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
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
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
By Paul French
A boring Englishman leaves home one morning to post a letter while his wife runs the vacuum cleaner over the upstairs carpets. He doesn’t come back. Instead he walks from one end of England to the other. Not, one would think, an immediately attractive scenario for a novel that has been read by millions of Chinese readers in the PRC and Taiwan and topped the book charts in both countries. Yet it has. Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, got rave reviews in the UK when it was first published in 2012, became a bestseller, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker. Fine, but what’s got Chinese readers so captivated about boring English everyman Harold Fry? Continue reading
By Austin Dean
The writer Xiao Hong is everywhere in China these days. Her face recently graced the covers of a score of newspapers and magazines; the publication Sanlian Weekly devoted over thirty pages to her; billboards advertised the recently released film about her career. In fact, the new film The Golden Era is the second Xiao Hong biopic to come out in the space of just two years—the first one, Fallen Flowers, hit theaters in March 2013. A remarkable accomplishment, particularly since Xiao published most of her work in the 1920s and 1930s and passed away in 1942. Continue reading
By Paul French
We generally think of Shanghai between the world wars as unique, a one-off city forming a crossroads between East and West. It was, according to this line of thinking, unique in being a place representing the modern in a country largely composed of the ancient. This vision of it is compelling, but one can’t help reading Charles King’s excellent new biography of inter-war Istanbul – Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul – without drawing comparisons between the city on the Bosphorus and the city on the Huangpoo. The similarities are legion: in general, both were forward-looking cities in countries that had suffered long-term decline in economic and political power; both were cities that, although not capitals, became the fulcrums of their national politics; and both were cities that sought modernity with a humongous appetite for the novel and the cosmopolitan. Continue reading
By Lorand Laskai
October 3: While the world is watching Occupy Central, one group has gone beyond mere spectating. Six nights ago when students in Hong Kong braved waves of tear gas, after days of trying unsuccessfully to occupy the park in front of the government headquarters, another site of the Hong Kong government came under occupation: the Hong Kong Economic and Cooperation Exchange office in Taipei. The occupiers—Taiwanese students. Continue reading
By Austin Dean
Han Han—author, blogger, high-school drop out, racecar driver, provocateur, and spokesperson for a car-seat manufacturer—recently branched out into movies, directing The Continent. The film follows the story of three young men from an island off the east coast of China as they travel together to take one of their ranks to his new teaching position in the far west of China. Along the way, they meet up with old friends and come across new acquaintances of dubious character; hijinks and reflections on life, love, and friendship, ensue. The film has drawn a good deal of criticism. There have been accusations that Han Han is stealing ideas from others in the film, and commentaries on what he symbolizes in the current Chinese cultural moment. In other words, it was a pretty normal news cycle for anything involving Han Han. Overlooked in these larger debates, however, is a subtler point: that the road trip is now a part of the Chinese as well as the American imagination. Continue reading
By Jeffrey Wasserstrom
“In Taiwan, Teens Protest Statues Honoring Former Ruler Chiang Kai-shek,”
Los Angeles Times headline, August 11, 2014
Like other historians of modern China, I give a fair number of class lectures that deal with Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), aka “The Generalissimo,” who was the most powerful man on the Chinese mainland from the late 1920s until 1949 and held that position in Taiwan from that point until his death. Not many of us, though, really warm to him. I know I never have. He comes across in most accounts as stiff and autocratic, and even sympathetic biographers seem impatient to switch from talking about him to telling stories about his glamorous Wellesley-educated wife, Soong Mei-ling. I’ve always been left cold by his speeches and writings, feeling they awkwardly tried to fuse two things that don’t really go together: adulation of Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionary vision, on the one hand, and veneration of traditional values and orderliness a la Confucius, on the other. And yet, seeing that Los Angeles Times headline last month, I almost felt sorry for the Generalissimo.
By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham
At precisely 6:35pm on a Thursday night, exactly as scheduled, the ChinaTrust Brother Elephants took the field at Taipei’s Xinzhuang Stadium, their bumblebee-yellow uniforms sharp against the deep green of the grass. Alone, with nearly an entire section of the outfield stands to myself, I leaned back in my seat and watched the first Uni-President 7-Eleven Lion step into the batter’s box. I had no idea who he was or how his season was going. I didn’t know who was pitching, or which team had the better record.
I didn’t care. I just wanted to watch a baseball game. Continue reading