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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Inconvenient Truths

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

It’s not every week that China-and-India-watchers have parallel stories to chew over, but that’s what’s been happening for the last few days. In both countries, a documentary film about an important social issue has provoked government censorship. Neither film reveals anything that most people didn’t already know, to some degree. So why are the Chinese and Indian governments going so far to limit access to these movies? Continue reading

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Restive Feelings: A Postcard from Xinjiang

By Alec Ash

It was the first day of the Chinese new year [2014] in Urumqi, not that many Uighurs particularly cared. It’s not their holiday. But it was also a Friday, which meant the biggest weekly public prayer at the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar itself, the world’s largest, was closed. Outside it, hundreds of Muslims laid out their mats, kneeled and prostrated themselves to the yodelling refrain of “Allah Akbar” coming from the speaker system.

Across the street, a clump of security guards watched them, looking bored. From their appearance they were all Uighur, or at least all part Uighur. It was winter, almost -20ºC, and they wore fur hats, warming their hands in their pockets. Behind the guards, in an armored van parked opposite the Bazaar, were soldiers. One of them was doubled over the driving wheel, sleeping. Continue reading

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What Is Wrong with Chinese Universities?

By Austin L. Dean

It depends who you ask. A Communist Party official might tell you that the most pressing problem is pernicious “Western” values espoused by certain university professors. Colleges and universities, they might continue, “need to champion core socialist values.” University professors have sometimes expressed a different view: not being able to access resources like Google Scholar, they argue, prevents them from doing their job. Of course, students might list the usual litany of problems: small dorm rooms, boring teachers, bad food in the cafeteria.

If you ask this question of Zhang Ming, a professor at People’s University in Beijing, he will probably ask how much time you have — because he has a lot to say. Continue reading

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In Manchuria: A Q & A With Author Michael Meyer

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

As I wrote back in December when we at the LARB China Blog were suggesting titles for holiday shopping lists, my 2015 recommendation for a must-read China book is In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, by Michael Meyer. A former Peace Corps volunteer and freelance journalist in China, Meyer now teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh (and is also, full disclosure, a fellow in the Public Intellectuals Program I co-direct at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations). While Meyer’s first book examined life in Beijing’s narrow and twisty hutongs, or alleyways, as they faced demolition, In Manchuria moves north, to the vast expanses of China’s northeast. Using the village of Wasteland as his home base, Meyer criss-crosses the region, stopping in major cities and forgotten hamlets as he explores Manchuria’s history and reflects on the changes underway in the Chinese countryside today. I recently interviewed Meyer by email; if you’d like to see him discuss In Manchuria in person, check out his book tour dates here. Continue reading

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Bare Branches: Speed-Dating Games on Singles Day

By Alec Ash

Just as the cold winds sweep the last leaves off Beijing’s trees, November 11 was Singles, or “bare branch,” Day in China (guanggunjie, after a Chinese term for single men). It’s chosen for the four number ones of 11/11, an appropriate date to be dateless. In a country with 118 boys born for every 100 girls, the main function of the festival seems to be making all of China’s single twigs feel inadequate. When I texted “What are you doing this guanggunjie?” to a handful of partnerless Chinese friends, I got back the same curt reply from three: “Sleeping.” I’ll know better than to ask next year.

Singles Day is mostly about online shopping sales now, but there are also a spattering of singles’ events in Beijing on the night. Speed dating is increasingly popular in China, as young urban people in full-time jobs try to find a compatible life partner. I went along to one for a look. Continue reading

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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