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.


Pivoting with Kurt Campbell—U.S. Policy Toward Asia in the Era of China’s Rise

By Graham Webster

Beginning with its title, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, Kurt Campbell’s latest book faces the challenge of signaling both continuity and change. In rightfully claiming partial credit for developing the Obama administration’s Asia policy and making the case for continuing on a similar path, he nonetheless subtly breaks from the White House, which calls the policy the “rebalance to the Asia-Pacific,” to advance the “Pivot to Asia” brand more closely associated with the State Department when he served in it under Secretary Hillary Clinton. Continue reading


What the Diaspora Can Know: Reconsidering Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing

By Nick Admussen

Imagine the world from the perspective of people who speak Chinese: a Sinosphere, centered by the huge population of the People’s Republic of China but spanning across the globe from Taiwan to Singapore, Vancouver to Los Angeles, Panang to Perth. Now imagine the Anglosphere, a similar map of people who speak English. Increasingly, as English is taught in Chinese countries and Chinese immigrants spread far and wide, these maps are melting into one another. Chinese intellectual life is full of translations, imitations, and excoriations of Anglophone books and ideas, and yet somehow English-language intellectual life lags behind, still scratching at the surface of Chinese experience. Continue reading


Reading Hillbilly Elegy in Beijing

By Jeremiah Jenne

The United States and China have more in common than people might think. Both are vast, continental empires with revolutionary governments convinced utterly of their own superiority. Each possesses a sense of exceptionalism that alternately fascinates and repulses other nations. And both, despite an oft-stated ideological commitment to equality of opportunity, embrace a vision of economic growth which is riven with inequality and class divisions. Continue reading


Looking for Ghosts in the Quietest Place in Beijing

By Jonathan Chatwin

On my first visit to Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery – China’s national cemetery, and resting place of the founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party – I had been refused entry at the gate by a zealous teenage guard, who, somewhat incredulous at my pressing for an explanation, had simply observed “Ni shi waiguoren” – “You’re a foreigner” – and walked back to his hut. I thus decided, for my return attempt, to enlist my Chinese friend Christy, who, experience had taught me, could generally talk her way into most places, and out of most situations. Continue reading


From Vancouver to Tiananmen — A Review of Madeleine Thien’s Latest Book

By Michael Rank

The extraordinary upheavals that China has undergone over the past fifty years call for an epic novel depicting great suffering as well as hope and joy.  Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which focuses on the experiences of a family of musicians from the time of the Anti-rightist Campaign of the late 1950s to the Tiananmen Square protests and June 4th Massacre of 1989, attempts to be that novel. Continue reading


Being Helen Foster Snow: A Q&A with Elyse Ribbons

By Paul French

As part of Chinese TV’s efforts to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Long March this year, a dramatized 30-hour version of Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China has just wrapped filming. The book, which recounts the months in 1936 that Snow spent with the Chinese Red Army, is well known in China. The personal lives of its author and his wife Helen Foster Snow, however, are little known beyond their relationship to the famous Chinese leader Mao,  who died forty years ago this week and whose record continues to be described as 70% good and only 30% bad, despite catastrophes like the Great Leap Famine. Red Star Over China is the first domestically produced series to star two non-ethnic Chinese actors. The series is also partly biographical, retracing the early days of Edgar and Helen’s romance in Shanghai in the early 1930s and following their adventures in China through to the early 1940s. Continue reading


Finding a Common Thread: A History of Chinese Language

Anne Henochowicz*

Sitting in the hushed, stained-glass light of my university’s architecture library, I made stacks of flashcards. I reverently copied the characters onto one side, the pinyin Romanization and English definition onto the other. Most of these words were two characters long, and as I quizzed myself on pronunciation, translation, and handwriting, I hoped that one day I would understand the meaning of each and every one of those characters on their own—not bound up in modern words, but singular, ancient, profound. Continue reading


Nuts! The Bursting of the Chinese Walnut Bubble

By Austin Dean

Walk down the street in Beijing and you’ll encounter a certain type of character: buzz cut, paunchy stomach, probably tattooed, likely taking drags from a cigarette as he barks into a cell phone. He’s probably also sporting a bracelet or necklace (or both) made of walnut shells strung together. This guy might be a gangster; more likely he’s plain old Chinese nouveau riche. Continue reading


Thinking and Writing about Inner Asia: A Q&A with Rian Thum

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I recently caught up by email with New Orleans-based historian Rian Thum to ask him a variety of questions about topics he knows and cares a lot about, ranging from trends in publishing on Inner Asia to the curious ways that even seemingly arcane issues relating to the past can get intensely politicized in today’s China.  Thum’s name should be familiar to regular readers of this publication, since both an excerpt from and an effusive Nile Green review of his prize-winning first book, The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, ran in LARB. Continue reading