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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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Promised (Disney)land

By Alec Ash

Wang Zhigang flew three hours just to see Mickey Mouse. In swimming shorts and a colourful umbrella-hat sold by peddlers outside the entrance to keep the sun off, he queued in 97 degrees heat for hours to get on the best rides. All because he made a promise to his son while Shanghai Disneyland was still under construction, that they would go when it opened. Wang Zhigang is a good father. Continue reading

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Talking Rural Reconstruction, Books, and Blogs with Kate Merkel-Hess

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Prelude: The Birth of a Blog

On a sunny day way back in the summer of 2007, when Kate Merkel-Hess was still a UC Irvine graduate student rather than a member of Penn State’s History Department, one of her professors posed an unexpected question to her.  Would Kate, he asked, consider joining him and her thesis adviser, Ken Pomeranz, in launching a digital publication aimed at trying to bridge the gap between the way journalists covered and academic analyzed China.  This could, he said, stumbling a bit over the word, be a sort of “blog.”  Perhaps she could be its lead editor, he proposed, as she was the only one of the three of them with any actual experience “blogging,” having launched a personal blog during her just concluded year doing research in Chinese archives.  He said that he and Ken had enjoyed reading her online commentaries, and this was part of what had inspired them to consider doing something similar, but with multiple contributors. Kate quickly said “yes,” and the rest, as they say, is history.  Meaning, in this case, the start of a four year run of a blog, plus the publication of a spinoff book, China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance, of which Kate was the lead editor. Continue reading

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Introducing the Hong Kong Review of Books: A Q&A With Aflie Bown

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

Earlier this year, two literary scholars, Alfie Bown and Kimberley Clarke, founded the Hong Kong Review of Books, a lively and varied addition to the online publishing scene.  I recently emailed some questions to Bown, whose name should ring a bell with readers of the China Blog due to his recent contribution to it, to learn more about their joint endeavor.  Here are my questions and his replies. Continue reading