Excerpts

11.16.17

Mementos of 1949

Kevin Peraino
Bodies jostled, elbow to elbow, angling all morning for a spot in the square. Soldiers clomped in the cold—tanned, singing as they marched, steel helmets and bayonets under the October sun. Tanks moved in columns two by two; then howitzers, teams of...

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...

Depth of Field

08.03.17

Inspirational Vandalism, Theme Parks, and the Man Who Swam to Hong Kong

Ye Ming, Yan Cong & more from Yuanjin Photo
This month, five photo galleries explore different aspects of public and private space in contemporary China. Wu Yue meets a couple who swam to Hong Kong from Guangzhou during the Cultural Revolution and still find solace in the waters of Hong Kong’...

Viewpoint

07.09.17

Why Won’t China Help With North Korea? Remember 1956

Sergey Radchenko
President Donald J. Trump’s short-lived honeymoon with Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping is over. On June 29, the U.S. imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank, a Chinese shipping company, and two Chinese nationals, all accused of helping...

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}

Novels from China’s Moral Abyss

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Modern China was built on the nearly thirty ruthless years of Mao’s rule. The country’s elite—the “literati” of educated small landowners who held the empire together at the local level—was brutally eliminated. Almost everyone’s personal life was...

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}

Viewpoint

01.23.17

The Chairmen, Trump and Mao

Geremie R. Barmé
The January 13, 1967 issue of TIME magazine featured Mao Zedong on its cover with the headline “China in Chaos.” Fifty years later, TIME made U.S. President-elect Donald Trump its Man of The Year. With a groundswell of mass support, both men...

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...

Media

12.09.16

U.S.-China Relations As a Cycle of ‘Rapturous Enchantment’ and ‘Deep Disappointment’

Eric Fish from Asia Blog
In 1872, China’s imperial government began sending teenage boys to the United States to study science and technology. After a series of “humiliating” military defeats at the hands of technologically superior foreign powers, China’s leaders realized...

Features

12.02.16

How Do You Stand up to China? Ask Mongolia

Sergey Radchenko
The day before the Dalai Lama’s November 18 trip to Mongolia, Beijing issued a “strong demand” to its neighbor to cancel the visit of the “anti-Chinese separatist” or face (unstated) consequences. The Dalai Lama would be making his ninth visit to...

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...

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}

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...

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,...

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...

If Mao Had Been a Hermit

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
At the annual meeting of BookExpo America that was held in New York last May, to which most leading U.S. publishers sent representatives, state-sponsored Chinese publishers were named “guests of honor.” Commercially speaking, this made sense. China’...

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...

Infographics

11.05.15

All The Chairman’s Statues

Davide Vacatello & Valentina Caruso from Chinese Doodles
Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and the founding supremo of its People’s Republic, is not a man who has retreated from history quietly. During the last decade of his life, during the Cultural Revolution he unleashed in part to...

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...

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
Visiting the United States this week, Mr. Xi, 62, has presented himself as a polished statesman.

Books

06.16.15

The Yellow River

David A. Pietz
Flowing through the heart of the North China Plain―home to 200 million people―the Yellow River sustains one of China’s core regions. Yet this vital water supply has become highly vulnerable in recent decades, with potentially serious repercussions for China’s economic, social, and political stability. The Yellow River is an investigative expedition to the source of China’s contemporary water crisis, mapping the confluence of forces that have shaped the predicament that the world’s most populous nation now faces in managing its water reserves.Chinese governments have long struggled to maintain ecological stability along the Yellow River, undertaking ambitious programs of canal and dike construction to mitigate the effects of recurrent droughts and floods. But particularly during the Maoist years the North China Plain was radically re-engineered to utilize every drop of water for irrigation and hydroelectric generation. As David A. Pietz shows, Maoist water management from 1949 to 1976 cast a long shadow over the reform period, beginning in 1978. Rapid urban growth, industrial expansion, and agricultural intensification over the past three decades of China’s economic boom have been realized on a water resource base that was acutely compromised, with effects that have been more difficult and costly to overcome with each passing decade. Chronicling this complex legacy, The Yellow River provides important insight into how water challenges will affect China’s course as a twenty-first-century global power.―Harvard University Press{chop}

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}

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...

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}

China’s Brave Underground Journal—II

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In downtown Beijing, just a little over a mile west of the Forbidden City, is one of China’s most illustrious high schools. Its graduates regularly attend the country’s best universities or go abroad to study, while foreign leaders and CEOs make...

China’s Brave Underground Journal

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
On the last stretch of flatlands north of Beijing, just before the Mongolian foothills, lies the satellite city of Tiantongyuan. Built during the euphoric run-up to the 2008 Olympics, it was designed as a modern, Hong Kong–style housing district of...

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...

The Untold Story of China’s Forgotten Underground Nuclear Reactor

Jeffrey Lewis
Foreign Policy
How social media and a little sleuthing turned up a Mao-era nuclear program.

Paddling to Peking

Roderick MacFarquhar from New York Review of Books
For Richard Nixon’s foreign policy, 1971 was the best of years and the worst of years. He revealed his opening to China, but he connived at genocide in East Pakistan. Fortunately for him, the world marveled at the one, but was largely ignorant of...

Though I am Gone

Hu Jie
Fast Company
(Vid) Wang Jingyao chronicles the murder of his wife, the first victim of the Cultural Revolution. 

Bowed and Remorseful, Former Red Guard Recalls Teacher’s Death

Chris Buckley
New York Times
“How a country faces the future depends in large part on how it faces its past,” said former Red Gaurd in public apology for past violence. 

China: Reeducation Through Horror

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
Here are two snippets from a Chinese Communist journal called People’s China, published in August 1956:In 1956, despite the worst natural calamities in scores of years, China’s peasants, newly organized in co-operatives on a nation-wide scale,...

China: When the Cats Rule

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In the Northwest corner of Beijing’s old city is a subway and bus workshop. It was built in the early seventies on the site of the Lake of Great Peace, which was filled in as part of a plan to extend the city’s subway system. In the bigger picture...

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...

Books

01.31.13

Tombstone

Yang Jisheng
An estimated 36 million Chinese men, women, and children starved to death during China’s Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and early ’60s. One of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century, the famine is poorly understood, and in China is still euphemistically referred to as the “three years of natural disaster.”As a journalist with privileged access to official and unofficial sources, Yang Jisheng spent twenty years piecing together the events that led to mass nationwide starvation, including the death of his own father. Finding no natural causes, Yang lays the deaths at the feet of China’s totalitarian Communist system and the refusal of officials at every level to value human life over ideology and self-interest.Tombstone is a testament to inhumanity and occasional heroism that pits collective memory against the historical amnesia imposed by those in power. Stunning in scale and arresting in its detailed account of the staggering human cost of this tragedy, Tombstone is written both as a memorial to the lives lost—an enduring tombstone in memory of the dead—and in hopeful anticipation of the final demise of the totalitarian system. —Farrar, Straus and Giroux

My First Trip

12.03.12

A China Frontier: Once the Border of Borders

Orville Schell
In 1961, when I first arrived in Hong Kong as an aspiring young China scholar, there was something deeply seductive about the way this small British enclave of capitalism clung like a barnacle to the enormity of China’s socialist revolution. Because...

My First Trip

09.17.11

Coming Home to a New Place Each Time

Liu Heung Shing
As a Hong Kong-born Chinese who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, it’s hard to pinpoint my first trip to China; at least, one that I remember clearly, for my real first trip was as a toddler, in 1953 in the arms of my mother who carried me to her...

China: The Uses of Fear

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
Instilling deadly fear throughout the population was one of Mao Zedong’s lasting contributions to China since the late Twenties. In the case of Dai Qing, one of China’s sharpest critics before 1989, fear seems to explain the sad transformation in...

The End of the Long March

Roderick MacFarquhar from New York Review of Books
In Peking last September, China’s supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, pensioned off the surviving generals of the Long March. Fifty years after their epic exploit, these old soldiers finally agreed to fade away. Deng must hope that the legend has now...

Blind Obedience

John K. Fairbank from New York Review of Books
Son of the Revolution is actually three stories in one—first, a graphic I-was-there account of what it was like to grow up during the Cultural Revolution; second, a cliffhanger love story with a happy ending; and third, a poignant analysis of how...

Chinese Shadows: Bureaucracy, Happiness, History

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
In the sixth century BC, at the time the Tso Chuan refers to, China’s social hierarchy had only ten degrees. We have progressed since then: the Maoist bureaucracy today has thirty hierarchical classes, each with specific privileges and prerogatives...

Chinese Shadows

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
In handbooks on Chinese traditional painting, an advice commonly given to the artist who wishes to learn to paint trees is to sketch them in winter, for then, without the seductive yet confused and blurry effect of their leafy masses, through their...

A Shameful Tale

John Gittings from New York Review of Books
On the contents page of the latest issue of Foreign Affairs1 the new shape of American diplomacy is writ large and in italics. In this prestigious house organ of the international affairs establishment—and by coincidence it happens to be its...