China’s Next Act

A Q&A with Scott Moore

While discussions of U.S.-China relations tend to revolve around trade and national security, more focus ought to be given to issues of environmental sustainability, including health, and to emerging technology, argues the University of Pennsylvania’s Scott Moore. Moore spoke with ChinaFile Editor Susan Jakes about his recent book, China’s Next Act: How Sustainability and Technology are Reshaping China’s Rise and the World’s Future. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

For Your Weekend, November 4, 2022

Asian Labour Review published a translated first-hand account of one of the many workers who fled a Foxconn factory in Henan this week due to COVID cases and the threat of lockdown. The worker recounts the sudden chaos of leaving, the kindness of strangers who helped her escape, and her feelings about going to back to work.

An animated video (in Chinese) making the rounds on Twitter last week highlights the bureaucratic absurdity of life in China after three years of the pandemic. The satirical video depicts a man applying for permission to drink alcohol.

For Your Weekend, October 28, 2022

For those interested in the nuts and bolts of Party priorities and self-representation, the Substack Ginger River has provided a line-by-line review of changes in the Party constitution following the recent Party Congress. It has also collected a downloadable range of other official documents from the congress, including the political report Xi delivered on October 16 and lists of membership in key Party bodies.

In a detailed account for London Review of Books, Long Ling, a government official based in Beijing, recounts the communications her local Party branch received and the laborious “Xi Jinping Thought” studies she was expected to complete in the lead-up to the Party Congress.

And Yangyang Cheng, writing in The Guardian, ponders the meanings of resistance and connection as politics in both her natal and adopted countries pull them further apart.

How to Become a Better Firefighter in Gansu? Read ‘1984,’ ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ and ‘The Complete Book of Jewish Wisdom’

On April 23, 2022, the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) marked World Book Day with a meeting in Beijing to “study and implement the important instructions of Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and deepen the development of CPPCC member reading activities.” At the same time, fire departments across China observed the occasion with “study sessions” and reading activities designed to “keep the leaders’ instructions in mind and forever remain loyal guardians.”

Throughout his time as General Secretary, Xi Jinping has exhorted officials and Party members at all levels to read more and has emphasized the role of reading in strengthening the “people’s spirit” and shaping their “self-confidence.” Though reading and “reading activities” often connote studying Party-approved history and theory, a 2019 procurement notice posted by the Qingyang Fire Department, in Gansu province, reveals an eclectic list of book purchases for the brigade’s in-house library. In addition to treatises on Maoism, Chinese and world history, and revolutionary biographies, the inventory of more than 550 titles includes numerous self-help books, a how-to guide to understanding blockchain, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Svetlana Alexievich’s Boys in Zinc, and George Orwell’s 1984.

This year, on World Book Day, a news report showed images of firefighters in Qingyang “relaxing” with books, perhaps mulling over Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, savoring a book of Tang poetry, or contemplating Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

Below is ChinaFile’s translation of selected entries from the full list of titles. We have added authors’ names where available. The complete original Chinese list follows.

For Your Weekend, October 7, 2022

An article from Emily Feng at NPR, “A public payphone in China began ringing and ringing. Who was calling?,” manages to be both inspiring and deflating. The story it tells brings together themes of environmental justice, public protest, art as a tool of advocacy, and the increasing difficulty of evading China’s pervasive surveillance regime.

The Economist has a great new podcast out about Xi Jinping. The Prince traces Xi’s life from his early career, through his posts in Fujian and Zhejiang, to his current seat at the apex of power in China.

Another piece of deeply researched multimedia reporting is this video on COVID whistleblower Li Wenliang from the Visual Investigations team at The New York Times.

Earlier this week, Asia Society launched its new Center for China Analysis (CCA) with a series of panels on China’s domestic politics in the run-up to the 20th Party Congress, “building guardrails” in U.S.-China relations, and prospects for U.S.-China collaboration. CCA also recently launched a new online feature, “Decoding the 20th Party Congress,” which includes an interactive tool for exploring the relationships among potential candidates for the Party’s Politburo, as well as analysis about how the composition of China’s new leadership may affect the policy landscape.

And finally, at a moment when the world seems to be pulling apart, our friends at The China Project (the publication formerly known as SupChina), have this gem on Peking University students learning Yiddish, and the ways it draws awareness to China’s own vanishing regional dialects.

For Your Weekend, September 9, 2022

Sixth Tone recently published a striking photo series featuring people in the city of Xi’an who have taken up residence in a half-finished apartment complex. In a story repeated throughout China right now, the developer ceased building due to financial difficulties, leaving those who have already fully paid for their new homes little recourse as rents rise and their savings remain depleted from their real estate purchase.

Online Posts Purport to Show Severe Lockdown Conditions in Xinjiang

Videos, voice messages, and WeChat posts purporting to show residents in the Ghulja (Yining), Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, area of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region crying out for food or medical attention have appeared online in recent days. As the Associated Press reported last week, governments in the region have imposed lengthy COVID lockdowns of sometimes more than 40 days. One video purports to show someone jumping off a building, presumably in despair about the situation.

ChinaFile cannot independently verify the authenticity of these social media posts. Babur Ilchi of the Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU), a U.S.-based advocacy group, said that his group had also been unable to independently corroborate the videos’ authenticity. “It’s hard to verify these kinds of videos, or reach out to people who film them,” he said. However, the sheer volume of videos coming out in recent days made CFU “feel very confident, unfortunately, that this is happening.”

Regardless of their authenticity, for the Uyghur community abroad, these videos represent yet another way in which the local population is at the whim of the Chinese government’s severe surveillance and social control measures. They also hint at the toll that the most extreme Zero-COVID policies can have on citizens who are stuck in quarantine for weeks on end, echoing the outpouring anger and frustration from residents of Shanghai earlier this year.

For Your Weekend, September 1, 2022

As we go into the last weekend of the summer, and a holiday weekend for those in the U.S., we recommend this New Yorker essay in which Han Zhang discusses the censorship of feminists and reporting on incidents of gender-based violence.

For Your Weekend, August 25, 2022

This weekend, we recommend this superb exploration of Chinese documentary film winning awards at fake documentary film festivals, from our friends at China Media Project.

In this short interview, climate expert (and our Asia Society colleague) Thom Woodroofe discusses how the cancellation of U.S.-China climate talks following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan will affect global efforts to combat climate change.

China Digital Times offers a glimpse of the ways Chinese citizens are expressing their feelings about COVID and COVID-control policies. In this oblique commentary, an artist spray-painted one character on each of eight COVID testing stations, which reveal this message when viewed together on a map: “It’s been three years, I’m already numb.”

For Your Weekend, August 11, 2022

The most recent episode of the Sinica Podcast, with former U.S. intelligence officer John Culver, was recorded last week before Beijing’s military exercises in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. But it’s an invaluable resource on both the historical context of the visit and on the range of possible directions its aftermath could take.

The Substack Ginger River has translated Xinhua’s readout of Xi Jinping’s recent inspection tour of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The translation gives a sense of how Chinese authorities are framing the trip, and the notes provided by the translator(s) help fill in any gaps for a reader not familiar with the CCP jargon related to the region.

Carnegie’s Indian Ocean Initiative recently released an interactive map, “The Strategic Importance of the Indian Ocean.” The map allows you to zoom in on chokepoints, disputed territories, and maritime boundaries, providing background information on key issues in the region.

For Your Weekend, August 5, 2022

Thanks to our colleagues at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, we are reading this excellent investigation into the effects Chinese iron mining in Guinea, by Bloomberg’s Sheridan Prasso and featuring the work of our old friend, environmental lawyer Zhang Jingjing, and well summarized in this excellent video. It came out in June, but if we missed it, maybe you did too?

As we continue to follow the aftermath of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week, we recommend checking out the latest installment of the Lawfare Podcast with Julian Ku, Zach Cooper, and Sophia Yan joining Lawfare’s editor Benjamin Wittes, this op-ed by Yu-Jie Chen and this Isaac Chotiner interview with longtime American Taiwan expert, Shelly Rigger.

In happier news, last week, a ChinaFile essay by Shen Lu, “Scallion Dutch Baby: How I Revised My Recipe for Home,” won the Association of Asian American Journalists award for Excellence in Commentary. The essay is in part about cooking, and so to share our celebration of the prize with all of you, we invited Shen to share recipes for two of the dishes that appear in her essay.

For Your Weekend, July 28, 2022

For your weekend, we recommend Ian Johnson’s review of a new English language translation of Wang Xiaobo’s 1992 novella The Golden Age, released this week.

You can read more on Wang, his unique place among contemporary Chinese writers, and his wife, the influential sociologist of sexuality Li Yinhe, in this essay by Johnson for The New York Review of Books.

And for an additional look at Wang’s social and artistic mileu, watch this ChinaFile interview with filmmaker Zhang Yuan which touches on his collaboration with Wang and Li on his film East Palace, West Palace, one of mainland China’s first films about same-sex romance.

Confession and Reconciliation in the Cultural Revolution’s Aftermath

A Conversation with ChinaFile

Last week, frequent ChinaFile contributors Geremie Barmé and Zha Jianying joined editor Susan Jakes on Twitter Spaces to discus Zha’s recent short story for ChinaFile, “The Prize Student.” The story takes place in Nanjing in 1983, as a prominent writer pays a visit to a Middle School teacher he had denounced and persecuted at the start of the Cultural Revolution 17 years earlier. Barmé and Zha discussed the story’s origins, their own experience of the Cultural Revolution, and the vexed question of how it is and can be remembered in China today.

Arrests and Charges Related to Hong Kong's National Security Law

Since May 2021, Lydia Wong, Eric Yan-ho Lai, and Thomas Kellogg, from the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University, have tracked the implementation of Hong Kong’s National Security Law, tallying up arrests and prosecutions as well as assessing larger trends in the nature of such cases. In addition to hosting the two articles they have written about their findings (“New Data Show Hong Kong’s National Security Arrests Follow a Pattern” and “Arrest Data Show National Security Law Has Dealt a Hard Blow to Free Expression in Hong Kong”), ChinaFile is providing regularly-updated data about these cases on a stand-alone page: “Tracking the Impact of Hong Kong’s National Security Law.” Check back here frequently for information about new arrests or updates to cases working their way through the legal system.

2021 (Most Recent) Official PRC Place Name Data Available for Download

For the last few years, ChinaFile has collected and hosted the list of official names of all the places (political units) in China. This information is openly available on the Chinese government’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) website, but not in an easily downloadable or searchable format. We have compiled these lists in CSV format in the hopes they may be of use to other researchers.

Participation in Xinjiang Surveillance Program Can Lead to Smoother Career Enhancement

Since 2014, authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have, as Human Rights Watch phrases it, sent “cadres from government agencies, state-owned enterprises, and public institutions to regularly visit and surveil people.” The program, known as “Visit the People, Benefit the People, Bring Together the Hearts of the People,” is one way the government keeps tabs on Uyghurs and other ethnic minority residents of the region.

A Note on Notes From ChinaFile

As ChinaFile approaches its 10th birthday, we find ourselves occasionally having something on the short side to say. Notes from ChinaFile will provide a dwelling place on our site for recommendations of books or articles, shrewd thoughts we overhear or that you send us, treasures from our archives, short chats with contributors, documents in search of a story, questions, partially formed ideas, clever uses for a scallion, and likely much else that hasn’t yet occurred to us. We’ll keep you posted.