Many twelve-month periods witness the publication of one or two significant books by talented journalists with long experience covering China. 2014 was special, though, due to seeing not just an unusually large number but also a great variety of works of this sort appear. It was the year, for example, of Howard French’s China’s Second Continent, an ethnographically minded work based on interviews conducted with Chinese migrants in Africa, and also of the largely Beijing-set spy thriller Night Heron, by Adam Brookes. These two books have nothing in common save for the fact that both are by authors with a deep understanding of China, derived from their long experience covering the country — in French’s case for the New York Times, in Brookes’s for the BBC. And neither of those two 2014 publications were much like either of the ones flagged in the title of this post, which were part of the same bumper crop of China books. The first of these, by Louisa Lim, offers a detailed look at the legacy and contested memory of 1989’s protests and massacres, while the second, by Evan Osnos, provides a profile-driven survey of the current Chinese political and social scenes. Continue reading
By Austin Dean
The rhythms of social media are everywhere the same: a story goes viral, peaks, and fades away. A few weeks ago one of the biggest stories on Chinese social media was a comment made by Wang Sicong, the son of one of China’s wealthiest men, Wang Jianlin. When asked about what kind of person he hoped to find as a girlfriend, the younger Wang replied that he really only has thing in mind: she must be quite buxom.
Even though Wang Sicong quickly dismissed the comment as a joke, it did not take long for Chinese media to pounce. The next day, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, posted a less-than-cryptic message that complained, “There are certain celebrities that recklessly disseminate vulgar information … from the worship of money to sex and violence.” They seem to have had the younger Wang in mind. Soon thereafter the scandal had a name: “Buxomgate.” Several days later the elder Wang wrote off his son’s comments as a function of spending so much time living and studying outside China: “He went overseas to study at grade one and he has a Western-style of thinking,” said Wang. “Maybe after spending five or eight years in China, he will truly become Chinese.” Meaning, presumably, either less appreciative of women’s breast size, or less apt to comment publicly on his admiration of it. Continue reading
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
By Alec Ash
It was the first day of the Chinese new year  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
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
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
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
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, Who’s 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
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
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