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The NYRB China Archive

‘China’s Worst Policy Mistake’?

Nicholas D. Kristof from New York Review of Books
Perhaps no government policy anywhere in the world affected more people in a more intimate and brutal way than China’s one-child policy. In the West, there’s a tendency to approve of it as a necessary if overzealous effort to curb China’s population...

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’...

Crackdown in China: Worse and Worse

Orville Schell from New York Review of Books
“As a liberal, I no longer feel I have a future in China,” a prominent Chinese think tank head in the process of moving abroad recently lamented in private. Such refrains are all too familiar these days as educated Chinese professionals express...

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...

What Is the I Ching?

Eliot Weinberger from New York Review of Books
The I Ching has served for thousands of years as a philosophical taxonomy of the universe, a guide to an ethical life, a manual for rulers, and an oracle of one’s personal future and the future of the state. It was an organizing principle or...

Lost in China’s Exploding Future

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s new movie, Mountains May Depart, begins with a disco dance in a bleak mining town to the sounds of “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys. It is the lunar New Year, 1999. Outside, the end of the millennium is celebrated in a...

Why Are Tibetans Setting Themselves on Fire?

Tsering Woeser from New York Review of Books
February 27, 2009, was the third day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. It was also the day that self-immolation came to Tibet. The authorities had just cancelled a Great Prayer Festival (Monlam) that was supposed to commemorate the victims of the...

‘My Personal Vendetta’

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
The presumed kidnapping of the Hong Kong bookseller and British citizen Lee Bo late last year has brought international attention to the challenges faced by the Hong Kong publishing business. During a break from The New York Review’s conference on...

Why Pollution is Good for China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
I am a member of a martial arts group that performs at annual temple fairs around Beijing. Half of our group are children, and almost without fail they meet at a park on the west side of town at around three in the afternoon to practice fighting...

Xi’s China: The Illusion of Change

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Xi Jinping is often described as China’s most powerful leader in decades, perhaps even since Mao. He has been credited—if sometimes grudgingly—with pursuing a vigorous foreign policy, economic reforms, and a historic crackdown on corruption.But as...

China: Novelists Against the State

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
Can writers help an injured society to heal? Did Ōe Kenzaburō, who traveled to Hiroshima in 1963 to interview survivors of the dropping of the atomic bomb on that city eighteen years earlier, and then published a moving book called Hiroshima Notes,...

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...

‘I Try to Talk Less’: A Conversation with Ai Weiwei and Liao Yiwu

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In late July, Chinese authorities renewed travel privileges for conceptual artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, ending a five-year prohibition following his arrest in 2011. He promptly flew to Munich and then Berlin, where he has accepted a...

China: The Superpower of Mr. Xi

Roderick MacFarquhar from New York Review of Books
In the almost one-hundred-year existence of the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), its current general secretary, Xi Jinping, is only the second leader clearly chosen by his peers. The first was Mao Zedong. Both men beat out the competition, and thus...

A Blind Lawyer vs. Blind Chinese Power

Evan Osnos from New York Review of Books
In early 2012, Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer who had been blind since infancy, lived with his wife and two children in the village of Dongshigu, where he’d been raised, on the eastern edge of the North China plain. They were not there by...

A Partnership with China to Avoid World War

George Soros from New York Review of Books
International cooperation is in decline both in the political and financial spheres. The U.N. has failed to address any of the major conflicts since the end of the cold war; the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference left a sour aftertaste; the...

In North Korea: Wonder & Terror

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
The northeast of China used to be called Manchuria. Another name was “the cockpit of Asia.” Many wars were fought there. A French priest who traveled through the region in the 1920s wrote: “Although it is uncertain where God created paradise, we can...

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...

An American Hero in China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
One night in September, three hundred people crowded into the basement auditorium of an office tower in Beijing to hear a discussion between two of China’s most popular writers. One was Liu Yu, a thirty-eight-year-old political scientist and blogger...

The Wonderfully Elusive Chinese Novel

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
In teaching Chinese-language courses to American students, which I have done about thirty times, perhaps the most anguishing question I get is “Professor Link, what is the Chinese word for ______?”

China: What the Uighurs See

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Xinjiang is one of those remote places whose frequent mention in the international press stymies true understanding. Home to China’s Uighur minority, this vast region of western China is mostly known for being in a state of permanent low-grade...

China: Inventing a Crime

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
In late January, Chinese authorities announced that they are considering formal charges against Pu Zhiqiang, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, who has been in detention since last May. Pu’s friends fear that even a life sentence is...

How to Be a Chinese Democrat: An Interview with Liu Yu

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Liu Yu is one of China’s best-known America-watchers. A professor of political science at Tsinghua University, she lived in the U.S. from 2000 to 2007 and now researches democratization in developing countries, including her own. The thirty-eight-...

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...

Pope Francis’ China Problem

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
China-watchers, friends of Tibet, and admirers of Pope Francis were amazed and disappointed last week when the Pope announced he would not be meeting the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan leader’s visit to Rome. The Dalai Lama was there with other...

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...

‘China Strikes Back’: An Exchange

Perry Link & Orville Schell from New York Review of Books
Letters in response to: “China Strikes Back!” from the October 23, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books.To the Editors:In “China Strikes Back” [NYR, October 23], Orville Schell sounds a much-needed wake-up call about China’s recent attitude...

China’s Unstoppable Lawyers: An Interview with Teng Biao

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Teng Biao is one of China’s best-known civil-rights lawyers, and a prominent member of the weiquan, or “rights defenders,” movement, a loosely knit coalition of Chinese lawyers and activists who tackle cases related to the environment, religious...

China Strikes Back!

Orville Schell from New York Review of Books
When Deng Xiaoping arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington in January 1979, his country was just emerging from a long revolutionary deep freeze. No one knew much about this 5-foot-tall Chinese leader. He had suddenly reappeared on the...

Taking Aim at Hong Kong

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
A surge of emotion washed through me on Sunday night as I watched tens of thousands of protesters fill the streets of Hong Kong on television. It was the same feeling I had in Beijing on the nights leading up to the killings in Tiananmen Square on...

The Chinese Invade Africa

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In early May, China’s premier, Li Keqiang, made a trip to Africa that raised a central question about China’s rise: What effect will it have on the world’s poorer countries? As a big third-world country that has lifted hundreds of millions out of...

‘They Don’t Want Moderate Uighurs’

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In my series of interviews with Chinese intellectuals, there is an empty chair for Ilham Tohti, the economist and Uighur activist. It’s not that I hadn’t heard of him or hadn’t been in China long enough to have met him before he was arrested earlier...

Sex in China: An Interview with Li Yinhe

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Li Yinhe is one of China’s best-known experts on sex and the family. A member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, she has published widely on sexual mores, women, and family issues. Li also runs a popular blog, where she has advocated for...

From China to Jihad?

Richard Bernstein from New York Review of Books
It’s a very long way from China’s arid Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the country’s far northwest to its semi-tropical borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Burma in the south, and then it’s another precarious distance from there, down rivers and...

Wang Lixiong and Woeser: A Way Out of China’s Ethnic Unrest?

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Woeser and Wang Lixiong are two of China’s best-known thinkers on the government’s policy toward ethnic minorities. With violence in Tibet and Xinjiang now almost a monthly occurrence, I met them at their apartment in Beijing to talk about the issue...

Beyond the Dalai Lama: An Interview with Woeser and Wang Lixiong

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In recent months, China has been beset by growing ethnic violence. In Tibet, 125 people have set themselves on fire since the suppression of 2008 protests over the country’s ethnic policies. In the Muslim region of Xinjiang, there have been a series...

He Exposed Corrupt China Before He Left

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
In the late 1970s, when the passing of Mao made it possible for foreign journalists to work in China for the first time in three decades, the first reporters to get in wrote wide-ranging books that addressed nearly everything they could learn.1...

Hong Kong Rising: An Interview with Albert Ho

Perry Link & Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
The former British colony of Hong Kong reverted to China on July 1, 1997, and on every July 1 since then Hong Kong citizens have marched in the streets asking for democracy. The demonstrations on this year’s anniversary, however, were on a much...

Tibet Resists

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
Tsering Woeser was born in Lhasa in 1966, the daughter of a senior officer in the Chinese army. She became a passionate supporter of the Dalai Lama. When she was very young the family moved to Tibetan towns inside China proper. In school, only...

The Ghosts of Tiananmen Square

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Every spring, an old friend of mine named Xu Jue makes a trip to the Babaoshan cemetery in the western suburbs of Beijing to lay flowers on the tombs of her dead son and husband. She always plans her visit for April 5, which is the holiday of Pure...

The Tanks and the People

Liao Yiwu from New York Review of Books
Twenty-five years ago, before the Tiananmen massacre, my father told me: “Son, be good and stay at home, never provoke the Communist Party.”My father knew what he was talking about. His courage had been broken, by countless political campaigns...

‘You Won’t Get Near Tiananmen!’: Hu Jia on the Continuing Crackdown

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Hu Jia is one of China’s best-known political activists. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests as a fifteen-year-old, studied economics, and then worked for environmental and public health non-governmental organizations. A practicing...

The Smooth Path to Pearl Harbor

Rana Mitter from New York Review of Books
In mid-February, as part of the plans for his official visit to Germany, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked to visit one of Berlin’s best-known sites: Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The request was declined when it became...

Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
Twenty-five years ago to the day I write this, I watched and listened as thousands of Chinese citizens in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square dared to condemn their leaders. Some shouted “Premier Li Peng resign.” Even braver ones cried “Down with Deng...

China: Detained to Death

Renee Xia & Perry Link from New York Review of Books
On May 3, fifteen Beijing citizens—scholars, journalists, and rights lawyers—gathered informally at the home of Professor Hao Jian of the Beijing Film Academy to reflect on the 25th anniversary of the 1989 June Fourth massacre in Beijing. Two days...

The China Challenge

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In 1890, an undistinguished U.S. Navy captain published a book that would influence generations of strategists. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 posited that great nations need potent, blue-water navies backed...

Solving China’s Schools: An Interview with Jiang Xueqin

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In December, China stunned the world when the most widely used international education assessment revealed that Shanghai’s schools now outperform those of any other country—not only in math and science but also in reading. Some education experts...

Chinese Atheists? What the Pew Survey Gets Wrong

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Earlier this month, I came across a fascinating opinion survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. The report asked people in forty countries whether belief in God is necessary for morality. Mostly, the results aren’t surprising...

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...

The Brave Catholics of China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Like most pilgrimage sites in China, the shrine in the village of Cave Gulley in Shanxi province is located partway up a mountain, reachable by steep stairs that are meant to shift worshipers’ attention from the world below to heaven above...

China’s Way to Happiness

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Richard Madsen is one of the modern-day founders of the study of Chinese religion. A professor at the University of California San Diego, the seventy-three-year-old’s works include Morality and Power in a Chinese Village, China and the American...

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: 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...

Dreams of a Different China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Last November, China’s newly installed leader, Xi Jinping, asked his fellow Chinese to help realize a “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation. In the months since then, his talk has been seen as a marker in the new leadership’s thinking, especially...

How to Deal with the Chinese Police

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
A casual visitor to China today does not get the impression of a police state. Life bustles along as people pursue work, fashion, sports, romance, amusement, and so on, without any sign of being under coercion. But the government spends tens of...

Unhinged in China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In one of the central scenes in Jia Zhangke’s new film, a young man working in the southern Chinese manufacturing city of Dongguan goes to an ATM and finds that he’s broke. He’s just spent the past month betraying his friends and hopping from job to...

China: “Capitulate or Things Will Get Worse”

Perry Link from New York Review of Books
The massacre of protesters in Beijing on June 4, 1989, and the harsh repression during the months immediately following put China into a foul mood. Among ordinary Chinese, the prestige of the Communist Party, whose leaders had ordered the brutal...

Who’s Afraid of Chinese Money?

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
“China is what it is. We have to be here or nowhere.” Chancellor George Osborne, Britain’s second-highest official, was laying out the British government’s view last week, near the end of his trip aimed at selling Britain to Chinese companies...

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