Books

10.31.19

Sovereignty in China

Maria Adele Carrai
Cambridge University Press: This book provides a comprehensive history of the emergence and formation of the concept of sovereignty in China from 1840 to the present. It contributes to broadening the history of modern China by looking at the way the notion of sovereignty was gradually articulated by key Chinese intellectuals, diplomats, and political figures in the unfolding of the history of international law in China, rehabilitates Chinese agency, and shows how China challenged Western Eurocentric assumptions about the progress of international law. It puts the history of international law in a global perspective, interrogating the widely-held belief of international law as universal order, and exploring the ways in which its history is closely anchored to a European experience that fails to take into account how the encounter with other non-European realities has influenced its formation.{chop}

Conversation

10.04.19

Taiwan Is Losing Allies. What Should Taipei (and D.C.) Do?

Margaret Lewis, Yu-Hua Chen & more
In a single week in September, the two Pacific nations of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands both switched their diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing, reducing the number of countries that still recognize Taiwan to 14 (and the Vatican)...

Viewpoint

09.28.19

A Birthday Letter to the People’s Republic

Yangyang Cheng
Dear People’s Republic, Or should I call you, China? I am writing to you on the eve of your 70th birthday. 70, what an age. “For a man to live to 70 has been rare since ancient times,” the poet Du Fu wrote in the eighth century. You have outlived...

Viewpoint

09.18.19

Beyond Hawks and Doves

Ali Wyne
Two recent documents—as well as the critiques they have elicited—furnish the basis for a more nuanced debate on U.S. policy towards China. First, on July 4, a group of roughly 100 figures from the policy, military, business, and academic communities...

Books

09.17.19

Railroads and the Transformation of China

Elisabeth Köll
Harvard University Press: As a vehicle to convey both the history of modern China and the complex forces still driving the nation’s economic success, rail has no equal. Railroads and the Transformation of China is the first comprehensive history, in any language, of railroad operation from the last decades of the Qing Empire to the present.China’s first fractured lines were built under semicolonial conditions by competing foreign investors. The national system that began taking shape in the 1910s suffered all the ills of the country at large: warlordism and Japanese invasion, Chinese partisan sabotage, the Great Leap Forward when lines suffered in the “battle for steel,” and the Cultural Revolution, during which Red Guards were granted free passage to “make revolution” across the country, nearly collapsing the system. Elisabeth Köll’s expansive study shows how railroads survived the rupture of the 1949 Communist revolution and became an enduring model of Chinese infrastructure expansion.The railroads persisted because they were exemplary bureaucratic institutions. Through detailed archival research and interviews, Köll builds case studies illuminating the strength of rail administration. Pragmatic management, combining central authority and local autonomy, sustained rail organizations amid shifting political and economic priorities. As Köll shows, rail provided a blueprint for the past 40 years of ambitious, semipublic business development and remains an essential component of the People’s Republic of China’s politically charged, technocratic economic model for China’s future.{chop}

Excerpts

07.31.19

What Role Will Intellectuals Play in China’s Future?

Sebastian Veg
As we commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of China’s 1989 democracy movement, it is hard to imagine students and intellectuals playing a similar role today. In China’s highly marketized and politically controlled society, the space for...

Books

07.09.19

Kissinger on Kissinger

Winston Lord
St. Martin’s Press: As National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger transformed America’s approach to diplomacy with China, the USSR, Vietnam, and the Middle East, laying the foundations for geopolitics as we know them today.Nearly 50 years later, escalating tensions between the U.S., China, and Russia are threatening a swift return to the same diplomatic game of tug-of-war that Kissinger played so masterfully. Kissinger on Kissinger is a series of faithfully transcribed interviews conducted by the elder statesman’s longtime associate, Winston Lord, which captures Kissinger’s thoughts on the specific challenges that he faced during his tenure as the National Security Agency, his general advice on leadership and international relations, and stunning portraits of the larger-than-life world leaders of the era. The result is a frank and well-informed overview of U.S. foreign policy in the first half of the 1970s.{chop}

Conversation

07.08.19

The Other Tiananmen Papers

David Shambaugh, Evan Medeiros & more
In the wake of the lethal use of force by China’s military against demonstrators in Tiananmen Square and citizens of Beijing on June 4, 1989, the United States and other governments were confronted with a series of vexing moral and policy questions...

China’s ‘Black Week-end’

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
When Chinese law professor Xu Zhangrun began publishing articles last year criticizing the government’s turn toward a harsher variety of authoritarianism, it seemed inevitable that he would be swiftly silenced. But then, remarkably, dozens of...

Conversation

06.19.19

Hong Kong in Protest

David Schlesinger, Ho-fung Hung & more
On June 16, an estimated 2 million people took to the streets to protest the Hong Kong government’s handling of a proposed extradition bill. This followed two massive demonstrations against the bill earlier in the month, including one where police...

Viewpoint

06.19.19

What Does the Pause of Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill Mean?

Jerome A. Cohen
The Hong Kong people’s historic mass protests during the past 10 days have demonstrated their awareness that the now suspended extradition bill proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam represented a threat to Hong Kong’s promised “high degree of...

Media

06.11.19

ChinaFile Presents: Erasing History—Why Remember Tiananmen

Nicholas D. Kristof, Zha Jianying & more
On the evening of June 3, ChinaFile hosted a discussion on the Chinese government’s efforts to control, manipulate, and forestall remembrance of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the bloody crackdown that ended them. Participating in the...

Viewpoint

06.04.19

Is Hong Kong Forgetting to Remember June Fourth?

Violet Law
In sharp contrast to anywhere else in China, Hong Kong has stood as a steadfast stronghold of remembrance of the massacre, protected by the territory’s political system that guarantees freedoms of assembly and expression. Every June 4, the...

Conversation

06.03.19

How I Learned About Tiananmen

Anonymous, Tianyu M. Fang & more
In April, ChinaFile put out a call for young people who grew up in China to describe how they first learned about the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, and how they felt about it. Here is a selection of the responses we received, including...

Media

06.03.19

Six Questions and Four Articles About Tiananmen Square

Isaac Stone Fish
Why can’t we banish history from our memories? The author Ling Zhijun titled his 2008 exploration of Mao Zedong’s disastrous people’s communes “History No Longer Lingers,” and it sometimes feels counterintuitive that we cannot forget past tragedies...

Postcard

05.30.19

Four Is Forbidden

Yangyang Cheng
Liusi. Six-four. The two-syllable word, spoken nonchalantly by our teacher, was a stone cast into the tranquil pond of a classroom. From each ripple rose a gasp, a murmur, or a perplexed face, with only one or two enunciating the question on many of...

Books

05.29.19

Shrines to Living Men in the Ming Political Cosmos

Sarah Schneewind
Harvard University Press: Shrines to Living Men in the Ming Political Cosmos places the institution of pre-mortem shrines at the intersection of politics and religion. When a local official left his post, grateful subjects housed an image of him in a temple, requiting his grace: that was the ideal model. By Ming times, the “living shrine” was legal, old, and justified by readings of the classics.Sarah Schneewind argues that the institution could invite and pressure officials to serve local interests; the policies that had earned a man commemoration were carved into stone beside the shrine. Since everyone recognized that elite men might honor living officials just to further their own careers, pre-mortem shrine rhetoric stressed the role of commoners, who embraced the opportunity by initiating many living shrines. This legitimate, institutionalized political voice for commoners expands a scholarly understanding of “public opinion” in late imperial China, aligning it with the efficacy of deities to create a nascent political conception Schneewind calls the “minor Mandate of Heaven.” Her exploration of pre-mortem shrine theory and practice illuminates Ming thought and politics, including the Donglin Party’s battle with eunuch dictator Wei Zhongxian and Gu Yanwu’s theories.{chop}

Viewpoint

05.28.19

Why We Remember June Fourth

Perry Link
Some people recently asked, “Why must you remember June Fourth? Thirty years have gone by. It is history. Get over it. Move on.” A simple question, but there are many answers. No single answer is adequate, and all of the answers together still leave...

Books

05.22.19

China’s New Red Guards

Jude Blanchette
Oxford University Press: Ever since Deng Xiaoping effectively de-radicalized China in the 1980s, there have been many debates about which path China would follow. Would it democratize? Would it embrace capitalism? Would the Communist Party’s rule be able to withstand the adoption and spread of the Internet? One debate that did not occur in any serious way, however, was whether Mao Zedong would make a political comeback.As Jude Blanchette details in China’s New Red Guards, contemporary China is undergoing a revival of an unapologetic embrace of extreme authoritarianism that draws direct inspiration from the Mao era. Under current Chinese leader Xi Jinping, state control over the economy is increasing, civil society is under sustained attack, and the Chinese Communist Party is expanding its reach in unprecedented new ways. As Xi declared in late 2017, “Government, military, society, and schools, north, south, east and west—the Party is the leader of all.”But this trend is reinforced by a bottom-up revolt against Western ideas of modernity, including political pluralism, the rule of law, and the free market economy. Centered around a cast of nationalist intellectuals and activists who have helped unleash a wave of populist enthusiasm for the Great Helmsman’s policies, China’s New Red Guards not only will reshape our understanding of the political forces driving contemporary China, it will also demonstrate how ideologies can survive and prosper despite pervasive rumors of their demise.{chop}

Features

05.15.19

ChinaFile Presents: Hong Kong’s Relationship with Beijing, An Update

ChinaFile hosted a conversation at the Asia Society on May 9, with veteran Hong Kong legislator and rule of law advocate Martin Lee, longtime journalist and media rights expert Mak Yin-ting, and democracy activist Nathan Law, moderated by ChinaFile...

China: A Small Bit of Shelter

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
At night, a spotlight illuminates four huge characters on the front of the Great Temple of Promoting Goodness in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province in northwestern China: mi zang zong feng, “The Esoteric Repository of the Faith’s Traditions.”...

Viewpoint

05.08.19

This Year, I Couldn’t Avoid May Fourth

Taisu Zhang
The one hundredth anniversary of the 1919 May Fourth Movement came and went last week much as one would have expected...For some, myself included, the anniversary evoked a set of more complicated emotions. For years, these complications have pushed...

Viewpoint

05.03.19

May Fourth’s Unfulfilled Promise

Klaus Mühlhahn
Spring 2019 is marked by a series of sensitive anniversaries for China: Beijing is visibly nervous that the 30th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen massacre could trigger protests. But it is also concerned about the 100th anniversary of the lesser...

Viewpoint

04.19.19

‘I Have Revised My Idea of What a Uighur Heroine Should Be’

Zubayra Shamseden
The Chinese government would have you believe a good Uighur woman is one who knows how to apply false eyelashes and cook dumplings. She is neither too modest nor too forward. She is “good at singing and dancing.” Since leaving China, I have spent a...

Books

04.11.19

Making China Modern

Klaus Mühlhahn
Harvard University Press: It is tempting to attribute China’s recent ascendance to changes in political leadership and economic policy. Making China Modern teaches otherwise. Moving beyond the standard framework of Cold War competition and national resurgence, Klaus Mühlhahn situates 21st-century China in the nation’s long history of creative adaptation.In the mid-18th century, when the Qing Empire reached the height of its power, China dominated a third of the world’s population and managed its largest economy. But as the Opium Wars threatened the nation’s sovereignty from without and the Taiping Rebellion ripped apart its social fabric from within, China found itself verging on free fall. A network of family relations, economic interdependence, institutional innovation, and structures of governance allowed citizens to regain their footing in a convulsing world. In China’s drive to reclaim regional centrality, its leaders looked outward as well as inward, at industrial developments and international markets offering new ways to thrive.{chop}Excerpts:“Reform and Opening: China’s Turning Point,” Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel, February 7, 2019“Can Environmental Activism Succeed in China?,” Literary Hub, January 28, 2019

Viewpoint

03.15.19

Is This the Last Dalai Lama?

Jessica Batke
This month marks the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet. His departure exposed the rift between the Tibetan faithful and the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), one which has not closed in the six decades since—and which threatens...

Viewpoint

02.22.19

‘We’re Very Sexy People’: How the U.S. Miscalculated Its Allure to China

Sergey Radchenko
The Sino-Vietnamese War is rarely remembered or discussed today. But 40 years ago, the war appeared to herald a tectonic shift in regional and global politics and helped forge a close, more trusting relationship between the leader of the free world...

Viewpoint

02.16.19

Roderick MacFarquhar: A Remembrance

Bao Pu
When Roderick MacFarquhar passed away on February 10, 2019, I was left with a deep regret: that our friendship had been too short.“He can be very intimidating. Don’t be put off by it; it’s just a mannerism,” Nancy Hearst, the librarian at Harvard’s...

‘Reeducating’ Xinjiang’s Muslims

James A. Millward from New York Review of Books
In a courtroom in Zharkent, Kazakhstan, in July 2018, a former kindergarten principal named Sayragul Sauytbay calmly described what Chinese officials continue to deny: a vast new gulag of “de-extremification training centers” has been created for...

Conversation

01.24.19

What Does Xi Want from Taiwan? (And What Can Taiwan Do About It?)

Brian Hioe, Jieh-min Wu & more
In a major speech in early January, China’s leader Xi Jinping called unification across the Taiwan Strait “the great trend of history,” and warned that attempts to facilitate Taiwan’s independence would be met by force. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-...

Graham Allison on Avoiding the Thucydides Trap

Paul Haenle & Graham Allison from Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
Allison says the Thucydides Trap is the best framework to understand why there is potential for conflict between the United States and China. As China grew stronger, the U.S. failed to recognize Beijing would increasingly assert its own vision for...

Conversation

01.11.19

With China on the Moon

Yangyang Cheng, Geremie R. Barmé & more
On January 2, China made history by successfully landing a vehicle on the far side of the moon. What does that milestone mean for China, the United States, and the future of space exploration?

Viewpoint

01.09.19

Normalization of Sino-American Relations: 40 Years Later

Jerome A. Cohen
The spirited 2019 New Year’s speeches of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and China’s President Xi Jinping have just reminded the world that, 40 years after the normalization of relations between the United States and China, the potentially explosive...

Conversation

12.11.18

Is this the Beginning of a New Cold War?

Ali Wyne, Yuen Yuen Ang & more
Beyond complicating trade negotiations between the United States and China, the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou has renewed concerns that the two countries are embarking on a new Cold War, based on economic preeminence and technological innovation...

Conversation

12.04.18

Did President George H.W. Bush Mishandle China?

James Mann, Wang Dan & more
ChinaFile contributors discuss 41st U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s legacy for U.S.-China relations. —The Editors

Features

11.28.18

Beijing’s Long Struggle to Control Xinjiang’s Mineral Wealth

Judd C. Kinzley
The Silk Road Economic Belt—the overland component of Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—promises to bind China to Central Asia and beyond through a new infrastructural network. Connecting through China’s far western Xinjiang...

The Uighurs and China’s Long History of Trouble with Islam

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Last month, I spent several days at the Forbidden City, the gargantuan palace in the middle of Beijing where China’s emperors ruled the land for nearly five hundred years. I was there to attend a conference on religion and power in imperial China,...

Conversation

11.20.18

Has the World Lost Sight of Tibet?

Gerald Roche, Lhadon Tethong & more
Since the incarceration of roughly a million Uighurs in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang over the last year, the situation in Tibet has gotten relatively less coverage in Western media. What is the current situation for human rights,...

Conversation

11.09.18

Forty Years on, Is China Still Reforming?

Carl Minzner, Aaron Halegua & more
In late October, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the “Reform and Opening Up” policy, China’s Chairman Xi Jinping visited the southern metropolis of Shenzhen, the first major laboratory for the Party’s post-Mao economic reforms. Like his...

In Search of the True Dao

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Last year I got a call from Abbess Yin, an old friend who runs a Daoist nunnery near Nanjing. I’ve always known her as supernaturally placid and oblique, but this time she was nervous and direct: a group of Germans were coming to spend a week...

Excerpts

09.30.18

For Generations of P.R.C. Leaders, a World ‘Alive with Danger’

Sulmaan Khan
There can be few jobs more difficult than that of paramount leader of China: the surrounding world invariably alive with danger, the extent of the state, its integrity and stability forever uncertain. For an outsider, it is easy to observe that the...

Mission Impossible

Roderick MacFarquhar
The name of George C. Marshall, one of only six U.S. Generals of the Army in modern times, is indelibly linked with the Marshall Plan that was critical to the rebuilding of Western Europe after the devastation of World War II. When he spoke at...

Conversation

09.25.18

Should the Vatican Compromise with China?

Pamela Kyle Crossley, Francesco Sisci & more
Amidst a crackdown on Christianity in China, on September 22 the Vatican and Beijing provisionally reached a major agreement: Pope Francis will recognize seven excommunicated bishops Beijing appointed, in exchange for more influence on who Beijing...

North Korea Diplomacy and U.S.-China Relations

Paul Haenle & Kaiser Kuo from Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
Paul Haenle joined Kaiser Kuo to discuss next steps for DPRK diplomacy and tensions between the United States and China over trade, Taiwan, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Haenle shared his experience working as White House representative to the...

Viewpoint

08.27.18

Beijing’s Bid for Global Power in the Age of Trump

Alfred W. McCoy from TomDispatch
As the second year of Donald Trump’s presidency and sixth of Xi Jinping’s draws to a close, the world seems to be witnessing one of those epochal clashes that can change the contours of global power. Just as conflicts between American President...

Infographics

08.15.18

Visualizing China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign

“Catching Tigers and Flies” is ChinaFile’s interactive tool for tracking and, we hope, better understanding the massive campaign against corruption that Xi Jinping launched shortly after he came to power in late 2012. It is designed to give users a sense of the scope and character of the anti-corruption campaign by graphically rendering information about more than 2,000 of its targets whose cases have been publicly announced in official Chinese sources.

Where China’s Top Leaders Go in Summer and in Secret: A Brief History of Beidaihe

Choi Chi-yuk
South China Morning Post
When state radio reported on Wednesday that Premier Li Keqiang met United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa in Beidaihe, it was the clearest confirmation that the annual summer gathering of China’s most influential...

Books

07.26.18

Imperial Twilight

Stephen Platt
Alfred A. Knopf: As China reclaims its position as a world power, Imperial Twilight looks back to tell the story of the country’s last age of ascendance and how it came to an end in the 19th-century Opium War.When Britain launched its first war on China in 1839, pushed into hostilities by profiteering drug merchants and free-trade interests, it sealed the fate of what had long been seen as the most prosperous and powerful empire in Asia, if not the world. But internal problems of corruption, popular unrest, and dwindling finances had weakened China far more than was commonly understood, and the war would help set in motion the eventual fall of the Qing dynasty—which, in turn, would lead to the rise of nationalism and communism in the 20th century. As one of the most potent turning points in the country’s modern history, the Opium War has since come to stand for everything that today’s China seeks to put behind it.In this dramatic, epic story, award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by Western traders and missionaries to “open” China—traveling mostly in secret beyond Canton, the single port where they were allowed—even as China’s imperial rulers were struggling to manage their country’s decline and Confucian scholars grappled with how to use foreign trade to China’s advantage. The book paints an enduring portrait of an immensely profitable and mostly peaceful meeting of civilizations at Canton over the long term that was destined to be shattered by one of the most shockingly unjust wars in the annals of imperial history. Brimming with a fascinating cast of British, Chinese, and American individuals, this riveting narrative of relations between China and the West has important implications for today’s uncertain and ever-changing political climate.{chop}

Viewpoint

07.13.18

‘Liu Knew His Responsibility in History’

Ian Johnson
He was risking not the immediate arrival of soldiers, but the inevitable and life-threatening imprisonment that befalls all people who challenge state power in China today. This was not an active decision to die, but a willingness to do so. The...

Books

07.10.18

Blood Letters

Lian Xi
Basic Books: The staggering story of the most important Chinese political dissident of the Mao era, a devout Christian who was imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the regime.Blood Letters tells the astonishing tale of Lin Zhao, a poet and journalist arrested by the authorities in 1960 and executed eight years later, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Openly and steadfastly opposing communism under Mao, she rooted her dissent in her Christian faith—and expressed it in long, prophetic writings done in her own blood, and at times on her clothes and on cloth torn from her bedsheets.Miraculously, Lin Zhao’s prison writings survived, though they have only recently come to light. Drawing on these works and others from the years before her arrest, as well as interviews with her friends, her classmates, and other former political prisoners, Lian Xi paints an indelible portrait of courage and faith in the face of unrelenting evil.{chop}

How Britain Went to War With China Over Opium

Austin Ramzy
New York Times
In 1840, Britain went to war with China over questions of trade, diplomacy, national dignity and, most importantly, drug trafficking. While British officials tried to play down the illicit origins of the conflict, opponents gave it a name that made...

Books

06.20.18

The Third Revolution

Elizabeth C. Economy
Oxford University Press: In The Third Revolution, eminent China scholar Elizabeth C. Economy provides an incisive look at the transformative changes underway in China today. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has unleashed a powerful set of political and economic reforms: the centralization of power under Xi, himself; the expansion of the Communist Party’s role in Chinese political, social, and economic life; and the construction of a virtual wall of regulations to control more closely the exchange of ideas and capital between China and the outside world. Beyond its borders, Beijing has recast itself as a great power, seeking to reclaim its past glory and to create a system of international norms that better serves its more ambitious geostrategic objectives. In so doing, the Chinese leadership is reversing the trends toward greater political and economic opening, as well as the low-profile foreign policy, that had been put in motion by Deng Xiaoping’s “Second Revolution” 30 years earlier.Through a wide-ranging exploration of Xi Jinping’s top political, economic, and foreign policy priorities—fighting corruption, managing the Internet, reforming the state-owned enterprise sector, improving the country’s innovation capacity, enhancing air quality, and elevating China’s presence on the global stage—Economy identifies the tensions, shortcomings, and successes of Xi’s reform efforts over the course of his first five years in office. She also assesses their implications for the rest of the world, and provides recommendations for how the United States and others should navigate their relationship with this vast nation in the coming years.{chop}

‘Ruling Through Ritual’: An Interview with Guo Yuhua

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Guo Yuhua is one of China’s best-known sociologists and most incisive government critics. A professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, she has devoted her career to researching human suffering in Chinese society, especially that of peasants, the...

Conversation

06.14.18

One Year After They Almost Went to War, Can China and India Get Along?

Joel Wuthnow, Selina Ho & more
One year ago, the Chinese and Indian armies faced off at Doklam, a disputed Himalayan area on the border between China, India, and the tiny kingdom of Bhutan. While the two sides didn’t go to war over the border as they did in 1962, tensions were...

Resetting China-India Relations

Paul Haenle & C. Raja Mohan from Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
Following a year marked by mounting tensions between China and India, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in Wuhan for an informal summit in April to reset the relationship. Major points of tension dominating China-India...

US Seeks Greater Scrutiny of China Tech Investment

Shawn Donnan
Financial Times
Senate considers bill that may increase U.S. scrutiny of Chinese investments.

In China, Photo of Trade Talks Embodies ‘Young’ Country Passing Aging U.S.

Raymond Zhong
New York Times
A distinct age gap between Chinese delegates and American lawmakers.

At the Height of His Power, China’s Xi Jinping Moves to Embrace Marxism

Steven Jiang
CNN
Why is President Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, presiding over a wealthy and resurgent China, embracing the philosophical ideas of Karl Marx?

China Gave Trump a List of Crazy Demands, and He Caved to One of Them

Josh Rogin
Washington Post
China’s list of economic and trade demands that suggest its negotiating position.