China Space Probe Lands on Dark Side of the Moon

China has become the first country to successfully land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. The Chang’e-4 probe has also made the first lunar landing since 1972. It has the task of exploring the side of the moon that never faces earth.

The Chinese probe landed in a huge crater 2500 km in diameter and 13 km deep. The crater is one of the oldest parts of the moon and our solar system.

Scientists hope to learn more about the geology of the far side of the moon. The craft has two cameras on board which will send images back to earth. It will also attempt to send signals to distant regions of space, something that cannot happen on earth because of too much radio noise.

Chang’e-4 also has instruments on board to examine minerals as well as a container with seeds which will try to create a miniature biosphere.

Communication with the spacecraft is not easy. Images and other data must be transmitted to a separate satellite because no direct communication with the earth is possible.

For China the Chang’e-4 mission is an important achievement, because the country has successfully done something no other nation on earth has. It wants to become a leading power in space exploration and has announced plans to send astronauts to the moon and set up its own space station.

The dark side of the moon is older and has a thicker crust than the visible side. It takes the moon as long to rotate on its own axis as it does for one complete orbit around the Earth.

Chang’e-4 landing craft and the vehicle that can move around the surface of the moon
Image: Loren Roberts for The Planetary Society


  • achievement = something important that you have done
  • announce = to make public; to say officially
  • attempt = try
  • axis = imaginary line around which an object turns
  • biosphere = area in which plants and animals can live
  • crater = round hole in the ground made by a huge rock that crashed into it
  • crust = hard top part of a planet
  • data = information
  • distant = faraway
  • explore = to go to unknown places and find out more about them
  • face = look towards
  • far side = the side of the moon which we never see
  • geology = study of the rocks that make up the moon
  • image = picture
  • lunar = about the moon
  • mineral = material that is formed naturally and can be dug out of the ground
  • miniature = very small
  • probe = unmanned spacecraft
  • radio noise = unwanted electric signals
  • rotate = move around a central point
  • scientist = person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • seed = small hard objects produced by plants from which a new plant is formed
  • solar system= our sun and the planets that move around it
  • space exploration = to send spacecraft into other regions of space in order to find out more about them
  • space station = large spacecraft that stays above the earth and is the basis for people travelling in space or for tests and experiments
  • spacecraft = object that can travel into space
  • task = job; mission
  • transmit = send
  • visible = something that can be seen

China’s Population Reaches Peak in 2029

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Studies, a research organisation, the the population of the country will reach its peak in 10 years. By 2029 China will have 1.44 billion people, then the population will start to decline.

By the middle of the 21 century China’s population is expected to drop to about 1.3 million, but it will remain the most populous country on earth.

The decline is due to low birth rates and the long term results of the country’s one-child policy which lasted for over 40 years. In addition, the population is getting older and older. The total number of over-65-year-olds could reach 25% of the population by 2050.

Population change will also have an impact on economic growth, with 200 million fewer workers . Experts say that the government must act swiftly and introduce new measures to get more people employed.

China’s one-child policy was put into effect by the government in the 1970s to curb an exploding population. Couples were fined if they had two children two or more children. In 2016 China finally decided to abandon the policy and allow couples to have two children. However, the number of births has not significantly risen since the new policy became law. Currently the birth rate is at 1.6 per woman.

Because of rising health and education costs, more and more Chinese couples are preferring financial security and wealth to having a larger family.

Poster of China’s One child Policy from the 1980s – Image :
Robert Schediwy


  • abandon = to stop doing something
  • according to = as said by …
  • billion = a thousand million
  • birth rate = the number of babies born per 1,000 people
  • curb = control or slow down
  • currently = at the moment
  • decline = go down
  • drop = go down
  • due to = because of
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  • remain = stay
  • research = to find out more about a certain subject
  • security = here: protection from bad things that may happen
  • significantly = very much; in an important way
  • swiftly = very fast

Hong Kong-China High Speed Rail Link

The first high-speed railway between Hong Kong and China has gone into operation.

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link is expected to bring economic benefits to both China and Hong Kong as well as allow more Chinese tourists to travel to the former British colony. It will connect Hong Kong to the 25,000 km high-speed Chinese rail network, the largest in the world. 

Bullet trains can now travel from Beijing to Hong Kong in only 9  hours, compared to 18 before. Shenzen, just across the border from Hong Kong, can be reached in only 20 minutes.

Chinese authorities will  be in control of part of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station. As a part of China, mainland police forces will check travelers’ documents and passports, making an additional stop at the Hong Kong – Chinese border unnecessary. It is the first time that mainland Chinese laws  are applied inside Hong Kong.

The project cost nearly 11 billion dollars and took almost eight years to complete. Authorities expect that by 2021, up to 80,000 passengers could access the new service on  80 trains daily.

Critics say the new rail link undermines Hong Kong’s autonomy, which has  been guaranteed by China until 2047.  They also raise concerns about increasing Chinese influence in the former British colony.



China - Hong Kong high speed rail link
Train on the new Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail link – Image : 


  • access = use
  • additional = also; another
  • apply = in use ; work
  • authorities = government organisation that controls things and can make decisions
  • autonomy = being able to govern yourself
  • benefit = good side of something 
  • border = line between two countries
  • bullet train = very fast train that travels between two places
  • connect = link; bring together
  • critics = people who are against the project
  • former = in the past
  • go into operation = here: to start carrying passengers on trains
  • guarantee = a formal promise
  • high-speed = very fast
  • increasing = to go up; more and more
  • influence = power
  • law = the rule of a country
  • mainland = here: China without Hong Kong and Taiwan
  • raise concerns = to be worried about
  • undermine = here: to make weaker

Cloning of First Monkeys in China

Two monkeys have been cloned in a Chinese laboratory. They were created with the identical technique used to clone Dolly, the sheep back in 1996. Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born a few weeks ago at a Chinese lab. Researchers say they are growing normally.

Over two decades ago, Dolly, became the first successfully cloned mammal. Since then cows, pigs, dogs and other mammals have been cloned.  The cloning of primates was thought to be more difficult than the creation of other mammals in a lab. The Chinese team has brought the scientific community one step closer to the cloning of humans.

The technique used in the test involves transferring the nucleus of a cell into an egg which has had its nucleus removed. The experiment was remarkable because it used fetal cells instead of adult cells. It took the Chinese scientists many attempts and 127 eggs to clone just two monkeys.

According to scientists, the cloning of monkeys will help to research human diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It is also important in drug research.

China has invested heavily in research in the past years. The successful test came at a time when American and European scientists have backed away from using monkeys and apes for ethical reasons.


Close-up of Dolly, the sheep in her stuffed form
Close-up of Dolly, the sheep in her stuffed form – Image: Toni Barros


  • according to = as said by …
  • Alzheimer’s disease = disease that affects the brain, especially of older people; it makes it difficult for you to move, talk or remember things
  • attempt = try
  • back away = stop doing something
  • cancer = serious illness in which cells can grow in an uncontrolled way
  • clone = an animal or plant produced by scientists from one cell of another animal or plant so that they are exactly the same
  • creation = making something
  • decade = ten years
  • disease = illness
  • drug research = creating new forms of medicine
  • ethical = something that is morally good or bad
  • fetal = belonging to an unborn baby or animal
  • human = a person
  • identical = the same
  • including = also
  • invest = put money into …
  • laboratory = room or building in which scientific experiments take place
  • mammal = type of animal that drinks milk from its mother’s body when it is young; humans, dogs and cows are mammals
  • nucleus = the central part of an atom
  • primate = member of a group of mammals that includes humans and monkeys
  • remove = take away
  • remarkable = unusual, surprising
  • researcher = person who studies something in order to find out more about it
  • scientific community = all the people who do research work in labs
  • technique = method; way of doing something
  • transfer = move from one place to another


China Bans Ivory Trade

China has put a ban on all ivory trade in the country.  The ban came into effect on January 1 of this year. 67 official ivory processing factories and shops were closed last year and a remaining 100 were shut down on December 31. A similar ban in the U.S. went into effect in June 2016.

The Chinese decision to stop the ivory trading business has been welcomed by the World Wildlife Fund and other organisations as a major effort in protecting the world’s elephant population. It is estimated that over 30,000 African elephants are killed every year.

Chinese citizens regard ivory as a status symbol. People buy jewellery, chopsticks and other objects made of ivory, leading to the development of one of the world’s largest ivory markets. When trading ivory was officially banned worldwide in 1990, China continued to sell it through shops and factories. The legal trade also brought illegal ivory into the country.

However, there is a major concern that the new law does not apply to HongKong, an important ivory trading hub. Authorities in the former British colony are working on a ban of their own, expected to take effect soon. On the other side, customers will probably go to Laos, Vietnam or other Asian countries, where trading laws are not so strict.

In the past year, ivory prices started to go down as more and more Chinese shops were closing. The ban will have a big impact on African countries, especially Kenya and Tanzania,  where most of the elephant poaching is taking place.

Elephant tusk with a carved decoration
Elephant tusk with a carved decoration


  • apply = take effect
  • authorities = government organisations that have the power to make decisions
  • ban = to forbid something; not allow
  • citizen = a person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • concern = feeling of worry about something important
  • development = growth
  • effort = try
  • especially = above all
  • estimate = to calculate how big something is by the information that you have
  • former = in the past
  • however = but
  • into effect = start to work
  • illegal = not allowed; against the law
  • ivory = hard, smooth yellowish-white material from the long teeth of elephants
  • jewellery = small things that you wear for decoration, like necklaces or rings
  • legal = allowed by the government
  • major = important
  • official = allowed by the government
  • poaching = to shoot or catch animals illegally
  • processing = here: when you make an elephant’s tusk into jewellery and other objects
  • protect = here to keep animals safe
  • remaining = those that were left
  • similar = almost the same
  • status symbol = something that you have that you think shows high social rank or position
  • strict= here: law that must be obeyed
  • trading hub = here: a place where ivory is bought and sold
  • welcome = to be glad that something has happened
  • worldwide = around the world
  • World Wildlife Fund = organisation that tries to save and protect endangered animals



China Overtakes US in Number of Supercomputers

For the first time in history, China has overtaken the United States in the number of supercomputers.  Currently, China has a total of 202 of the world’s 500 fastest computers, up from 159 half a year ago. The number of US supercomputers has dropped to 144.

The world’s most powerful computer is located in China. The Sunway  TaihuLight ,  at Wuxi can do 93 quadrillion calculations per second. The fastest US computer, the Titan, is ranked fifth while Europe’s speediest computer is Switzerland’s Piz Daint, ranked third.

Supercomputers are machines that occupy entire buildings and use the combined power of thousands of processors. They are used to carry out special tasks that involve a huge number of calculations.  Among them are weather forecasts and climate studies, as well as strategic tasks like nuclear weapons simulations.

Chinese supremacy in the world of supercomputing reflects the country’s  investment in research and development. One-fifth of the money used on research and development around the world is spent in China.

On the other side, many Chinese systems have been created to earn money. Processing power is rented to other national and international companies.

For years the speed of supercomputers has steadily increased although since 2012 this increase has slowed down.


America's Titan2  - Supercomputers
America’s Titan2 Supercomputer – Image: Courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy


  • although = while
  • calculation = here: a single task
  • combined = everything  put together
  • create = make
  • currently = at the moment, now
  • drop = go down
  • entire = whole
  • huge = very big; very many
  • investment = to use money for special things
  • involve = need
  • located = can be found
  • nuclear weapons simulation = here: software that tries to find out how nuclear bombs will affect the world and its population if they are used
  • occupy = use up; need
  • overtake = to be better than
  • processor = central part fo a computer that deals with commands and the information you give it
  • quadrillion= the number one followed by 24 zeros
  • ranked = position in a list
  • reflect = show, demonstrate
  • rent = let someone use something for money
  • research and development = to study special fields and use new ideas to create new things
  • speediest = fastest
  • steadily = slowly
  • strategic = here: about the military
  • supremacy = being number one or the best in the world
  • task = piece of work
  • weather forecast = a description of what the weather will be like in the next few days

Singles Day Achieves Record $25 Billion

Singles Day is the biggest e-commerce day in the world. Organized by China’s Alibaba, shopping sales on November 11 hit a record $25 billion,  40% more than on Singles Day 2016. In contrast, Prime Day, organized by Amazon achieved only $1 billion in sales. During the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend of 2016 American online shoppers spent $5 billion.

Singles Day started out as an informal holiday in China, celebrating people who stayed single. Similiar to Valentine’s Day in the western world Singles Day took place on 11/11 .  In 2009, Alibaba turned it into a shopping holiday and in the past 8 years, sales have steadily increased.

Although the event targets mostly Chinese customers, shoppers came from  220 countries.  Over 80 brands took part in the event, with Nike and Xiaomi Corp. among the biggest winners.  Household goods and electrical appliances were the most bought products, but customers sought bargains for almost everything, ranging from cheap toilet paper to rice.

At its peak Alibaba’s computers handled 250 000 transactions per second, most of them coming in via mobile phones. In the weeks before the event was held, Alibaba had helped  600,000 companies upgrade their computer systems to make them fit for Singles Day.

The event was also turned into a gala in Shanghai where celebrities Nicole Kidman and tennis star Maria Sharapova counted down the seconds until the world’ largest sales event started.

Many critics of the event say that Singles Day is environmentally controversial.   It creates an enormous amount of wasteAccording to Greepeace, 1 billion packages were delivered in the days that followed the event.

Alibaba’s Singles Day is a display of Chinese spending power. The company’s owner, Jack Ma, is one of China’s richest men. He has been investing heavily in new technologies including automated stores which use facial recognition systems.

Singles Day in China
Singles Day in China – Image: Chrionexfleckeri1350


  • according to = … as said by
  • achieve = here: reach a number of sales
  • automated = where everything is done automatically, without people helping
  • although = while
  • bargain = to buy something cheaply, for less money than usual
  • billion = a thousand million
  • brand = type of product made by a company
  • celebrate = here: in honour of, to show respect for
  • celebrity = famous person
  • controversial =  here: to cause a lot of disagreement
  • critic = a person who is against something
  • customer = a person who buys something
  • deliver = to bring to a person’s home
  • display = to show something
  • e-commerce = buying and selling things with computers over the Internet
  • electrical appliance = things you use at home and need electricity, like a cooker or washing machine
  • enormous = very large
  • environment = nature and the world around us
  • facial recognition = when a computer image of a person can find out who they are
  • handle = deal with
  • heavily = very much
  • household goods = things that you need in the house and use every day
  • in contrast = the difference between two things
  • including = also
  • increase = to go up
  • informal = not official
  • record = highest
  • sales = buying and selling products
  • seek – sought = look for
  • steadily = slowly
  • target = people who the event aims at; potential customers
  • transaction = here:  the sales of a single product
  • upgrade = here: to give a computer more power, so that it can do more things
  • via = by way of, through
  • waste = unwanted things that you throw away and don’t need any more