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Toxic air forces residents indoors

Sandstorms cause dangerous air in Beijing and Hong Kong. Scandals erupt over tainted vaccines and "drainage oil" use in restaurants. Dissidents and protesters are arrested left and right. A soccer referee may be facing the death penalty for accepting bribes. Netizens could be forced to reveal their true identities. Google finally pulls out of China. The world's shortest man dies of heart complications. And a financially-strapped zoo is responsible for starving its endangered tigers.

Top News: Beijing was hit by some of the worst sandstorms in recent memory. The dust, blown in from the Gobi desert, turned the streets an eerie yellowish color and officials raised the air quality alert to Level 5, meaning that all residents should stay indoors. Sandstorms have been getting worse due to increasing desertification in northern China and a long-term drought.

The storm was so severe that it reached all the way down to Hong Kong. The city recorded its highest-ever pollution ratings and also recommended all citizens stay indoors. The Air Pollution Index reached over 500 in some places. (A score between 50-100 is considered normal air.)

In Shanxi province, a scandal has erupted over widespread use of tainted vaccines. An investigative reporter with the Economic Times wrote that tainted and poorly stored vaccines caused the death of at least four children and sickened over 70. Local health officials called the report untrue, but refused to do a proper investigation into the allegations.

In possibly the most disgusting China news ever, ten percent of all Chinese cooking oil is likely "drainage oil," according to a report from Sina. Drainage oil is made from previously used oil from the cooking process and from oil washed down the drain after cleaning dishes. They get the latter by using large spoons to scoop off the top layer of sewage through manholes. Take a look at the pictures and description.

Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai’s domestic hub, unveiled a new terminal just in time for the World Expo. The overhaul cost $2.2 billion and also included turning the airport into a regional transport hub, including intercity high-speed railway and extensive Metro connections.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi confirmed that famed dissident lawyer Gao Zhisheng has indeed been convicted for subversion and was not tortured. His whereabouts were initially unknown and there was speculation that he had died in custody. It is unclear if the current sentence is from a new conviction or his previous conviction from 2006 for subversion, which had been suspended for five years. Gao is well-known for taking on controversial cases against the government, especially land seizure cases.

China also arrested a protester, Mao Hengfeng, for shouting human rights slogans outside of the courtroom of another famed dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was being sentenced for writing the Charter 08 democracy manifesto. Mao was immediately sentenced to one and a half years of "re-education through labor."

Lu Jun, a Chinese soccer referee who officiated some World Cup games, is facing a possible death sentence for accepting bribes in a match fixing scandal. Although it is likely that he will face a much more lenient sentence, as a public servant, punishment for accepting bribes is often very severe.

The city of Chongqing, which has recently become famous for its crackdown on organized crime, announced that it would begin forcing netizens to register their real names on microblogs, like the popular QQ messaging service. It is the first Chinese city to enact such strict regulations, but if there is little popular backlash, other cities are likely to follow.

Money: The big Internet story recently has been Google’s pull out from China. The media giant, after over a month of waffling, finally made the move by redirecting visitors from its site to its uncensored Hong Kong site. The Chinese government made it clear that it would not budge and domestic media has made Google out to be a villainous company bent on colonizing China. Strangely, commentators are often comparing it to the Dutch East India Company.

If the Google affair alone wasn’t upsetting foreign businesses, the Rio Tinto scandal is also back in the news. Stern Hu, the Australian-born head of China operations of the steel giant, has apparently pleaded guilty to bribery, although he disputes the amount. The courtroom is closed to all media except for state-owned Xinhua, so it is hard to tell the accuracy or motivation for Hu’s guilty plea.

Elsewhere: In addition to business strains with the outside world, some Chinese cadres are trying to cause cultural strains, as well. Huang Youyi, director of the China International Publishing Group, has called for regulations to stop English words from entering the Chinese language. He proposes that abbreviations, like GDP or WTO, should be disallowed in publications and speeches by officials, instead forcing full translations of English words into Chinese.

The world’s shortest man, He Pingping, has died at the age of 21. He was native of Inner Mongolia and suffered from a form of primordial dwarfism from which he stood only 29 inches tall. He suffered heart complications while filming a TV show in Italy.

In a sad twist to the Year of the Tiger, a zoo in the northeastern city of Shenyang has been held responsible for the deaths of at least 11 endangered Siberian Tigers. The zoo ran into financial trouble and began feeding the tigers only one or two chickens a day, essential starving them to death.