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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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

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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

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Taking the Edge Off in Troubled Times: Healthy Habits for Conscientious Cadres

By Austin Dean

It can’t be much fun to be a Chinese Communist Party official these days. On the one hand, pressures from the job just keep growing, since their main charge is to maintain economic growth and social stability and this has been especially challenging of late. On the other, they don’t have as many privileges as they once did, thanks to the anti-corruption campaign waged over the past year and a half by Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection: no more personal use of government cars, no more fancy dinners out on the public dime, and, apparently, no more mahjong, a popular game akin to gin rummy. Party cadres now carouse and cavort at their own risk; each week brings news of another official carried off on corruption charges. Continue reading

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Diary of a Summit: Thoughts on Life in Beijing During the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum

By Mengfei Chen

Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping hosted the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing. For Xi, it was a diplomatic coming out party. Like every debutante, he left nothing to chance. In the weeks leading up to APEC, Beijing implemented a comprehensive plan aimed at presenting its best face to the foreign visitors. Much of this plan targeted Beijing’s infamous smog. As the forum opened, it appeared the efforts had payed off. Beijing residents dubbed the color of the sky during the forum APEC blue, a color one popular commentator called “beautiful but fleeting.” Continue reading

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The Beautiful and Damned

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

In a post here at the LARB China Blog last month, Austin Dean discussed the recent revival of interest in Chinese authors of the 1930s and ’40s who had fallen out of favor after the communist takeover in 1949. When Austin sent in his post for editing and I opened the file to see what he had written about, I laughed to myself — he and I were thinking along the same lines, as I had been planning a post about one of those long-lost authors.

The author I had in mind was Mu Shiying, an experimental essayist, short-story writer, and novelist who blazed onto the Shanghai literary scene in the early 1930s and produced an impressive quantity of works before falling victim to an assassin in 1940. The circumstances of Mu’s death have something to do with his long disappearance from the Chinese literary canon: he had taken a job managing a newspaper produced under the Wang Jingwei regime, a collaborationist pro-Japanese government that’s still remembered as perhaps the greatest example of betrayal in twentieth-century Chinese history, and that association led to his assassination. But the other reason that Mu’s stories could not be circulated during the first few decades of communist rule is that they depict — in vibrant, thrilling detail — the pleasure-seeking wildness of Shanghai nightlife in the 1930s. In the years after the communist government came to power, the new administration shut down those nightclubs, and the major literary works of the Mao era (1949-1976) featured China’s farmers and workers, rather than tuxedo-clad cabaret patrons. Continue reading

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Hong Kong 2014 — A Post Before a Visit

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

When this post goes live on November 5, I will have just arrived in Hong Kong. I’m heading there in part to give a pair of talks at a university, but more important than that is my desire to see for myself how the city, which has changed so profoundly since I first visited it in 1987, has been transformed by the recent wave of protests. My trip is linked to an experimental course that I’m teaching at UC Irvine. It’s titled “Global Crises” and has included presentations by various regional specialists. Some of these guest speakers have come across campus to give presentations, while others have visited the class long-distance via Skype. While in Hong Kong, I will take my own turn as one of those guests from afar. Joining me in that Skyped-in session will be a Hong Kong-based journalist, a Hong Kong-based academic, and a visiting researcher from the United States, all of whom have been tracking closely the events unfolding on the city’s streets. Continue reading