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.

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

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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

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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

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Graffiti in Beijing

By Cutler Dozier

A skinny 21-year-old Beijinger with shoulder length hair, wearing baggy jeans and a worn t-shirt, stares through his paint-speckled glasses, transfixed by the stack of multicolored graffiti cans arranged in front of him. He goes by the name WEK, and is deciding what colors he will use to paint his name on various walls and shop fronts around the city. He is part of a booming graffiti scene in Beijing and is possibly the most prolific graffiti writer in mainland China today. Continue reading

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Satire, Cyberspace and the 25th Anniversary of the June 4th Massacre

I learned several weeks ago that China Digital Times was about to publish Crazy Crab’s Chinese Dream in Cartoons, an e-book featuring material by a satirist whose work I had enjoyed seeing displayed on their site. When I got my advance copy, I began looking through it eagerly, expecting to be amused or moved by cartoons that I hadn’t seen before as well as appreciating the chance to look at some old favorites again. I wasn’t disappointed. And an added plus was making my way through the accompanying explanatory material provided by Sophie Beach, a central figure at CDT, on topics ranging from the derivation of the cartoonist’s name to the symbolism of some of the harder to parse panels.

It was nice to learn as well that the proceeds from sales of the e-book, which was published on May 12, were to be split between the cartoonist and CDT. It’s a site worthy of support, as it’s one of the key online ventures that I rely on—as do many others interested in Chinese current affairs—to keep up to speed on how China is being covered by the media and on how the Party tries to scrub the web clean of the many things it fears or simply dislikes. Continue reading

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A Tale of Two First Books: A Conversation with NPR’s Louisa Lim and The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos

In 2008, I wrote in the Guardian that there had recently been a “notable acceleration” in the frequency with which “illuminating books of reportage” on China had been appearing. It had become routine, I explained, after writers like Peter Hessler and Ian Johnson had come onto the scene, for two or three engagingly crafted books a year to come out that were by journalists who had spent considerable time in China and had sharp insights to share about the country’s recent past and current situation.  Still, the year of the Beijing Games was special, since it saw Factory GirlsThe Last Days of Old BeijingOut of Mao’s Shadow, and Smoke and Mirrors all published within a single twelve-month stretch.  I continue to admire that quartet of books, but the proximity of their publication dates no longer seems so striking.  Why? Because we are mid-way through a three-week period that, when it ends, will have seen the appearance of not just one but two major additions to the list of powerful books on China by talented journalists. I mean, of course, Evan Osnos’s Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (just out from FSG and garnering very strong reviews, such as this one in the Washington Post) and Louisa Lim’s The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited (which is officially published by Oxford on June 4, but is already available as an e-book, and getting positive assessments as well, such as this write-up in Kirkus Reviews).*

I caught up by email with Osnos and Lim — both of whom will be speaking in Southern California soon and both of whose books are reviewed, in the same article, in this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review — and they generously agreed to not only answer a question from me, but also to play interviewer as well as interviewee and ask each other one question apiece.  My query for each of them is simple: What is in your book that you are proud of having there, but that you had no idea you would deal with when you started writing or planning the project?

Here, in the order in which they will be coming out this way are their answers, with Evan Osnos (who’ll be doing two events at UC Irvine on May 27) weighing in first, and then Louisa Lim (who will be speaking at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica on June 12) going next.   After that will come Evan’s question to Louisa and her answer; and then, closing out the interview, Louisa’s question to Evan and his reply. Continue reading