executions and cruelty in its use of capital punishment. The exact number of convicts put to death is a state secret. Amnesty International estimates there were at least 1,770 executions in China in 2005 — vs. 60 in the United States, but the group says on its website that the toll could be as high as 8,000 prisoners.

The "majority are still by gunshot," says Liu Renwen, death penalty researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a think tank in Beijing. "But the use of injections has grown in recent years, and may have reached 40%."

China's critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners' organs.

Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors. Organs can "be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot," says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. "We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade."

USA Today reports that at least 40 vehicles have been produced.



Turning Pages in Tainan

Today was the day of commencement ceremonies at the Tainan Women's College of Arts and Technology. This year's ceremonies coincided with torrential rains in southern Taiwan. Plans to award diplomas outdoors were abandoned.

If anything, though, the sogginess just made everyone giddier.

A tradition at this college is for graduates to take a final walk around the campus. Their path winds through colorful and carefully maintained trellises, sculpture gardens, archways, and rows of exotic trees. Loudspeakers sound Taiwanese songs and extroverted music by Handel, Bach, Elgar and Copland. The final stretch takes graduates under a series of festive arches designed, decorated, and held aloft by their classmates.

rite of passage

Joining the college graduates in this tradition were students graduating from the elementary school on campus.


The awarding of diplomas took place indoors.


A choir from the Music Department sang onstage. This choir is a volunteer group (classes are over) and it's tougher work than it appears. The singers, besides having to prepare and perform music in the same week as their final exams, are also called upon in the ceremony to stand perfectly still on stage, holding lit candles, for over forty minutes.

flags, singers, profs

This graduating class is the last from Tainan Women's College. The school has already begun admitting male students and will bear a new name next year. So even more than most, this event marked a moment of completion.

And beginnings.



Chao Ching-Wen's Fanfare

Summer is upon us, and with it its banquet of outdoor concerts and patriotic festivals. If you're in the business of designing the programs, you will be interested in a new piece: Fanfare Under the Stars by Ching-Wen Chao of Taiwan. The fanfare makes an effective opener in the tradition of Copland or Arnaud while representing a fresh new voice.

Fanfare Under the Stars is scored for brass and percussion and lasts 2-3 minutes (43 bars, con brio). The highest note for trumpets is B above the staff in momentary excursions. Instrumentation:

4 horns
4 trumpets
3 trombones
1 tuba
large tom-tom
snare drum
bass dum
cymbals (large crash/suspended)
The Taipei Symphony Winds and I opened our May 2006 concert with the piece. The piece was premiered by Taiwan's National Symphony Orchestra in 2003 and opened a concert in April 2005 given by Apo Hsu and the NTNU Symphony.

Professor Chao serves on the National Taiwan Normal University composition faculty and earned her DMA in composition at Stanford. She has written works in all genres, including chamber music that combines traditional Asian instruments with their classical European counterparts.

An audio recording of the piece (MP3 format) may be heard at my web site.

For more information you may contact Dr Chao directly:

Ching-Wen Chao, DMA
Assistant Professor of Composition
National Taiwan Normal University
162 Heping East Road
Da'an District
Taipei 106, Taiwan
E-mail: chingwen AT cc DOT ntnu DOT edu DOT tw