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Politics and the Chinese Language


The awarding of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature to the Chinese novelist Mo Yan has given rise to energetic debate, both within China’s borders and beyond. Earlier this month, ChinaFile ran an essay by Chinese literature scholar Charles Laughlin called “What Mo Yan’s Detractors Get Wrong.” That essay was, in large part, a critical response to an earlier piece in The New York Review of Books by Perry Link. We invited Link to respond.In my view, Laughlin’s essay raises two important questions: 1) To what extent, if any, are...

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Out of School


What Mo Yan’s Detractors Get Wrong


When Chinese novelist Mo Yan accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this week, the relationship between literature and politics attracted much attention. The award is often given to writers who forcefully oppose political repression. When authors are from countries recently embroiled in political strife, or there are repressive dictatorships or socialist regimes involved, sometimes the artistic aspects of an author’s work receive less attention than they would for more famous authors. Even authors from stable, economically...

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Out of School


Heirs of Fairness?


An unusual debate on what may seem an arcane topic—China’s imperial civil service examinations—recently took place on the op-ed page of the The New York Times. The argument centered on the question of whether or not China during the past 1000 years or so was a meritocracy. Prominent mainland intellectual Zhang Weiwei, first argued that “[m]eritocratic governance is deeply-rooted in China’s Confucian political tradition.” A few days later, Mark Elliott, a Harvard historian, penned a sharp rebuttal, attacking Zhang for...

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Out of School


Refresher Course: The Silk Road


The “Silk Road” was a stretch of shifting, unmarked paths across massive expanses of deserts and mountains—not a real road at any point or time. Archeologists have found few ancient Silk Road bridges, gates, or paving stones like those along Rome’s Appian Way. In fact, the main defining features of the Silk Road are not man-made at all. They are best seen from the air—converging valleys, desert oases, and river chasms among towering mountain peaks. Although a physical road doesn’t exist, it is still a subject ripe for...

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Out of School


France’s Baccalauréat Sparks Debate on Chinese Education


What does one gain by working?Are all beliefs contrary to reason?Comment on an excerpt of Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise Do we have a duty to seek the truth?Would we be freer without the state?Explicate an excerpt of Émile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.On June 19, Xu...

Out of School


Review: “The Revolutionary”


The Revolutionary, a new documentary that has begun showing on university campuses and at cultural centers, looks at the life of Sidney Rittenberg, a ninety-year-old man who has had an extraordinary variety of experiences. Born into a well-to-do South Carolina family in 1921, he...

Out of School


Re-Reading: The Good Earth


The Good Earth simultaneously manages to be both a classic and not very good. This is not, I trust, a controversial statement: Pearl Buck’s 1931 novel suffered a mixed reputation from the start. While many early readers hailed her work for its realistic descriptions of life in...

Out of School


Chinese Law: Using the Past to Escape the Present


Amid the skyscrapers, bullet trains and brio of contemporary China, the Mao era may seem remote. Discussions of Chinese law, for instance, typically consign it to a squib if they acknowledge it at all. But this is a grave mistake. Legal reformers the world over routinely discover...

Out of School


A New China Website Helps Dissertations Find Readers


Dissertations dominate the lives of doctoral students. A PhD candidate spends years researching, writing, and editing his or her dissertation, inching toward the day when the whole process is finished. Finally, he or she can leave behind the nagging designation “ABD” (All But...

Out of School


The “United States of China,” 100 Years Later


On September 29, 1910, a young Chinese cook in Berkeley named George Fong bought himself a .38 caliber revolver. The next day he hiked up into the hills behind the fraternity house where he worked at the University of California, found a secluded valley amongst the brown grasses...