China -- Just the name brings visions of secrecy and intrigue. China -- A country shrouded for centuries from the prying eyes of the West and a country with a deep desire to keep itself isolated from the influences of capitalism. China has been ruled by multiple dynasties over the centuries and finally by Communism beginning in 1949. It's a place Judy, KE5DPO, and I just had to visit. Judy and I are both high school teachers from South Texas. We decided to spend a full month of our summer vacation traveling in China and learning more about this unique society. Our visit would not only enlighten us about the thousands of years of cultural history, but also allow a glimpse into the emerging world of Amateur Radio in a society that for decades severely restricted those involved in our wonderful hobby.
We began preparations for our China trip a full 6 months in advance of the anticipated departure date. One of our goals was to attempt to interact with local hams in Beijing using EchoLink. We eventually met a fascinating individual by the name of Min Yu, BG1MIE, who lives in central Beijing. MinYu likes to go by his nickname, "Min." Over a 6 month period we met with Min as often as possible on EchoLink and exchanged both cultural and personal information. By the time we were ready to leave for China we had become very good friends. Three days after landing in Beijing and recovering from our jet lag, Min came over to the hotel to meet us. Over the next month our friendship grew as Min went out of his way to insure our trip was as wonderful and exciting as possible. When I expressed a desire to research both the past history and present state of Amateur Radio in China, Min jumped in with both feet. He took us on tours of Amateur Radio facilities within Beijing and served as both a friend and interpreter during our visits to various locations. When you consider my entire Chinese vocabulary consisted of three words -- hello, toilet and thank you -- his skills in language interpretation proved quite valuable.
The grass roots beginnings of ham radio in China mirror to a large extent the growth of the hobby in most western countries during the 1920s and 1930s. Individual amateurs constructed their own stations and experimented with propagation using various designs of both equipment and antennas. Unfortunately, most of these people were not Chinese. The national government and local governments were not receptive to communications from Chinese citizens flowing outside their country. Consequently, the vast majority of hams during this period were foreigners living in China. By 1949 the total number had only grown to about 400 individual Amateur Radio operators within the country. In 1949 a civil war ended that resulted in China being governed by the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong. The Government immediately began confiscating all equipment. All ham radio activities ceased in China that year.
On November 3, 1958 the People's Republic of China issued its first ham radio license, BY1PK. The license was valid only for contests and was monitored under the strict control of the Central Government. This first excursion onto the airwaves was short lived and BY1PK fell silent in a very short period of time. Less than a year later, the government again issued the BY1PK call sign but restricted its use to CW only. Within a short time the call sign again fell silent. The call sign was again issued in 1960 but all contact was restricted to socialist countries. During the Cultural Revolution, ham radio was again outlawed.
The devastation brought on by the Cultural Revolution eventually ended and in 1982 BY1PK again found itself active on the airwaves, although under high scrutiny and control of the government. Ten years later in 1992 the government seriously relaxed its control of Amateur Radio in China.
The Present Day License Situation in China
Amateur Radio in China began a slow but steady growth when the internal controls by the government were relaxed in 1992. Control of ham radio activities was placed in the hands of a central organization known as the Chinese Radio Sports Association (CRSA). The logo for the CRSA is almost identical to the logo for the ARRL. They maintain a central organization office plus satellite offices located in various cities throughout the country. They issue a quarterly magazine to all their members, somewhat like QST. The CRSA is empowered by the State with the authority to administer tests. The licensing procedure is quite different from what we experience in the West. The Chinese have a minimum age of 18 to qualify for a ticket. Any child under 18 interested in the hobby can apply for a short wave listener (SWL) license and also participate under the direction of a control operator.
The initial cost is about $21. This includes training materials and first year membership in CRSA. This is in addition to $13 or so for the initial examination. When the license is issued it actually consists of three separate identification cards. The first is the license itself. The license contains the issued call sign plus a picture of the operator. It is not a license to own equipment, but merely a license to operate approved stations such as club stations. The second card is issued by the CRSA to show membership. This is mandatory. Third, if the ham desires to have a home station, he is required to have a separate license for this. The application must list the owned equipment, its location and serial number. The equipment may not be moved to another location without application and approval. The license term is 5 years. It is not difficult to obtain a station license. Permits are also issued for mobile vehicle installations.
The Chinese issue four different classes of Amateur Radio licenses. They are numbered from the highest class, Class one, to the lowest class, Class four, and appear to parallel past structures we have used in the US. Class four appears to be equivalent to our old Novice license with some interesting twists. This class has 10 meter privileges between 29.2 MHz and 29.3 MHz, plus 29.550 MHz to 29.700 MHz. They have the same exact privileges as US hams on 6 meters but are limited to 144-145.8 on 2 meters. Class three has full HF/VHF/UHF privileges, except 12 and 17 meters, but is limited to certain areas of each band. The two highest classes have all privileges, with minor reductions for Class two.
The CRSA in China
The CRSA is very active in promoting Amateur Radio within China. They maintain stations at various locations for their members to use. This helps promote the hobby to those less financially able to own equipment. Min, BG1MIE, was kind enough to take me on a visit to the local Beijing branch office of CRSA. While there, I was introduced to the office staff and allowed to use the station. The office staff consists of seven employees, three of whom are hams. The environment was very friendly and efficient. While there, a local citizen of Beijing came in to take an examination.
CRSA maintains a very nice station under the call BG1BJ at the Beijing branch office. The station consists of two Kenwood TS-440S transceivers and a 5 element beam located on the roof. Just like the ARRL, the CRSA invites hams to visit and use the station. This also includes foreign hams. If you ever visit Beijing, just bring along your original license from your country of origin. With your license in hand, the CRSA will allow you to use BG1BJ as much as you like. There are no restrictions on the amount of time you can use the station. Although they are closed on weekends, they will appoint a staff member to go in and open up for you on Saturday or Sunday, should you so desire. The only thing they ask is that you call in advance. If you find yourself in Beijing and would like to visit the CRSA and use their equipment, simply call them after you arrive at 8610-87687511.
Should the desire hit you to become a member, you can join the CRSA for the staggering amount of about $3 per year (as this is written). This also includes the magazine, but only within China. I'm sure you would have to pay extra for international postage. I found the CRSA to be just what China needs for its emerging ham radio population. Just like the ARRL, they are extremely dedicated, professional and accommodating to members of the ham radio fraternity.
Equipment: Types, Availability and Costs
In the past, China may have lacked having equipment available for the local ham to use, but that has changed. There has been a dramatic change in attitude by the government in this area. One day Min called me at the hotel and said he wanted to take me on an excursion of local ham radio hangouts in Beijing. It was wonderful. I thought I was in Tokyo. He took me to an area of Beijing just cluttered with electronic stores. His favorite store was one operated by Mr Ping Lee, BG1JDW. Unlike many of the stores around him, Mr Lee's store carried only Amateur Radio equipment. Mr. Lee was very accommodating and helpful. He allowed me to interview him about his store and the past history of Amateur Radio in China. Mr Lee is a very active member of CRSA and owns multiple stores devoted to ham radio. At the conclusion of our interview, Mr Lee presented me with a CRSA world map depicting all the call sign areas of the world. He expressed an interest in meeting other US hams and invites anyone visiting Beijing to visit his store. The local phone number for his main store is 13901146177.
I visited multiple stores to study the most popular equipment and pricing. The selection was outstanding. Having not purchased any new equipment in a few years, I cannot attest to the competitive nature of the prices. But here are a few. An FT-857D transceiver averaged $710. A Yaesu VX-2R handheld transceiver sold for an average of $151. The Alinco DR-620 with standard microphone averaged $230.
There were also other brands for sale, but I really did not want to get into a statistical analysis of the subject. After all, this was supposed to be a vacation. I did find one very interesting difference. China manufactures a line of VHF/UHF radios for hams that are not exported to the US. The brand name is "Puxing" and is pronounced "poo-shing." The model number is PX-77. It is a 5 W VHF and 4 W UHF handheld transceiver. The specifications show it has 118 memory channels, Automatic Number Identification (ANI) code, built-in VOX, scan function, three color backlight display, emergency call and is PC programmable. Its present selling price on the street, including a charger, is 320 renminbi (RMB), which is equal to about $42 US. Exporting this radio in its present configuration to the US would be difficult as it also transmits on non-ham band frequencies, but it is an excellent bargain to local hams on a limited budget. At the present time, according to Mr Ping, China does not manufacture any HF ham-band radios.
Present Activity of Amateur Radio Operators in China
Because ham radio has only recently experienced the freedom it needs to grow, a large percentage of operation is on VHF and UHF. China is still lacking large numbers of HF operators. But that will change in time as local operators gain experience and knowledge in the field. Because of past severe governmental interference, China also lacks a large pool of "Old-Timers" such as we have in the US, who can provide leadership, training and their past experiences for those new to the hobby. Because of this, most of the present activity in China is found at VHF and UHF frequencies.
Beijing presently has one CRSA approved repeater located south of the city. It provides relatively good coverage for most of the city and can be found on 439.758 MHz with a split of -5 and a tone of 88.5 Hz. The simplex frequencies in Beijing are mostly on 145.1, 145.5 and 145.425 MHz with one being found on 438.5 MHz.
China and You
I truly believe there are many among our ham radio fraternity who would enjoy China as much as we did. It's an exciting place culturally, socially and economically. As a matter of fact, it is among one of the cheapest overseas destinations available to you. If you work hard and pursue prices on the Internet for airfare, you can fly for between $850 to $950, plus tax, round trip to Beijing. We paid $17 a night for a comfortable hotel right in the middle of town and one block away from a subway station. The cost of the subway to any location is 32 cents. If you really want to save on transportation, the bus is either 12 cents or 24 cents, depending upon the distance. Food is ridiculously inexpensive. Quite often we would order dinner from a tiny restaurant across the street from our hotel. Our favorite meal was Kung-Pao Chicken with rice. It was delicious and a meal for two came to 10 RMB or a little over $1 US. A double order of meat dumplings cost 35 cents and the restaurant would bring our meals to the hotel and then come back later to pick up the dishes. Beijing itself is a bright, clean, well maintained city with public restrooms located on the street every two or three blocks apart. The streets are lined with either trees or flowers. I have traveled to many foreign locations and have yet to see a city cleaner or more beautiful than Beijing.
Min Yu has expressed a desire to help any foreign hams who visit Beijing. If you intend to visit Beijing, he can be reached via e-mail at BG1MIE@gmail.com. He asked me to list his local phone number also, as he truly enjoys meeting foreign hams. His local Beijing phone number is 13601157819. He speaks Chinese, English and Polish.
The CRSA will certainly do all within its powers to support your ham radio endeavors while you are there. Besides using any CRSA station by bringing along your original license, you can also operate independently by procuring a Chinese visitors license. Please bear in mind that you may not transport your own equipment into the country at this time. But you can use other stations such as club or CRSA stations using your own unique Chinese call sign. Wouldn't that be fun! A simple search on the Internet will take you to various Web sites outlining the procedures necessary to procure a visitors license.
Perhaps you should consider a trip to Beijing. It is such a beautiful city filled with so many things to see and do. While there, you can fully enjoy your hobby of ham radio while visiting and seeing the many historical sites, leaning about the culture, meeting the nicest people and enjoying the wonderful food. Remember, you will have Min Yu (Min), Mr Lee and the CRSA standing by to assist you to insure your trip is as wonderful and exciting as our trip.
In honor of the Olympics being held in Beijing, five Chinese special event stations will be on the air through September 17. Refer to "How's DX?," QST, Aug 2008 and the ARRLWeb "Amateur Radio News" for more information. -- Ed.
Larry McCartin, KH6ITY, is a 62 year old high school technology teacher from Los Fresnos, Texas. A ham for 47 years, his favorite mode is AM and his favorite band is 6 meters using an old restored Gonset G-5. He likes to restore antique and classic ham radio gear and antique AM wood radios from the 1920s to the 1940s. Larry has lived and worked in England, Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea and the Marshall Islands. He retired at the age of 48 to attend college and become a teacher. He graduated at age 52 and has been teaching for 10 years.
Larry McCartin, KH6ITY