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.

HKstrikepieceLaskai

Connecting and Comparing the Taipei and Hong Kong Struggles

By Lorand Laskai

October 3: While the world is watching Occupy Central, one group has gone beyond mere spectating. Six nights ago when students in Hong Kong braved waves of tear gas, after days of trying unsuccessfully to occupy the park in front of the government headquarters, another site of the Hong Kong government came under occupation: the Hong Kong Economic and Cooperation Exchange office in Taipei. The occupiers—Taiwanese students. Continue reading

larb blog han han

On the Road in Chinese History

By Austin Dean

Han Han—author, blogger, high-school drop out, racecar driver, provocateur, and spokesperson for a car-seat manufacturer—recently branched out into movies, directing The Continent. The film follows the story of three young men from an island off the east coast of China as they travel together to take one of their ranks to his new teaching position in the far west of China. Along the way, they meet up with old friends and come across new acquaintances of dubious character; hijinks and reflections on life, love, and friendship, ensue. The film has drawn a good deal of criticism. There have been accusations that Han Han is stealing ideas from others in the film, and commentaries on what he symbolizes in the current Chinese cultural moment. In other words, it was a pretty normal news cycle for anything involving Han Han. Overlooked in these larger debates, however, is a subtler point: that the road trip is now a part of the Chinese as well as the American imagination. Continue reading

larb blog generalissimo

The Generalissimo’s Ghost

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

“In Taiwan, Teens Protest Statues Honoring Former Ruler Chiang Kai-shek,”

Los Angeles Times headline, August 11, 2014

Like other historians of modern China, I give a fair number of class lectures that deal with Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), aka “The Generalissimo,” who was the most powerful man on the Chinese mainland from the late 1920s until 1949 and held that position in Taiwan from that point until his death.  Not many of us, though, really warm to him.  I know I never have.  He comes across in most accounts as stiff and autocratic, and even sympathetic biographers seem impatient to switch from talking about him to telling stories about his glamorous Wellesley-educated wife, Soong Mei-ling.  I’ve always been left cold by his speeches and writings, feeling they awkwardly tried to fuse two things that don’t really go together: adulation of Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionary vision, on the one hand, and veneration of traditional values and orderliness a la Confucius, on the other.  And yet, seeing that Los Angeles Times headline last month, I almost felt sorry for the Generalissimo.

Continue reading

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Take Me Out to the Ballgame, in Taipei

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

At precisely 6:35pm on a Thursday night, exactly as scheduled, the ChinaTrust Brother Elephants took the field at Taipei’s Xinzhuang Stadium, their bumblebee-yellow uniforms sharp against the deep green of the grass. Alone, with nearly an entire section of the outfield stands to myself, I leaned back in my seat and watched the first Uni-President 7-Eleven Lion step into the batter’s box. I had no idea who he was or how his season was going. I didn’t know who was pitching, or which team had the better record.

I didn’t care. I just wanted to watch a baseball game. Continue reading

larb blog china ally

China’s Forgotten World War II: A Q&A with Rana Mitter

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

As my last China Blog column was on China’s forgotten World War I, I decided that an examination of the country’s involvement in World War II would make for a logical follow-up post. There’s no one better to discuss this topic than Oxford historian Rana Mitter, author of Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945, newly out in paperback. In this sweeping but highly readable history, Mitter traces the story of China’s eight-year battle against the Japanese—a conflict that continues to resonate in Sino-Japanese relations today, yet which has been largely forgotten on the global stage. I sent a few questions to Mitter, who responded by email. Continue reading

larb blog chinese nostalgia

Blasts from the Past: Chinese Nostalgia for the 1980s in the Era of Xi Jinping

Photo: Scene from American Dreams in China

By Austin Dean

In a speech at the 35th anniversary of academic exchanges between the United States and China earlier this summer, David Moser, a linguist and Academic Director of Beijing’s CET study abroad program who is one of the doyens of the expat community in Beijing, recounted a recent conversation with a friend. He asked his Chinese classmate which word best summed up the 1980s in Beijing. The classmate, without hesitation, responded: romantic. As Moser reflected on his days exploring Beijing and studying Chinese, showing pictures of his old bicycle and mounds of cabbage piled high in preparation for winter, he decided his classmate was correct. For the duration of Moser’s speech, the next speaker, Shi Yigong, who is now a professor at Tsinghua University and was a student at the institution from 1985 to 1989, smiled and nodded his head. Moser was right. Continue reading

larb blog the dog

Finding One’s Own Way Through the Woods: A Q & A with Short Story Writer Jack Livings

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

One of the best works of fiction I’ve read in recent months is The Dog: Stories by Jack Livings, who taught English in China in the 1990s and sets all of the short stories in his collection in that country. The book’s longest story, “Crystal Sarcophagus,” is set in the immediate wake of Mao’s death and follows the lives of people set the seemingly impossible task of producing, in record time, a glass coffin for the Chairman’s corpse that would be superior to those already occupied by deceased Communist leaders in Moscow and Hanoi.  Several other stories deal with politically charged issues as well, such as tensions between Han and Uighur residents of Beijing, but some focus on totally different things, such as a day and a night in the life of a friendless and not especially likable American exchange student. The Dog has been been getting enviable reviews, such as one by Michiko Kakutani that begins by calling it a “stunning debut” collection and later praises Livings for his ability to evoke the “predicaments” of varied kinds of individuals “with an emotional precision that is both unsparing and oddly forgiving.”  In interviewing Livings, I steered clear of “why set these stories in China when you’re an American who lives in the U.S.” sorts of questions, in part because he’d answered these well in earlier interviews for the China Real Time blog, for which Brittany Hite asked the questions, and for The Nervous Breakdown blog, where the person quizzing him was, well, Jack Livings. Continue reading

Ash Pick Up Artist photo

How to Be a Male God: Beijing’s Pick Up Artist Scene

By Alec Ash

Xia’er, a 22-year-old music graduate from Hunan Province, is short, with a boyish complexion and no steady job. He is an average catch.

Cirl, professional Pick Up Artist, has a ripped body, the confidence of a god, wears sparkling jewelry, and does magic. He is a ladykiller.

Cirl exists in Xia’er’s mind, also known as Studtown. If you let Xia’er keep talking, you might make the same mistake of thinking he is Cirl. If you let him do his magic tricks on you, and have two X chromosomes, watch out, you’ll be another notch on his wall the next morning. If you’re a guy, it’s OK. He will teach you. Continue reading

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Love, or Nearest Offer: A Vignette From Beijing’s Marriage Market

Photo: Mr. Sun browsing the marriage market.

By Alec Ash

Mr. Sun is 67, with a helmet-shaped mop of silver hair, half his teeth missing, and a generally ragged look to him. He’s an old Beijinger, and lives near the east gate of Tiantan Park, not far from the Forbidden City. Every Sunday, he goes into the park — but not for a stroll. He’s there to browse in the marriage market, looking for a match for his daughter. Continue reading

larb blog night heron

Tricks of Two Trades: A Q&A on Writing News Reports and Spy Novels with Night Heron Author Adam Brookes

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I’ve known Adam Brookes since 1999, when we met in Beijing where he was covering China for the BBC, and I’ve followed his career with interest ever since.  When I learned that Adam, whose latest reporting assignment has been the Pentagon, was trying his hand at a spy novel, I was intrigued. Then, after reading an advance copy of Night Heron, I was impressed. I found it a gripping read, well deserving of the strong reviews its been getting in varied periodicals.  (In his review of the book for this publication, Paul French aptly described the book  as a “genuine page turner” by an author who is “excellent at describing contemporary Beijing” and knows how to “grab us from the start” with clever plotting.) I recently caught up with Adam and asked him a series of questions about his shift from working in journalism to writing fiction, which he was good enough to answer via email in a thoughtful and detailed way: Continue reading