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.

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Holiday Book Ideas From The China Blog

Back around the turn of the decade, when the “China Beat” was still up and running as a blog, rather than just the Twitter feed it is now, members of the editorial team would periodically offer readers suggestions for last-minute holiday gifts. We focused on books about China, and even compiled two lists of titles in 2008, one that had no special focus and another that just had publications by contributors to the blog. These lists seemed popular, so we thought: why not revive the tradition here? What follows are two suggestions apiece from the two of us and several of our most frequent fellow “China Bloggers” (sadly, not nearly as nifty a nickname as “China Beatniks” was back in the day). We asked for two titles from each person, making clear that one or both could have only a loose tie to China or perhaps no tie at all.

— Maura Elizabeth Cunningham and Jeff Wasserstrom Continue reading

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The East (Side) is Red

By James Carter

The Grolier Club, sitting today in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States, just around the corner from Park Avenue in Manhattan, was established in 1884 “to foster the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper.” One of the club’s tenets is that it embraces the power of the book, and rejects the notion that the future of the printed page is jeopardized by new technology or social convention. In keeping with that spirit, the current show celebrates one of the most powerful uses of the printed page in recent history, Mao’s “Little Red Book,” a work officially titled Quotations From Chairman Mao (毛主席语). This is the book that launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and took Mao’s cult of personality to unprecedented heights. The Grolier Club exhibit devoted to it — “Quotations From Chairman Mao: 50th Anniversary Exhibition, 1964-2014. From the Collection of Justin G. Schiller” — runs until January 10, 2015. Continue reading

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Finding the Monkey King in Mong Kok

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Note: All photos were taken in Mong Kok on the morning of November 8. The drawing in the center shows Hong Kong’s widely disliked Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, derided by critics as “The Wolf,” threatening protesters, represented by the movement’s iconic yellow umbrellas, and has a caption reading: “We need a democratic government NOT a violent one.”

There are many obvious differences between the headline-making events associated with Hong Kong and Ferguson. Let’s begin with a basic fact: there have been injuries but no deaths linked to the Umbrella Movement. In addition, while protests have erupted both on Hong Kong Island itself and across the harbor in Kowloon, there have been no actions in even the nearest mainland cities, such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen. This contrasts sharply with the situation in the United States, where demonstrations broke out from Los Angeles to New York City to express outrage over the Grand Jury’s verdict not to put the Ferguson police officer responsible for Michael Brown’s death on trial.   Continue reading

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Taking the Edge Off in Troubled Times: Healthy Habits for Conscientious Cadres

By Austin Dean

It can’t be much fun to be a Chinese Communist Party official these days. On the one hand, pressures from the job just keep growing, since their main charge is to maintain economic growth and social stability and this has been especially challenging of late. On the other, they don’t have as many privileges as they once did, thanks to the anti-corruption campaign waged over the past year and a half by Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection: no more personal use of government cars, no more fancy dinners out on the public dime, and, apparently, no more mahjong, a popular game akin to gin rummy. Party cadres now carouse and cavort at their own risk; each week brings news of another official carried off on corruption charges. Continue reading

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Diary of a Summit: Thoughts on Life in Beijing During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum

By Mengfei Chen

Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping hosted the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing. For Xi, it was a diplomatic coming out party. Like every debutante, he left nothing to chance. In the weeks leading up to APEC, Beijing implemented a comprehensive plan aimed at presenting its best face to the foreign visitors. Much of this plan targeted Beijing’s infamous smog. As the forum opened, it appeared the efforts had payed off. Beijing residents dubbed the color of the sky during the forum APEC blue, a color one popular commentator called “beautiful but fleeting.” Continue reading

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The Beautiful and Damned

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

In a post here at the LARB China Blog last month, Austin Dean discussed the recent revival of interest in Chinese authors of the 1930s and ’40s who had fallen out of favor after the communist takeover in 1949. When Austin sent in his post for editing and I opened the file to see what he had written about, I laughed to myself — he and I were thinking along the same lines, as I had been planning a post about one of those long-lost authors.

The author I had in mind was Mu Shiying, an experimental essayist, short-story writer, and novelist who blazed onto the Shanghai literary scene in the early 1930s and produced an impressive quantity of works before falling victim to an assassin in 1940. The circumstances of Mu’s death have something to do with his long disappearance from the Chinese literary canon: he had taken a job managing a newspaper produced under the Wang Jingwei regime, a collaborationist pro-Japanese government that’s still remembered as perhaps the greatest example of betrayal in twentieth-century Chinese history, and that association led to his assassination. But the other reason that Mu’s stories could not be circulated during the first few decades of communist rule is that they depict — in vibrant, thrilling detail — the pleasure-seeking wildness of Shanghai nightlife in the 1930s. In the years after the communist government came to power, the new administration shut down those nightclubs, and the major literary works of the Mao era (1949-1976) featured China’s farmers and workers, rather than tuxedo-clad cabaret patrons. Continue reading

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Hong Kong 2014 — A Post Before a Visit

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

When this post goes live on November 5, I will have just arrived in Hong Kong. I’m heading there in part to give a pair of talks at a university, but more important than that is my desire to see for myself how the city, which has changed so profoundly since I first visited it in 1987, has been transformed by the recent wave of protests. My trip is linked to an experimental course that I’m teaching at UC Irvine. It’s titled “Global Crises” and has included presentations by various regional specialists. Some of these guest speakers have come across campus to give presentations, while others have visited the class long-distance via Skype. While in Hong Kong, I will take my own turn as one of those guests from afar. Joining me in that Skyped-in session will be a Hong Kong-based journalist, a Hong Kong-based academic, and a visiting researcher from the United States, all of whom have been tracking closely the events unfolding on the city’s streets. Continue reading

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The Unlikely Success of Harold Fry’s Pilgrimage

By Paul French

A boring Englishman leaves home one morning to post a letter while his wife runs the vacuum cleaner over the upstairs carpets. He doesn’t come back. Instead he walks from one end of England to the other. Not, one would think, an immediately attractive scenario for a novel that has been read by millions of Chinese readers in the PRC and Taiwan and topped the book charts in both countries. Yet it has. Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, got rave reviews in the UK when it was first published in 2012, became a bestseller, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker. Fine, but what’s got Chinese readers so captivated about boring English everyman Harold Fry? Continue reading

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Remembering the 1930s and 1940s, or Reliving Them?

By Austin Dean

The writer Xiao Hong is everywhere in China these days. Her face recently graced the covers of a score of newspapers and magazines; the publication Sanlian Weekly devoted over thirty pages to her; billboards advertised the recently released film about her career. In fact, the new film The Golden Era is the second Xiao Hong biopic to come out in the space of just two years—the first one, Fallen Flowers, hit theaters in March 2013. A remarkable accomplishment, particularly since Xiao published most of her work in the 1920s and 1930s and passed away in 1942. Continue reading

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Istanbul and Shanghai Between the Wars – Two Sides of the Same Coin

By Paul French

We generally think of Shanghai between the world wars as unique, a one-off city forming a crossroads between East and West. It was, according to this line of thinking, unique in being a place representing the modern in a country largely composed of the ancient. This vision of it is compelling, but one can’t help reading Charles King’s excellent new biography of inter-war Istanbul – Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul  – without drawing comparisons between the city on the Bosphorus and the city on the Huangpoo. The similarities are legion: in general, both were forward-looking cities in countries that had suffered long-term decline in economic and political power; both were cities that, although not capitals, became the fulcrums of their national politics; and both were cities that sought modernity with a humongous appetite for the novel and the cosmopolitan. Continue reading