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.

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

browsing

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

WWI Shanghai Memorial

China’s Forgotten World War I

Photo: The dedication of the WWI memorial in Shanghai, in 1924.

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

World War I has always been primarily associated with Europe. That’s where the conflict began, where the major battles took place, and where the war had its most visible effect – the map of the continent was redrawn in its aftermath. But with the one hundredth anniversary of the war’s outbreak being commemorated this summer, we’re seeing more attention being paid to how non-European countries figured into “the war to end all wars.” Delhi-based writer Chandrahas Choudhury, for example, discusses India’s involvement in World War I in this Bloomberg View article, and The Guardian produced a documentary detailing the global nature of the conflict, though it’s still fairly Euro-centric. Continue reading

larb blog opium

The Opium War Comes to America (the Book, That is): A Q & A With Julia Lovell

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

This week’s China Blog interview is with Julia Lovell, a British specialist in Chinese studies who teaches in London, lives in Cambridge, and has made her mark in several distinctive arenas.  She’s a distinguished translator of fiction (e.g., Zhu Wen’s short stories); she writes lively reviews and short essays for leading newspapers and literary reviews (including this one); and she pens scholarly yet accessible books about China’s past.  I caught up with Julia by email this summer, after talking with her in Cambridge, to ask her some questions about her activities wearing the third of those hats.  More specifically, her book about the Opium War, which came out in other countries beginning in 2011 and which Isabel Hilton described as telling the tale of the events in question “lucidly and compellingly”, is due out next month in its first American edition.  Here below are her answers to my question about a book that was short listed for the Orwell Prize and won France’s Jan Michalski Prize for Literature in 2012. Continue reading

D8I_5215

Made in Bulgaria

Photo: A Made-in-Bulgaria Chinese pickup truck on display near the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria.

By Tong Lam

The future is all around us, hidden in physical signifiers, but we often lack the key to understanding the significations. The square around the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is  one place where the future, along with the past, is teasing us, demanding our attention and interpretation even as we are not quite sure how to make sense of what we see. Located in the city center, the monument was built in 1954 to commemorate the Soviet liberation of Nazi-allied Bulgaria. In recent years, as Bulgarian politicians debate the future of the monument, local graffiti artists have repeatedly vandalized the space, bringing their own voices into the argument. Some graffiti artists have used paint to transform the bronze statues of Red Amy soldiers into comic book characters (e.g. Superman) and icons related to global brands (e.g. Ronald McDonald). Most recently, some adorned one of the statues with the Ukrainian national colors – blue and yellow – to express their disagreement with Russian actions in that former part of the Soviet Union.   Continue reading

larb china blog bad articles

Bad China Articles: Hall of Infamy

This week’s China Blog post was originally published on The Anthill, a “writers colony” focused on writings about China, edited by Alec Ash

By Alec Ash

The Anthill occasionally loans its soul to the devil and does listicles. So far we’ve done China books and China blogs. Now we turn our eye to that richest of terrains – bad articles about China – in the form of a top ten hall of infamy. Continue reading

larb blog spiral

Why Chinese TV Should Be More Like French TV

By Paul French

If you want to understand a country’s national obsessions and public concerns, watch their TV crime dramas. Cop shows, at least those with contemporary settings, reveal what the folks at home are worried about: they draw on popular tabloid stories and reveal the state of the nation’s concerns. This televisual truism is slightly skewed in China, however, where cop shows, censored and sanitized as they are, usually show what CCTV (the state-controlled broadcaster) thinks people should be worried about — invariably anything that threatens “social harmony.” In Chinese cop shows, the bad guys are usually either foreigners (often overseas Chinese from elsewhere), minorities (Uighurs from Xinjiang, mostly), or people with (unfounded, of course!) grudges against the Party. Chinese TV cops are clean-living, invariably uniformed, polite, and care only for the peoples’ welfare. Still, I can’t help wondering: What would a Chinese cop show be like if the censors took a holiday? Continue reading

THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT
By Amy Tan
589 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. $29.99.

City of Reinvention: A Review of Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

Shanghai is a city of reinvention. The metropolis has transformed over the past two centuries from a regional trading hub to a massive global financial center. Shanghai has become the site where China meets the world, a point of entry for alien goods and customs that transfigure the city into an environment that is neither entirely Chinese nor foreign, but rather a blend of the two. With this growth, millions of people have poured into the city: migrants from within China, hoping to find work that will put their families on firm economic footing, as well as arrivals from around the globe, each pushed or pulled to Shanghai by personal forces. Some seek money; some hope for adventure; others want to escape, to disappear into the crush of people and emerge with a new name and history — and in turn, a new future. Continue reading

Wang Zihao, photo credit Dou Yiping

Why Study Journalism in China?

Photo: Wang Zihao. © Dou Yiping

By Lu-Hai Liang and Dou Yiping

China’s journalism schools, like those in many countries, are packed full of students preparing to join an industry where the supply of graduates far exceeds the number of positions available.

The press may be perceived as the fourth estate in the West, but some journalism students in China follow a “Marxist view” that includes supporting party principles, criticizing the “bourgeois concept of free speech,” and maintaining correct “guidance of public opinion,” according to an article on the China Media Project’s website. Continue reading