After Winding Odyssey, Tibetan Texts Find Home

Sophie Beach
China Digital Times
An American scholar of Tibet has collected thousands of Tibetan language books and donated them to Chengdu’s Southwest University for Nationalities.

China’s Way to Happiness

Ian Johnson
New York Review of Books
The return of collective religious traditions is part of Chinese people's search for meaning and stability...

China’s Temporary-Worker Ploy

Murong Xuecun
New York Times
Scandals are often blamed on lin shi gong, or “temporary workers," but why have they been hired in the first place?...

Viewpoint

01.14.14

Xi, Mao, and China’s Search for a Usable Past

Paul Gewirtz
Since its founding, the United States has had understandable pride in its great achievements, but also has had to reckon with its complex moral history—beginning but hardly ending with the fact that our original Constitution accepted the evil of...

China of My Mind

Virginia Pye
New York Times
When I tell people that I have recently published a novel set in China, one of the first questions they ask is whether I’ve been there. My response seems to be a letdown.

China: Five Pounds of Facts

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
No one seems to have measured exactly how old Chinese civilization is, but Endymion Wilkinson can probably give a more precise answer than anyone else. “1.6 billion minutes separate us from the Zhou conquest of the Shang,” he informs us at the...

The Surprising Empress

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In the mid-1950s, when I was a graduate student of Chinese history, the Manchu Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) was invariably condemned as a reactionary hate figure; Mao Zedong was admired. In the textbooks of that time, leading American scholars...

Sinica Podcast

10.11.13

Steven Schwankert and the HMS Poseidon

Kaiser Kuo & Jeremy Goldkorn from Sinica Podcast
When the HMS Poseidon struck a Chinese freighter in the Gulf of Bohai in 1931, the collision sparked a devastating accident that would see the British submarine plunge to the ocean floor in mere minutes, claiming the lives of nearly half the crew,...

Sinica Podcast

09.27.13

Laszlo Montgomery and the China History Podcast

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
The broken chopstick fell to our studio floor, its shaft splintered beyond repair where Laszlo had snapped it between his fingers. “Alone we are weak,” he looked Jeremy and Kaiser in the eyes while those of us outside the studio wondered faintly who...

The Man Who Got It Right

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
1.Near the beginning of Simon Leys’ marvelous collection of essays is an odd polemic between the author and the late Christopher Hitchens, fought out in these very pages. Leys takes Hitchens to task for attacking Mother Teresa in a book entitled The...

Media

07.29.13

On “Wealth and Power”

Authors Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society, and John Delury, Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies at Yonsei University in South Korea, joined Jonathan Spence, Professor of History at Yale...

Media

07.10.13

Old Photo of Tiananmen Square Has Netizens Asking “What’s Wrong With This Picture?”

A rare old color photo of Tiananmen Square was posted on Weibo, China’s Twitter, and it was commented on hundreds of times as Internet users mused about the past and present of China’s most recognizable landmark.Here are the three things that stand...

Excerpts

07.02.13

Rejuvenation (复兴)

Orville Schell & John Delury
If any of the makers of modern China who agonized over their country’s enfeebled state and dreamed of better times during the past century and a half could have visited Beijing’s Pangu Plaza today, they would hardly believe their eyes. Pangu’s...

Media

06.04.13

On Eve of Tiananmen Anniversary, China’s Prominent Weiborati Speak Out

“Don’t worry about forgetfulness—at least the Sina censors remember,” tweeted Jia Zhangke, a film director.Like 2013, 1989 was the year of the Snake on the Chinese calendar. It was also a year that Chinese authorities prefer not to remember. On the...

Sinica Podcast

03.15.13

A Discussion with Geremie R. Barmé

Kaiser Kuo & Geremie R. Barmé from Sinica Podcast
On March 8, Kaiser Kuo hosted a conversation at Capital M in Beijing with Geremie R. Barmé, the well-known Sinologist and now Director of the Australian Centre for China in the World, as part of the Capital Literary Festival. This week on Sinica, we...

A Test Case for the Communist Party’s Commitment to Reform

Yiyi Lu
Wall Street Journal
Critics say the Party can't hold power much longer if fundamental reforms are not introduced – a notion echoed by an essay in the latest issue of the CCP’s own theoretical journal, Seeking Truth...

Sinica Podcast

09.28.12

An Evening at the Beijing Bookworm

Jeremy Goldkorn, Ian Johnson & more from Sinica Podcast
On September 13, Sinica co-host Jeremy Goldkorn was delighted to chair a panel discussion at the Beijing Bookworm with authors Ian Johnson and Christina Larson, two well-known China journalists and now contributors to Chinese Characters, a...

Sinica Podcast

06.29.12

The Manchu Legacy

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
Archers, tiger hunters, and horse-riders from beyond the Great Wall, the Manchu people made their first mark on history as founders of the Northern Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) before consolidating their influence in 1644 when their militaristic society...

Sinica Podcast

05.25.12

The Indiana Jones of China

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
After his controversial involvement with the Tarim mummy excavations in Western Xinjiang, Victor Mair might just be the closest thing Sinology has to Indiana Jones, assuming the fictional Spielberg character was a renowned linguist, translator, and...

Learning How to Argue

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
One of China’s most outspoken public intellectuals, Ran Yunfei was detained last year after calls went out for China to emulate the “Jasmine Revolution” protests sweeping North Africa. He was held without trial for six months until last August...

Books

09.21.11

China: A History

Harold M. Tanner
Eminently accessible, yet rigorous, this engaging introduction to the political, social, and cultural development of Chinese civilization tells the story of China—from its beginnings to the present day—in a way that goes beyond simple, misleading accounts of a glorious civilization falling victim to Western and Japanese imperialism or of a supposedly isolated country only recently and reluctantly opening to the outside world. Woven into the narrative are the striking stories of heroes and villains, of women and men, of tragedy and comedy, of high culture and coarse humor, of extremes of wealth and poverty, of feast and famine, and of exquisite art and terrible suffering. Characteristic of Harold Tanner's presentation is the development and carefully balanced recounting of important themes—such as the ethnic diversity of the early empires, interaction with other civilizations, and the challenge of transforming a multi-ethnic empire into a modern nation-state—that other histories of China omit entirely or discuss only minimally.   —Hackett Publishing Company

Books

09.15.11

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

Ezra Vogel
Harvard University Press: Perhaps no one in the twentieth century had a greater long-term impact on world history than Deng Xiaoping. And no scholar of contemporary East Asian history and culture is better qualified than Ezra Vogel to disentangle the many contradictions embodied in the life and legacy of China’s boldest strategist. Once described by Mao Zedong as a “needle inside a ball of cotton,” Deng was the pragmatic yet disciplined driving force behind China’s radical transformation in the late twentieth century. He confronted the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution, dissolved Mao’s cult of personality, and loosened the economic and social policies that had stunted China’s growth. Obsessed with modernization and technology, Deng opened trade relations with the West, which lifted hundreds of millions of his countrymen out of poverty. Yet at the same time he answered to his authoritarian roots, most notably when he ordered the crackdown in June 1989 at Tiananmen Square. Deng’s youthful commitment to the Communist Party was cemented in Paris in the early 1920s, among a group of Chinese student-workers that also included Zhou Enlai. Deng returned home in 1927 to join the Chinese Revolution on the ground floor. In the fifty years of his tumultuous rise to power, he endured accusations, purges, and even exile before becoming China’s preeminent leader from 1978 to 1989 and again in 1992. When he reached the top, Deng saw an opportunity to creatively destroy much of the economic system he had helped build for five decades as a loyal follower of Mao—and he did not hesitate.{node, 795, 4}

Kissinger and China

Jonathan D. Spence from New York Review of Books
It is hard to fit Henry Kissinger’s latest book, On China, into any conventional frame or genre. Partly that is because the somewhat self-deprecatory title conceals what is, in fact, an ambitious goal: to make sense of China’s diplomacy and foreign...

Books

12.01.10

Tea Horse Road

Michael Freeman
One of the longest and most dramatic trade routes of the ancient world, the Tea Horse Road carried a crucial exchange for 13 centuries between China and Tibet. China needed war horses to protect its northern frontier, and Tibet could supply them. When the Tibetans discovered tea in the 7th century, it became a staple of their diet, but its origins are in southwest China, and they had to trade for it. The result was a network of trails covering more than 3,000 kilometres through forests, gorges and high passes onto the Himalayan plateaus, traversed by horse, mule and yak caravans, and human porters. It linked cultures, economies and political ambitions, and lasted until the middle of the 20th century. Re-tracing the many branches of the Road, photographer and writer Michael Freeman spent two years compiling this remarkable visual record, from the tea mountains of southern Yunnan and Sichuan to Tibet and beyond. Collaborating on this fascinating account, ethnobotanist Selena Ahmed’s description of tea and bio-cultural diversity in the region draws on her original doctoral research.—River Books

Books

04.01.10

City of Heavenly Tranquility

Jasper Becker
When the world descends on Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, it will find the results of a helter skelter rush for modernization and wealth. In the course of a thousand years, temples and shrines, palaces, and gardens had filled the walls of old Peking. Its narrow, twisting streets held the collective memories of five dynasties and turbulent events of the 20th century. It has now all been swept away to make way for a new city filled with dull, boxy high rises, rows of shopping malls, office towers blocks, and residential housing developments marching down uniform streets. The City of Heavenly Tranquility explores how and why the Chinese buried their history and destroyed one of the world's most fabled cities, virtually extinguishing the culture of one of the greatest and oldest civilizations within the span of a single lifetime. In a tour de force by a long time resident, British journalist Jasper Becker brings to life the strange and exotic lives of the emperors, eunuchs, courtesans, and warriors who for centuries ruled from behind the red walls of the Forbidden City. Becker mixes his own experiences with poignant stories from those who were destroyed in the tornado of destruction as they tried to rescue something from the past. Writing vividly and with passion, Becker shows how ruthless officials and a fiercely nationalistic government set itself the monumental mission to change the fabric of a nation—and succeeded. He also explains how those currently in power, Mao's former Red Guards, remain determined to modernize China by jettisoning the past and clearing space for the future, evicting over three million residents in Beijing alone.  —Oxford University Press

John King Fairbank (1907–1991)

Roderick MacFarquhar from New York Review of Books
John Fairbank, who died on September 14 at the age of eighty-four, read virtually all serious Western works on China. Reviewing them, principally for The New York Review in the last several years, was for him one way of keeping abreast of China...

From the Ming to Deng Xiaoping

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
When I began teaching Chinese history at Harvard in 1936 my first students turned out to be the brightest I would ever have—Theodore White as an undergraduate and Mary Clabaugh as a Ph.D. candidate. Mary Clabaugh was a Vassar graduate from...

Roots of Revolution

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
The books by Frank Ching and Zhang Xianliang are vastly different in content, aim, and style, as opposite as yang and yin. Yet each casts light on the Cultural Revolution. Considered together, they may even begin to explain it.Mao’s venomous “class...

The Chinese Dream Machine

Jonathan D. Spence
Simple-looking questions make good starting points for books; for simple questions are usually very hard to answer, and if the author is skillful enough he elaborates the simple question until it is overlaid with hovering qualifications, doubts, and...

Still Mysterious

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
Within mainland China today the ratio of Westerners to Chinese is probably no greater than it was in Marco Polo’s time seven hundred years ago. Sino-foreign contact is so minimal that it almost meets the old Taoist stay-at-home ideal, “to live...