A Chinese Novelist Is Found in Translation

Taras Grescoe
New York Times
Xue Yiwei, who has been hailed as China’s “most charismatic literary stylist,” is virtually unknown among English-language readers.

Viewpoint

10.20.17

Mao Wished He Could Upend the World Order. Does Xi?

Sergey Radchenko
In his October 18 speech opening the 19th Party Congress, Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping cautiously embraced the future. Eyeing thousands of Party delegates, Xi spoke for three-and-a-half hours about turning China into a “great modern...

Chinese Village Where Xi Jinping Fled Is Now a Monument to His Power

Chris Buckley
New York Times
Almost 50 years after Xi Jinping first trudged into this village as a cold, bewildered teenager, hundreds of political pilgrims retrace his footsteps every day. They follow a well-trod course designed to show how the seven years that the young Mr...

Touching on History, a Chinese Film May Have Been Burned by It

Chris Buckley
New York Times
One of China’s most popular directors, Feng Xiaogang, was determined to triumph at the box office with the release of his new film “Youth” during the weeklong National Day holiday. But then Mr. Feng’s premiere was abruptly canceled.

When the Law Meets the Party

Ian Johnson
Like an army defeated but undestroyed, China’s decades-long human rights movement keeps reassembling its lines after each disastrous loss, miraculously fielding new forces in the battle against an illiberal state. Each time, foot soldiers and...

Books

06.28.17

No Wall Too High

Erling Hoh
“It was impossible. All of China was a prison in those days.”Mao Zedong’s labor reform camps, known as the laogai, were notoriously brutal. Modeled on the Soviet Gulag, they subjected their inmates to backbreaking labor, malnutrition, and vindictive wardens. They were thought to be impossible to escape—but one man did.Xu Hongci was a bright young student at the Shanghai No. 1 Medical College, spending his days studying to be a professor and going to the movies with his girlfriend. He was also an idealistic and loyal member of the Communist Party and was generally liked and well respected. But when Mao delivered his famous February 1957 speech inviting “a hundred schools of thought [to] contend,” an earnest Xu Hongci responded by posting a criticism of the Party—a near-fatal misstep. He soon found himself a victim of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, condemned to spend the next 14 years in the laogai.Xu Hongci became one of the roughly 550,000 Chinese unjustly imprisoned after the spring of 1957, and despite the horrific conditions and terrible odds, he was determined to escape. He failed three times before finally succeeding, in 1972, in what was an amazing and arduous triumph.Originally published in Hong Kong, Xu Hongci’s remarkable memoir recounts his life from childhood through his final prison break. After discovering his story in a Hong Kong library, the journalist Erling Hoh tracked down the original manuscript and compiled this condensed translation, which includes background on this turbulent period, an epilogue that follows Xu Hongci up to his death, and Xu Hongci’s own drawings and maps. Both a historical narrative and an exhilarating prison-break thriller, No Wall Too High tells the unique story of a man who insisted on freedom—even under the most treacherous circumstances. —Farrar, Straus and Giroux{chop}

Books

05.08.17

The Souls of China

Ian Johnson
From journalist Ian Johnson, a revelatory portrait of religion in China today—its history, the spiritual traditions of its Eastern and Western faiths, and the ways in which it is influencing China’s future.The Souls of China tells the story of one of the world’s great spiritual revivals. Following a century of violent anti-religious campaigns, China is now filled with new temples, churches, and mosques—as well as cults, sects, and politicians trying to harness religion for their own ends. Driving this explosion of faith is uncertainty over what it means to be Chinese and how to live an ethical life in a country that discarded traditional morality a century ago and is searching for new guideposts.Johnson first visited China in 1984. In the 1990s, he helped run a charity to rebuild Daoist temples, and in 2001 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. While researching this book, he lived for extended periods with underground church members, rural Daoists, and Buddhist pilgrims. Along the way, he learned esoteric meditation techniques, visited a nonagenarian Confucian sage, and befriended government propagandists as they fashioned a remarkable embrace of traditional values. He has distilled these experiences into a cycle of festivals, births, deaths, detentions, and struggle—a great awakening of faith that is shaping the soul of the world’s newest superpower. —Pantheon{chop}

Liberating China’s Past

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
With the closing of this month’s National People’s Congress, China’s political season is upon us. It will culminate in the autumn with Xi Jinping’s almost certain reappointment to another five-year term. With Xi rapidly becoming the most important...

Books

03.08.17

The Killing Wind

Tan Hecheng, translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian
Over the course of 66 days in 1967, more than 4,000 “class enemies”—including young children and the elderly—were murdered in Daoxian, a county in China’s Hunan province. The killings spread to surrounding counties, resulting in a combined death toll of more than 9,000. Commonly known as the Daoxian massacre, the killings were one of many acts of so-called mass dictatorship and armed factional conflict that rocked China during the Cultural Revolution. However, in spite of the scope and brutality of the killings, there are few detailed accounts of mass killings in China’s countryside during the Cultural Revolution’s most tumultuous years.Years after the massacre, journalist Tan Hecheng was sent to Daoxian to report on an official investigation into the killings. Tan was prevented from publishing his findings in China, but in 2010, he published the Chinese edition of The Killing Wind in Hong Kong. Tan’s first-hand investigation of the atrocities, accumulated over the course of more than 20 years, blends his research with the recollections of survivors to provide a vivid account exploring how and why the massacre took place and describing its aftermath. Dispelling the heroic aura of class struggle, Tan reveals that most of the Daoxian massacre’s victims were hard-working, peaceful members of the rural middle class blacklisted as landlords or rich peasants. Tan also describes how political pressure and brainwashing turned ordinary people into heartless killing machines.More than a catalog of horrors, The Killing Wind is also a poignant meditation on memory, moral culpability, and the failure of the Chinese government to come to terms with the crimes of the Maoist era. By painting a detailed portrait of this massacre, Tan makes a broader argument about the long-term consequences of the Cultural Revolution, one of the most violent political movements of the twentieth century. A compelling testament to the victims and survivors of the Daoxian massacre, The Killing Wind is a monument to historical truth—one that fills an immense gap in our understanding of the Mao era, the Cultural Revolution, and the status of truth in contemporary China. —Oxford University Press{chop}

Books

02.07.17

Shanghai Faithful

Jennifer Lin
Within the next decade, China could be home to more Christians than any other country in the world. Through the 150-year saga of a single family, this book vividly dramatizes the remarkable religious evolution of the world’s most populous nation. Shanghai Faithful is both a touching family memoir and a chronicle of the astonishing spread of Christianity in China. Five generations of the Lin family—buffeted by history’s crosscurrents and personal strife—bring to life an epoch that is still unfolding.A compelling cast—a poor fisherman, a doctor who treated opium addicts, an Ivy League-educated priest, and the charismatic preacher Watchman Nee—sets the book in motion. Veteran journalist Jennifer Lin takes readers from remote nineteenth-century mission outposts to the thriving house churches and cathedrals of today’s China. The Lin family—and the book’s central figure, the Reverend Lin Pu-chi—offer witness to China’s tumultuous past, up to and beyond the betrayals and madness of the Cultural Revolution, when the family’s resolute faith led to years of suffering. Forgiveness and redemption bring the story full circle. With its sweep of history and the intimacy of long-hidden family stories, Shanghai Faithful offers a fresh look at Christianity in China—past, present, and future. —Rowman & Littlefield{chop}

When the Chinese Were Unspeakable

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
The Xiao River rushes deep and clear out of the mountains of southern China into a narrow plain of paddies and villages. At first little more than an angry stream, it begins to meander and grow as the basin’s 63 other creeks and brooks flow into it...

China’s Hidden Massacres: An Interview with Tan Hecheng

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Tan Hecheng might seem an unlikely person to expose one of the most shocking crimes of the Chinese Communist Party. A congenial 67-year-old who spent most of his life in southern Hunan province away from the seats of power, Tan is no dissident. In...

Books

01.04.17

The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom
This lavishly illustrated volume explores the history of China during a period of dramatic shifts and surprising transformations, from the founding of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) through to the present day.The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China promises to be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand this rising superpower on the verge of what promises to be the “Chinese century,” introducing readers to important but often overlooked events in China’s past, such as the bloody Taiping Civil War (1850-1864), which had a death toll far higher than the roughly contemporaneous American Civil War. It also helps readers see more familiar landmarks in Chinese history in new ways, such as the Opium War (1839-1842), the Boxer Uprising of 1900, the rise to power of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, and the Tiananmen protests and Beijing Massacre of 1989.This is one of the first major efforts—and in many ways the most ambitious to date—to come to terms with the broad sweep of modern Chinese history, taking readers from the origins of modern China right up through the dramatic events of the last few years (the Beijing Games, the financial crisis, and China’s rise to global economic pre-eminence) which have so fundamentally altered Western views of China and China’s place in the world. —Oxford University Press{chop}

Inside and Outside the System: Chinese Writer Hu Fayun

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Over the summer, I traveled to Wuhan to continue my series of talks with people about the challenges facing China. Coming here was part of an effort to break out of the black hole of Beijing politics and explore the view from China’s vast hinterland...

An Exiled Editor Traces the Roots of Democratic Thought in China

Luo Siling
New York Times
An interview with Hu Ping, editor of the pro-democracy journal "Beijing Spring," based in New York...

China: The Virtues of the Awful Convulsion

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
For decades, Beijing’s Beihai Park has been one of the city’s most beloved retreats—a strip of green around a grand lake to the north of the Communist Party’s leadership compound, its waters crowded with electric rental boats shaped like ducks and...

Researcher Uncovers How Victims of China’s Cultural Revolution Really Died

Violet Law
Los Angeles Times
Her persistence has pierced the official silence enforced by the Chinese government. As time goes on, families of those who died are more willing to open up

Books

10.11.16

The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China

Guobin Yang
Raised to be “flowers of the nation,” the first generation born after the founding of the People’s Republic of China was united in its political outlook and ambitions. Its members embraced the Cultural Revolution of 1966 but soon split into warring factions. Guobin Yang investigates the causes of this fracture and argues that Chinese youth engaged in an imaginary revolution from 1966 to 1968, enacting a political mythology that encouraged violence as a way to prove one’s revolutionary credentials. This same competitive dynamic would later turn the Red Guard against the communist government.Throughout the 1970s, the majority of Red Guard youth were sent to work in rural villages. These relocated revolutionaries developed an appreciation for the values of ordinary life, and an underground cultural movement was born. Rejecting idolatry, their new form of resistance marked a distinct reversal of Red Guard radicalism and signaled a new era of enlightenment, culminating in the Democracy Wall movement of the late 1970s and, finally, the Tiananmen protest of 1989. Yang completes his significant recasting of Red Guard activism with a chapter on the politics of history and memory, arguing that contemporary memories of the Cultural Revolution are factionalized along the lines of political division that formed 50 years before. —Columbia University Press{chop}

Fate Catches Up to a Cultural Revolution Museum in China

Didi Kirsten Tatlow
New York Times
The museum was covered up and shut down in the spring, a few weeks before the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution.

Viewpoint

09.08.16

Mao the Man, Mao the God

Sergey Radchenko
Mao Zedong was dying a slow, agonizing death. Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in July 1974, he gradually lost control of his motor functions. His gait was unsure. He slurred his speech and panted heavily. The decline was...

Sinica Podcast

08.31.16

What Is Cultural About the Cultural Revolution? Creativity Amid Destruction

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, a chaotic decade of Chinese history made infamous in the West through books such as Wild Swans and Life and Death in Shanghai, which describe in horrific detail the...

Depth of Field

07.01.16

Tornados and Drag Queens

Ye Ming, Yan Cong & more from Yuanjin Photo
Being a photojournalist involves reacting to breaking news, a dedication to long-term projects, and everything in between. This month’s showcase of work by Chinese photographers published in Chinese media underscores this range of angles: from the...

190 Chinese LGBT Groups Condemn Orlando Club Shooting

Bai Tiantian
Global Times
China’s activists join the global fight for equality....

Depth of Field

05.31.16

Families, Weddings, and Beekeepers

Ye Ming, Yan Cong & more from Yuanjin Photo
This month’s Depth of Field column brings the stories of Chinese adoption; the marriage ceremony of Hu Mingliang and Sun Wenlin, a gay couple who filed the first civil rights marriage lawsuit to be accepted by a Chinese court (they lost); beekeepers...

The Heritage of a Great Man

Freeman Dyson from New York Review of Books
Why did communism grow deep roots and survive in China, while it withered and died in Russia? This is one of the central questions of modern history. A plausible answer to the question is that communism in China resonated with the two-thousand-year-...

Media

05.18.16

My Uncle Was a Red Guard in the Cultural Revolution—He Isn’t Sorry

Lishui is the nickname for my uncle, a farmer who has lived all his life in the suburbs of Tianjin, a big city in northeastern China. Whenever people talk about Lishui, my mother’s older brother, they always say: “Lishui is a nice guy, honest,...

China Breaks Official Silence on Cultural Revolution's 'Decade of Calamity'

Tom Phillips
Guardian
Communist party’s decision not to address the anniversary until 24 hours after it had passed underlined its discomfort.

China's Cultural Revolution: 50th Anniversary Unmarked by State Media

Stephen McDonell
BBC
How to handle the era's contentious legacy has remained a challenge to China's Communist rulers to this day...

How the Cultural Revolution Changed China Forever

James Griffiths
CNN
Frank Dikotter, author of The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, discusses the turning point in modern Chinese history...

Controversial Concert Spoils China's Plans to Bury Cultural Revolution Anniversary

Simon Denyer
Washington Post
A “symphonic concert of socialist classic songs” staged earlier this month has provoked widespread outrage.

Sinica Podcast

05.09.16

The Cultural Revolution at Fifty

Kaiser Kuo, David Moser & more from Sinica Podcast
Fifty years ago, Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, inaugurating a decade of political turmoil with his calls for young people to “bombard the headquarters.” In this special live edition of our podcast recorded at The...

Controversy Sparked Online by ‘Red Songs’ at Concert in Beijing

Nectar Gan
South China Morning Post
Music from the turbulent period of the Cultural Revolution was featured prominently at event at the Great Hall of the People.

Q. and A.: Roderick MacFarquhar on the Cultural Revolution and China Today

Helen Gao
New York Times
Interest of the Cultural Revolution, unleashed by Mao Zedong 50 years ago, has grown recently.

Conversation

04.19.16

Fifty Years Later, How Is the Cultural Revolution Still Present in Life in China?

Guobin Yang, Federico Pachetti & more
Fifty years ago this May 16, Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a chaotic, terrifying, and often deadly decade-long campaign to “purify” C.C.P. ideology and reassert his political dominance...

Culture

04.19.16

A Newly Translated Book Revisits Japan and China’s Wartime History

Karen Ma
Award-winning screenwriter and author Geling Yan has written more than 20 novels and short story collections about China, many adapted to film or TV, including Coming Home and The Flowers of War, both of which became feature films directed by Zhang...

Reality Show Singer Breaks China's Cultural Revolution Taboo

Tom Phillips
Guardian
Yang Le sings of how he lost his father in Mao’s crackdown on perceived enemies 50 years ago.

China: The Benefits of Persecution?

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
During decades of reading and reviewing books on China I have learned a great deal, even from those I didn’t like. Only a few have surprised me. Mao’s Lost Children is such a book, and those like me who believe that the Mao period was bad for China...

Conversation

03.04.16

Xi Jinping: A Cult of Personality?

Jonathan Landreth, Taisu Zhang & more
By some accounts, Chinese Presdient Xi Jinping is the most powerful leader the country has  had since Mao Zedong. One arrow in his quiver that echoes Mao’s armory is Xi’s embrace of popular song, listened to these days not on the radio or...

Q. and A.: Zha Jianying on Remembering the Cultural Revolution

Jan Perlez
New York Times
Ji Xianlin's The Cowshed offers a rare and harrowing description of life as a prisoner of the Red Guards...

Media

02.02.16

When Push Comes to Shove—Movies, China, and the World

Jonathan Landreth from China Film Insider
The moviemaking dance the United States is doing with China is picking up pace. The Asian giant’s audience influence is soaring as estimates show that Chinese box office returns could overtake American ticket sales this year or next. Parity in...

Caixin Media

12.02.15

Zhang Zhixin: The Woman who Took on the ‘Gang of Four’

Sheila Melvin
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The desire not to dwell on that tumultuous decade, after half a century has passed, is understandable, but the failure to reflect on its impact, offer a full...

Ever Wonder How China Got Back Into International Diplomacy After the Cultural Revolution?

Robert Farley
Diplomat
China’s successful entry into the international scene after the Cultural Revolution bears lessons for other pariah states.

The Bloodthirsty Deng We Didn’t Know

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
“Deng was…a bloody dictator who, along with Mao, was responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people, thanks to the terrible social reforms and unprecedented famine of 1958–1962.” This is the conclusion of Alexander Pantsov and Steven...

China Burnishes Xi Jinping’s Legend With TV Drama of His Years in Rural Hamlet

Tom Phillips
Guardian
Chinese bloggers label 45-part drama called Liangjiahe as latest homage to omnipotent ‘Big Daddy Xi’.

Culture

10.02.15

In Zhang Yimou’s ‘Coming Home’ History is Muted But Not Silent

Eva Shan Chou
Coming Home, directed by the celebrated Zhang Yimou and released in the U.S. last week, begins as a man escapes a labor camp in China’s northwest and tries to return home. But he is captured when he and his wife attempt to meet, after their daughter...

Cultural Revolution Shaped Xi Jinping, From Schoolboy to Survivor

CHRIS BUCKLEY and DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
New York Times
When the pandemonium of the Cultural Revolution erupted, he was a 13-year-old who loved classical Chinese poetry. Two years later, adrift in a city torn apart by warring Red Guards, Xi Jinping had hardened into a combative street survivor.

Cultural Revolution Shaped Xi Jinping, From Schoolboy to Survivor

CHRIS BUCKLEY and DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
New York Times
Visiting the United States this week, Mr. Xi, 62, has presented himself as a polished statesman.

Culture

09.11.15

French Director’s Chinese Movie Balances Freedom With Compromise

Jonathan Landreth
In 2012, French movie director Jean-Jacques Annaud got a warm welcome in China after more than a dozen years as persona non grata there for having offended official Chinese Communist Party history with his 1997 film Seven Years in Tibet—the story of...

The Important Anniversary China Won’t Celebrate in 2016

Kerry Brown
Diplomat
May 16, 1966 marked the start of the Cultural Revolution—but don’t except China to publicize the anniversary.

Environment

09.03.15

The Yellow River: A History of China’s Water Crisis

from chinadialogue
During the hot, dry month of August 1992, the farmers of Baishan village in Hebei province and Panyang village in Henan came to blows. Residents from each village hurled insults and rudimentary explosives at the other across the Zhang River—the...

Features

06.16.15

Does Xi Jinping Represent a Return to the Mao Era?

Andrew G. Walder, Roderick MacFarquhar & more
Following is an edited transcript of a live event hosted at Asia Society New York on May 21, 2015, “ChinaFile Presents: Does Xi Jinping Represent a Return to the Politics of the Mao Era?” The evening convened the scholars Roderick MacFarquhar and...

Books

06.02.15

China Under Mao

Andrew G. Walder
China’s Communist Party seized power in 1949 after a long period of guerrilla insurgency followed by full-scale war, but the Chinese revolution was just beginning. China Under Mao narrates the rise and fall of the Maoist revolutionary state from 1949 to 1976—an epoch of startling accomplishments and disastrous failures, steered by many forces but dominated above all by Mao Zedong.Mao’s China, Andrew Walder argues, was defined by two distinctive institutions established during the first decade of Communist Party rule: a Party apparatus that exercised firm (sometimes harsh) discipline over its members and cadres; and a socialist economy modeled after the Soviet Union. Although a large national bureaucracy had oversight of this authoritarian system, Mao intervened strongly at every turn. The doctrines and political organization that produced Mao’s greatest achievements―victory in the civil war, the creation of China’s first unified modern state, a historic transformation of urban and rural life—also generated his worst failures: the industrial depression and rural famine of the Great Leap Forward and the violent destruction and stagnation of the Cultural Revolution.Misdiagnosing China’s problems as capitalist restoration and prescribing continuing class struggle against imaginary enemies as the solution, Mao ruined much of what he had built and created no viable alternative. At the time of his death, he left China backward and deeply divided.—Harvard University Press{chop}{node, 16186, 4}

Culture

06.01.15

Chinese Writers and Chinese Reality

Ouyang Bin
My first encounter with Liu Zhenyun was in 2003. At the time, cell phones had just become available in China and they were complicating people’s relationships. I witnessed a couple break up because of the secrets stored on a phone. I watched people...

China’s Invisible History: An Interview with Filmmaker and Artist Hu Jie

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Though none of his works have been publicly shown in China, Hu Jie is one of his country’s most noteworthy filmmakers. He is best known for his trilogy of documentaries about Maoist China, which includes Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul (2004), telling...

Media

05.26.15

Weighing Mao’s Legacy in China Today

Roderick MacFarquhar, Susan Shirk & more
At the May 21 Asia Society event ChinaFile Presents: Does Xi Jinping Represent a Return to the Politics of the Mao Era?, a discussion of author Andrew Walder’s new book, China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed, sparked a lively debate about the...

Mao’s China: The Language Game

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
It can be embarrassing for a China scholar like me to read Eileen Chang’s pellucid prose, written more than sixty years ago, on the early years of the People’s Republic of China. How many cudgels to the head did I need before arriving at comparable...

Books

04.09.15

Revolutionary Cycles in Chinese Cinema, 1951-1979

Zhuoyi Wang
A comprehensive history of how the conflicts and balances of power in the Maoist revolutionary campaigns from 1951 to 1979 complicated and diversified the meanings of films, this book offers a discursive study of the development of early PRC cinema. Wang closely investigates how film artists, Communist Party authorities, cultural bureaucrats, critics, and audiences negotiated, competed, and struggled with each other for the power to decide how to use films and how their extensively different, agonistic, and antagonistic power strategies created an ever-changing discursive network of meaning in cinema. —Palgrave Macmillan{chop}

Culture

03.23.15

Wordplay

Nicholas Griffin
Way back when, let’s say in 2012, the city of Miami and the country of China rarely mixed in sentences. Since then, connections between the Far East and the northernmost part of Latin America have become more and more frequent. Three years ago, a...

Video

09.18.14

Collecting Insanity

Joshua Frank
Every country has a past it likes to celebrate and another it would rather forget. In China, where history still falls under the tight control of government-run museums and officially approved textbooks, the omissions appear especially stark. An...

Zhang Tiesheng: From Leftist Hero to Multimillionaire

Tania Branigan
Guardian
Zhang was 22 when he came to national attention in 1973, after he wrote to leaders excoriating the examination as a return to the capitalist model of education. Now 63, he is a major shareholder in the publicly-traded Wellhope Agri-Tech.