Category Archives: The China Blog

LARB’s China Blog covers the life, culture, politics and literature of China. It is edited by Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Maura Elizabeth Cunningham. If you’re looking for blog posts prior to September 2013, please visit our China Blog tumblr page.

Could Hong Kong become Tibet 2.0?

By Louisa Lim

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of short LARB China Blog pieces by Louisa Lim, building off episodes of the Little Red Podcast.  This is an excellent new podcast out of Australia, hosted by Graeme Smith in collaboration with Louisa and distributed by ANU’s Chinoiresie.  The following post is based on Episode 10: “Hong Kong: the new Tibet?” -JW Continue reading

A Writer Living in a Strange Land: An Interview with Xue Yiwei

By Amy Hawkins

With an eye toward providing readers interested in both China and James Joyce with a fitting reading for the week in which Bloomsday falls, we are happy to have a chance to run an interview with Xue Yiwei, provided to by Amy Hawkins, a Beijing-based writer who happens to be that author’s niece.  The interview’s relevance to Bloomsday will quickly become clear below —Jeff Wasserstrom

For a writer who focuses exclusively on China, Xue Yiwei has become something of an alien in his home country. For the past decade, he has lived in Montreal, penning over 20 of novels set in China, which have only recently started to be translated into English. He has been described as a “maverick in contemporary Chinese literature” by fellow novelist Ha Jin, and as “Montreal’s Chinese literary secret” in the Canadian press. Earlier this year he was awarded the Diversity Prize at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. His first work to be fully translated and distributed in English is Shenzheners, a collection of short stories set in Shenzhen, exploring the loneliness and “inner life” of different people lost in the urban environs. Inspired by James Joyce’s Dubliners, the book, fluidly rendered into English by translator Darryl Sterk, follows a recent spate of Joycean popularity in China. I spoke to Xue, who is also my uncle, about the influence of Joyce on Chinese literature and what the similarities are between the Shenzhen of today and the Dublin of a century ago. Continue reading

How Fan Yusu Wrote Dignity Back Into Migrants’ Lives

By Ting Guo

Last month, an article written by a migrant worker named Fan Yusu went viral  on Chinese social media. The piece, titled simply “I Am Fan Yusu,” was published by Beijing-based new media outlet NoonStory and recounts Fan’s family life in a small northern Chinese village, as well as her own story of running away to the southern island province of Hainan, returning home, and becoming a country teacher — all by the age of 12 years old. Continue reading

Crashing the Party: An Interview with Scott Savitt

By Matthew Robertson

Editor’s Introduction: The China Blog often publishes something at this time of year that looks back in one way or another to the June 4th Massacre of 1989, an act of state violence that curtailed a national movement whose biggest protests took place at Tiananmen Square.  This year is no different.  Our June 4th anniversary post this time takes the form of an interview with an eyewitness to the demonstrations and crackdown of 1989, Scott Savitt, who has recently published a memoir, Crashing the Party: An American Reporter in China, which deals in part with the dramatic events that convulsed Beijing and captivated television audiences around the world twenty-eight years ago. Matthew Robertson, a researcher and translator, conducted the interview, which begins after a brief introduction he provides to Savitt’s life and Crashing the Party, which Publisher’s Weekly describes as the work of a “smart, thrilling memoirist.” -Jeff Wasserstrom Continue reading

Hong Kong on a Bad Day: On Karen Fang’s Arresting Cinema

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

When British director Ridley Scott was filming his 1982 sci-fi cult classic, Blade Runner, he instructed his crew to build their dystopian Los Angeles set to look like “Hong Kong on a bad day.” Filming long before the city became part of the People’s Republic of China, which as a Communist Party-run country is associated by many in the West with Big Brother forms of control, Scott realized something that many outsiders did not: Hong Kong was already a city of high surveillance. University of Houston Professor Karen Fang tackles the history of this aspect of the metropolis in her new book, Arresting Cinema: Surveillance in Hong Kong Film. She shows that Hong Kong has for decades been a metropolis where the movements of people have been tracked by watchful eyes, and she zooms in on how the movie industry has documented the progression of surveillance techniques from the days of black and white film to the present. Continue reading

The Trial of the Gang of Four — As History and Current Events

By Liz Carter

Forced confessions, show trials, and crises of legitimacy. These are topics covered in Alexander C. Cook’s important book, The Cultural Revolution on Trial: Mao and the Gang of Four, which Cambridge University Press published in November. They are also issues China has been facing recently, as Xi Jinping has sought to consolidate power and bolster faith in the Communist Party. Cook’s primary purpose is not, however, to offer a cautionary tale about history repeating itself, but to put forward a novel framework for understanding historical trauma, its roots, and its repercussions. Continue reading

On China’s Great Books: An Interview with Frances Wood

By Paul French

Retirement from her post as the Curator of Chinese Collections at the British Library in London seemingly hasn’t done much to slow down Frances Wood’s output. She’s never been anything less than prodigious, and she has now assembled a collection of writing from China, going as far as 1,000 BCE and the anonymous Book of Songs (Shi jing) and finally finishing with Dai Houying’s Stones of the Wall (1981), which set during the Cultural Revolution. Titled Great Books of China: From Ancient Times to the Present (published by BlueBridge in the U.S. and Head of Zeus in the U.K.), her latest work contains over 60 excerpts, presented in rough chronological order, from novels, poems and philosophical works, each introduced by Wood to set them in context and explain their importance. The collection is at once a serious study of the progression of Chinese writing for the scholar and, for those less scholarly inclined, a fine miscellany to dip into at random given a free hour and a glass of something warming. Continue reading

What’s New in Studies of Early 20th-Century China?

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

It’s easy to imagine a book on the trafficking of people in China around a hundred years ago that begins with a chapter that cites various anthropologists and scholars in other disciplines, while placing the Chinese historical phenomenon into comparative and theoretical perspective. It’s also easy to imagine a different book on the same subject opening in a totally different, more literary manner. This other book might begin with the author stitching together material from archival sources, such as confessions, to create a tale about real people that reads like a short story. What I could not have imagined a week ago was a book that did both of these things, but I can now. What made the difference was picking up University of Chicago historian Johanna Ransmeier’s Sold People: Traffickers and Family Life in North China, which was recently published by Harvard University Press. Continue reading

In the Last Days of Old Shanghai

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

For well over half-a-century, novelists have been setting tales in 1930s Shanghai, an unusually cosmopolitan city that was divided into foreign-run and Chinese-run districts and known for its bustling port and decadent nightlife. Talented Chinese authors, such as Zhang Ailing (1920-1995) who published in English as Eileen Chang, set stories in the metropolis while the era of the Japanese invasion of China (1932-1945) and eight-year occupation of Shanghai that began in 1937 were underway.  A writer now probably best known in the West for writing the stories that inspired the film “Lust, Caution,” Chang was the author of novels such as Half a Lifelong Romance and The Fall of the Pagoda, both set in Shanghai, as well as the translator of Han Bangqing’s The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, an older volume that chronicled the city’s red-light district in the late 19th century. Continue reading