Reading Hillbilly Elegy in Beijing

By Jeremiah Jenne

The United States and China have more in common than people might think. Both are vast, continental empires with revolutionary governments convinced utterly of their own superiority. Each possesses a sense of exceptionalism that alternately fascinates and repulses other nations. And both, despite an oft-stated ideological commitment to equality of opportunity, embrace a vision of economic growth which is riven with inequality and class divisions. Continue reading


Reading Plays

By Ian MacAllister-McDonald

The first time script I ever read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. I played the role of the Count himself in my Catholic high school production back in 2001. The production was about what you would expect out of a group of American teenagers pretending to be European adults. I was mortified when, as I stood on stage during the final dress rehearsal in my dopey cape and fangs and white face paint, watching as the actress playing Mina asked — as politely as she could — if we could please change the scene at the end of Act One where Dracula kisses Mina on the lips. We’d rehearsed it a dozen times already, always stopping just short of the kiss, which, as a bookish teenager in the theater club was about as close to girls as I generally got. The director looked at my co-star, registering her shame and terror, and conceded. Perhaps, he suggested, Dracula could kiss her on the neck? No, that wouldn’t work. Perhaps bite her neck….? She hadn’t even stopped shaking her head. “Okay, he can start to bite your neck, but we’ll drop the curtain before he makes contact. How’s that?” The actress winced, then gave a deep shuddery sigh and nodded, eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare. A true professional. In the end, the scene played out much as Mr. Stoker had surely imagined it, with a 17-year-old Count Dracula almost maybe probably going to bite the neck of a noticeably grossed-out Mina. The scene was taught, real, and very powerful. Continue reading


Trigger Warnings: What We Fear

By Bailey Pickens

At the end of August, John Ellison, dean of the University of Chicago, joined the ranks of many an essayist penning searing critiques of something that does not exist.

Trigger warnings and their ostensible sidekick, the safe space, have featured regularly in the news and essays of cultural criticism in the last year, since protests at schools like Yale and the University of Missouri sent them rocketing to the forefront of the national consciousness. Piece after piece, by writers ranging from the quite conservative to the avowedly liberal and even the leftist, declares trigger warnings and safe spaces indicative of weakness of intellect, character, or courage on the part of students: these millennials are coddled, unwilling to engage with ideas in conflict with their own opinions, demanding that the university bend itself to their every emotional whim. In short, they are antithetical to everything the Western academy stands for. Continue reading


Why Does Korean Literature Use an Alphabet?

By Charles Montgomery

The LARB Korea Blog is currently featuring selections from The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation, Charles Montgomery’s book-in-progress that attempts to provide a concise history, and understanding, of Korean literature as represented in translation. You can find links to previous selections at the end of the post.

Perhaps the most important advancement for Korean literature in the Middle Ages was the development of the Korean alphabet, hangul. Chinese had historically been the language of the literati, but the development of a national literature required a writing system of Korea’s own. Continue reading


Wish You Were Here: The Virtues of Banality

By Maximillian Alvarez

I. “Love in the Ruins”

When I begin to lose hope—when I sense that I am, in the most existentially sticky way, wasting time—I think of the things I’ll really miss about this place.

I love driving, for instance. Driving lets me think. But driving alone with certain playlists going can have the effect of running a hose from the tailpipe to my window: endlessly masochistic, even suicidally so. My eyes sink back like shriveling fruit and the car fills up with heavy, odorless thoughts. Continue reading


Looking for Ghosts in the Quietest Place in Beijing

By Jonathan Chatwin

On my first visit to Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery – China’s national cemetery, and resting place of the founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party – I had been refused entry at the gate by a zealous teenage guard, who, somewhat incredulous at my pressing for an explanation, had simply observed “Ni shi waiguoren” – “You’re a foreigner” – and walked back to his hut. I thus decided, for my return attempt, to enlist my Chinese friend Christy, who, experience had taught me, could generally talk her way into most places, and out of most situations. Continue reading


Wangsimni, My Hometown: a Gangster (and a Filmmaker’s) Pledge of Devotion to Korea

By Colin Marshall

This is one in a series of essays on important pieces of Korean cinema freely available on the Korean Film Archive’s Youtube channel. You can watch this month’s movie here and find links to previously featured movies below.

If you want to go see a movie in Seoul, you might well go to Wangsimni. Right above the neighborhood’s station on the central circular subway line stands a high-rise shopping complex whose multiplex theater boasts the largest IMAX screen in the country. It went up less than a decade ago, in 2008, but Seoul changes quickly. This has held true at least since the end of the devastating Korean War, when the capital of the new state of South Korea had nothing to do but develop. Still, Seoul remained in fairly rough shape a decade later, in the early 1960s, the time in which the protagonist of 1976’s Wangsimni, My Hometown (왕십리) last saw his homeland. Continue reading


From Vancouver to Tiananmen — A Review of Madeleine Thien’s Latest Book

By Michael Rank

The extraordinary upheavals that China has undergone over the past fifty years call for an epic novel depicting great suffering as well as hope and joy.  Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which focuses on the experiences of a family of musicians from the time of the Anti-rightist Campaign of the late 1950s to the Tiananmen Square protests and June 4th Massacre of 1989, attempts to be that novel. Continue reading


How Did Korea Get Fiction in the First Place?

By Charles Montgomery

The LARB Korea Blog is currently featuring selections from The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation, Charles Montgomery’s book-in-progress that attempts to provide a concise history, and understanding, of Korean literature as represented in translation. You can read the first selection here and the second here.

Korea’s literary preferences have historically leaned toward poetry and song, a common condition in pre-print cultures as rhythm and rhyme make them easy to memorize. Even when reliable tools for writing were perfected, the survival of written materials remained quite uncertain. Unless inscribed in rock, writing is very fragile, especially when contained in bamboo books in an age when Korea often suffered invasions and had its cities looted. Consequently poetry, including poetry sung and chanted, came down from memory to memory as first form of Korean literature, just like Homer’s Odyssey in the West. Continue reading