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.

Thomas Burkes Out and About

Yellow Peril: Sinophobia and the Great War, A Q&A with Dr. Anne Witchard

By Paul French

Anne Witchard’s England’s Yellow Peril: Sinophobia and the Great War is the final volume in the Penguin China World War One series of short books that have highlighted the various aspects of China’s involvement in the Great War (previously discussed at this blog by Maura Elizabeth Cunningham). England’s Yellow Peril builds on Witchard’s previous work, looking closely at British perceptions of China and the Chinese through literature and the arts in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. In England’s Yellow Peril she looks at how the outbreak of war accentuated and intensified many feelings of English racial dominance, Empire, and notions of the Yellow Peril that had arisen before the conflict. She concentrates on London’s old Chinatown of Limehouse in the East End, where swirling tales of opium smoking, gambling, and interracial romance had became synonymous with the presence of the Chinese. Continue reading

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The Pessimistic and Optimistic Case for the Future of Innovation in China

By Austin Dean

It is always interesting when two books released at nearly the same time — written by two very different authors and aimed at two distinct audiences — at first glance appear to have nothing to do with each other but end up focused on the same thing. It is even better when they disagree.

Yong Zhao is Professor of Education at the University of Oregon. Shaun Rein is a marketing consultant based in Shanghai. Zhao’s book, Whos Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, came out last September and aims to disabuse American educators of the dangerous notion that the U.S. education system should be more like China’s. Rein’s volume, The End of Copycat China: The Rise of Creativity, Innovation, and Individualism in Asia, came out in the same month and seeks to puncture illusions that the business environment in China is the same as it was a few short years ago when he published his first book, The End of Cheap China. Both works, though, ultimately center on one of the watchwords of our time: innovation. Continue reading

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Free Speech and Its Enemies in Greater China

Image: ​“Let’s show Hong Kongers what it means to kneel for your country!” Soon after Wang Liming (a.k.a. Rebel Pepper) put this cartoon online, a post calling him a “traitor” appeared on People’s Daily BBS. (Artist: Rebel Pepper 变态辣椒).

Note from the China Blog editors: Issues of free speech, censorship, and attacks on journalists have made headlines around the world this month. The biggest news, of course, has come out of Europe, but some stories associated with the topics have broken that relate to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. These topics are regular staples for some of the websites we track here at the China Blog, including the Hong Kong-based China Media Project and the Berkeley-based China Digital Times. This post is devoted to introducing Covering China from Cyberspace in 2014, a new e-book by the latter that focuses on political developments of the past year on the Chinese mainland, in Hong Kong, and in passing also Taiwan. Fittingly, given the headlines from Europe, it includes some pointed political cartoons from 2014, including the one shown above.  

What follows are two excerpts from a section of the book dealing mainly with the Umbrella Movement that erupted in Hong Kong last September, but also with the Sunflower protests that rocked Taiwan before that. Each of these events has been the subject of essays for the main page of the Los Angeles Review of Books (see, for example, this and this) and they were compared and connected in a previous post for this blog. In the excerpts that follow, readers can see how CDT’s latest e-book deals with, first, threats to freedom of the press in Hong Kong during the months preceding the Umbrella Movement, and, secondly, efforts by the mainland authorities to control the narrative of the protest surge once it was underway. Continue reading

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The Book the China Crowd Missed – Lawrence Osborne’s The Ballad of a Small Player

By Paul French

Every so often, a novel that captures the essence and flavors of the modern China experience is published — yet seemingly totally escapes the attentions of the devoted China reading crowd. They praise and discuss, absorb and dissect other, often distinctly inferior, novels, while Lawrence Osborne’s The Ballad of a Small Player has attracted no attention and fallen through the cracks of the Sinology drain. Yet Osborne has written an acutely observed novel detailing one part of the contemporary China experience and he deserves to be widely read. In fact, I’m going to just go right on and out and say it — Osborne’s novel is the best on contemporary China since Malraux’s Man’s Fate (which, rather depressingly, means we might have to wait another 80 years for the next one!) Continue reading

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Kongfuzi: The Other Chinese Website You Should Know About

By Austin L. Dean

By now you have probably heard of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company that had a gargantuan $21 billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in September. You might have seen an interview with Jack Ma, the former English-teacher and CEO of Alibaba, as he made the rounds of the American business media. You might have even read stories about the vast number products for sale of Alibaba’s website: cherries from American farmers, freshly caught oysters from off the coast of New Zealand. Everything, it seems, is available through one of Alibaba’s online marketplaces—one of which, Taobao, was described in detail in Alec Ash’s post for this blog just last week. The company, or at least their public relations materials, claims it is bringing the world to China and China to the world. Continue reading

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The Mailman Cometh: A Door-to-Door Taobao Delivery

By Alec Ash

Anyone who lives in China orders a lot from Taobao, the online shopping hub owned by the recently listed company Alibaba. The last dozen items I purchased from it are: foam ear plugs, a wooden moxibustion set, USB speakers shaped like a panda head, a hemp cushion with a Union Jack design, a laptop stand, a wireless keyboard and mouse, a piano stand clip-on light, a fridge magnet that you can snap open bottle caps against, a bottle of Bruichladdich whisky, a portable iPhone battery charger, and a tai chi sword. I have just revealed too much about myself.

It’s an impressive site. First of all, Taobao has everything. Pining for Marmite from mother England? Taobao has it. Think sending live scorpions in the post is a bad idea? Think again. Want a pony instead? Happy birthday. Continue reading

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Obsessing Over JG Ballard and His Terrible City

All images by James H. Bollen. 

By Paul French

James H. Bollen is a British photographer, author, and translator based in Shanghai. Since arriving in the city half a dozen years ago, he has been searching for the traces left by JG Ballard, the cult author of post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels and short stories who died in 2009. Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930, attended the International Settlement’s Cathedral School, and was later interned for the duration of the Second World War with his parents in the nearby Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre. After this experience he eventually settled in England in 1945 and soon began writing avant garde fiction. From the start his short stories and novels were infused with leitmotifs and resonances from his Shanghai boyhood and teenage years in a Japanese internment camp.

In his new book (with an introduction by Fay Ballard, JG’s eldest daughter), Jim’s Terrible City: JG Ballard and Shanghai, Bollen explores contemporary Shanghai looking for images that encapsulate unmistakably Ballardian themes: time, violence, consumerism and surrealism. Paul French, longtime Shanghai resident, author, and Ballard fan, spoke to Bollen at his home in Shanghai about the impetus and inspiration for his new photographic tribute to the author and Shanghailander. Continue reading

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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

larb blog mao2

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