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.

Of Exports, Envoys, Boxers, and Books — Midwestern Links to the Middle Kingdom

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

The first English language publication to include a detailed profile of Mao Zedong, Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China, was by a man born in Kansas City. The historian often described as the doyen of Chinese studies in America, The United States and China author John King Fairbank, hailed from South Dakota. When Nobel laureate Mo Yan, James Joyce Award-winner Yu Hua, the acclaimed novelist Wang Anyi, and the celebrated poet Bei Dao visited the United States, one place they each spent time was Iowa City, whose celebrated International Writing Program has hosted many other leading Chinese writers as well. And yet, when the topic of historical ties between China and the United States comes up, the tendency is to focus not on states far from either coast, but those that stand beside an ocean. As a result, when Donald Trump announced that he wanted Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to be his Ambassador to China, the coverage occasionally veered in a man bites dog direction, as though tapping someone from the heartland to go to Beijing was a geographically eccentric move. Many journalists found it natural to list reasons — Branstad’s frequent visits Beijing, Xi Jinping’s visits to his state, the millions of metric tons of soybeans that Iowa ships to China each year, etc. — why this Midwesterner was actually a logical choice to represent America in the Middle Kingdom. Continue reading

Trickle-Down Censorship in China: An Interview with JFK Miller

By Susan Blumeberg-Kason

I first became acquainted with JFK Miller through Whyiwrite.net, a site he founded and curates of interviews with authors who mainly write about China. Miller, an Australian, is a former expat of Indonesia, Singapore, and most recently, Shanghai, where he was editor-in-chief of an English magazine for more than six years. He returned to Brisbane in 2015 and recently published his first book, Trickle-Down Censorship: An Outsider’s Account of Working Inside China’s Censorship Regime (Hybrid Publishers, 2016). I recently asked him via e-mail about his years in China, censorship, and publishing. Continue reading

The Making of a First Novel: An Interview with Lijia Zhang

By Mengfei Chen

In 2008, Lijia Zhang published a memoir that dealt with her childhood, her experiences working in a missile factory, and her participation in marches that took place in Nanjing in the spring of 1989, while protesters in Beijing were occupying Tiananmen Square.  Titled “Socialism is Great!”: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China, it garnered strong reviews and earned the author invitations to speak at literary festivals and other events around the world.  Since then, Zhang has regularly published commentaries on cultural and political events.  Then, earlier this month, she published Lotus: A Novel, her first extended work of fiction.  Mengfei Chen, co-editor of this blog, recently caught up with Zhang by email to ask her questions relating to her new novel. Continue reading

Feminism in China and the Wandering Life: An Interview with Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

It has now been about half a year since Maura Cunningham started a new position with the Association for Asian Studies and switched from being a co-editor of to an occasional contributor to this blog, so this seemed a good time to check in with her about her new job.  It is also an apt moment to check in with her about her activities as a writer, since she has an article in the latest issue of the World Policy Journal. Continue reading

Dumplings, Dictators, and Daoists — Six Book Recommendations

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

I wrote the first draft of this post on the final day of 2016, and then revised it on the first day of 2017, so it is fitting that it will be divided between backward looking and forward looking halves.  In the opening half, I will provide micro-reviews of two worthy but dissimilar 2016 books.  They explore, respectively the cuisine of the Jiangnan Region of China that includes the cities of Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, and the puzzle of how China’s Communist Party keeps outliving predictions of its imminent demise.  I thought at various points that I would work extended discussions of these 2016 publications into piece I was writing, but that never happened.  I am glad to at least be able to give them short shout outs here.  Continue reading

Hong Kong Noir

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

When I lived in Hong Kong in the 1990s, my only interaction with the police occurred when I’d return from Shenzhen by foot. Once on the Hong Kong side of the Lo Wu Bridge, I always breathed a sigh of relief when I saw their crisp navy uniforms.  The sight represented stability, order, and safety, things that were in short supply in Shenzhen and the parts of Hubei that I often visited as well on my forays to the mainland.  Life in those places had a Wild West, free-for-all feel to them.  There, as opposed to in rule-honoring Hong Kong, the trend often seemed to be that those with guanxi (personal connections) could work the system, while others were left to their own devices. Continue reading

More China-Focused Suggestions for the Bookish People on Your Holiday Lists

thesBy Jeffrey Wasserstrom

In this follow up to our December 7 post, two China Blog regulars, Alec Ash and Maura Elizabeth Cunningham, recommend a quartet of titles.  These titles, which deal with everything from down-and-out residents of contemporary Beijing to a pair of American journalists who fell in love while covering World War II in Asia, would make excellent last minute presents for others — or enjoyable items to buy for yourself with any gift cards you get. I didn’t get a chance to do a full write-up for my own selections, but will slip a plug for them into this intro without extended explanation.  I’ll just note that former BBC reporter Adam Brookes is two-thirds of the way through what will eventually be a trilogy of novels of intrigue that move between China and other parts of the world, and both Night Heron and Spy Games, each now available in paperback, are unusually well crafted page-turners.  (For more about each book, see these LARB reviews of them, here and here.) Continue reading

From Diamond Village to Wukan: An Interview with the China Media Project’s David Bandurski

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

In last week’s post, three regular contributors to the China Blog gave suggestions for books dealing with Chinese themes that would make good holiday gifts.  Next week’s post will take the form of a sequel, offering recommendations for last minute present shopping.  So, it seems fitting that this post, which falls between, is an interview with the author of a very appealing book on China that would also be good to give to someone on your to-buy-for list. Published in other markets by Penguin last year but only recently available in the U.S., it is titled Dragons in Diamond Village: And Other Tales from the Back Alleys of Urbanising China, and it is by the versatile David Bandurski, an independent journalist, documentary filmmaker, and now book author as well. Bandurski joins me here to discuss recent developments in rural-urban unrest and the state of the Chinese media. Continue reading

Some China-Related Holiday Gift Book Ideas

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

This post continues a tradition, first begun at The China Beat (a publication that began a four-year run in 2008) and then carried on here more recently, of inviting contributors to recommend books they thought could make good holiday presents for those obsessed with or merely curious about the world’s most populous country.  What follows, in what will likely be the first in a two-part series, are multiple recommendations from contributors Paul French and Susan Blumberg-Kason and, starting things off, a single suggestion from Mengfei Chen, who wrote “Reading Middlemarch in Jiangxi” for this blog, while she was working in publishing in Beijing, and is now based back in California and will be joining the LARB team as co-editor of this blog. Continue reading