2013 Year in Review

A Letter from the Editors

As the year draws to a close, we want to take a moment to look back at some of the stories ChinaFile published in 2013. We hope you’ll find something that interests you to read—or watch—over the holidays.

It’s hard to remember a recent year that didn’t bring major news in China, but even by China’s outsized standards 2013 was big. In January, just after a new slate of leaders took the helm, we held our inaugural ChinaFile Conversations on what would turn out to be among the major recurring stories of the year: China’s relations with its neighbors, cyber-securityair pollution, and corruption. Since then, our growing and outstanding cast of commentators has brought insight to the year’s top stories including: the prosecution of Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama’s Sunnylands summit, and the recent difficulties facing American journalists working in China. But they have also reflected on more enduring themes: China’s quest for soft power, the fate of multinational corporations that invest in China, the power of social media, and the United States’ role in Chinese human rights. Make sure not to miss our most recent—ongoing—conversation on how to interpret the rumors that China’s former security czar is under investigation for corruption.

Mark Ralston—AFP/Getty Images
Crowds watched as French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault toured the Forbidden City at the start of his visit to Beijing earlier this month.

But most of our original reporting and commentary focuses on topics we feel are more important or revealing than their role in day-to-day news might suggest. In this vein, we published essays on inter-ethnic tensions, the disturbing links between U.S. adoptions and child-trafficking, the effects China’s counterfeit drugs on public health in Africa, family planning’s waning impact on migrant women, the pitfalls of historic preservation, and Hong Kong’s growing mistrust of Beijing.

We take a similar approach in photography and video. We’ve published photo essays on the home lives of workers at a sneaker factory and on North Korean refugees in China’s northeast, and short films on families in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake and extras looking for work at the Beijing Film Studio. In the field of culture, we have introduced emerging artists in the fields of art photography, animation, and folk music, and taken the measure of China’s thorny relationship with Hollywood. As part of our commitment to telling stories visually, we’ve begun building a collection of graphic distillations of complex stories: negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons, Communist Party purges, and Apple Computer’s supply chains.

In 2013, the authors of some fifty new books on China sat for short video interviews on their writing. And some of the best China reporters came to Asia Society to take part in our ongoing events series, ChinaFile Presents. Finally, we were fortunate—as were you—to have our stories keep company with the excellent work of our partners Tea Leaf Nation, chinadialogue, The New York Review of Books, Caixin, and the Sinica Podcast, whose contributions to our enterprise humble us. We wish you all the best for the holidays and in 2014.

See you then,



Below is a list of some of the stories we published this year (one story for each month):


Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962


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.  


Covering China: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Six New York Times Correspondents Discuss Reporting on China from the 1940s to Today


On February 5, 2013, ChinaFile celebrated its official launch by bringing together a panel of former and current New York Times correspondents, whose collective China experience spans the course of half a century, to discuss their coverage of China.  


For Many in China, the One Child Policy is Already Irrelevant


I lived in China from 1998 to 2007, and the longer I stayed, the more I felt that governance was a frantic effort to keep up with what was happening on the ground. So when Beijing finally gets around to abolishing its one-child policy, as its latest actions suggest will happen, it will likely find that the ruling has almost no impact.


 ‘Hi! I’m Fang!’ The Man Who Changed China

Remembering Fang Lizhi


He took out his Chinese ID card from his pocket, stepped forward right in front of the policemen, held the card in two hands in front of his chest, about four inches beneath his chin, and said in a sharp, clear voice: “Fang … Li … Zhi!”  


The Reborn of Beichuan

Five Years After the Sichuan Earthquake


For many families in China, losing one child means losing an only child. The Reborn of Beichuan follows the journey of two families from the devastated city of Beichuan as they try to restore normalcy to their lives and struggle to move past the loss of their children.  


Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

A ChinaFile Conversation

The party is trying to harness popular anger against graft by allowing some oversight online, either through the microblogging site Weibo or the official “informant pages.” It is also very cognizant of the risk that things could spiral out of control, so it will keep a tight grip over public participation in the anti-corruption campaign, hence the crackdown on the anti-corruption campaigners agitating outside the system.


Carried Off: Abduction, Adoption, and Two Families’ Search for Answers


Neither child trafficking nor baby buying in Chinese international adoptions are widely studied. No one can say for certain how many children are kidnapped in China each year, or what percentage of them end up being put up for adoption domestically or internationally. But the problem is a lot more serious than most people know.  


Borderland: North Korean Defectors Hide in Plain View


Nine years ago, photographer Katharina Hesse began to make portraits of North Korean defectors. Hesse pairs the portraits with images of the exposed, open terrain the defectors must traverse to cross the border into China and of the brightly lit bridges over the Yalu River that will carry them straight back to North Korea if they are caught.  


The Strangers: Blood and Fear in Xinjiang


Today, Uighur-Han ethnic relations are the most bitter in China. On the Uighur side, the reasons are obvious; as they see it, the Han are occupiers, invaders, and despoilers. Among the Han, the popular dislike for Uighur is more complicated. Some of it is simple resentment against minorities.  


Trust Issues: Hong Kong Resists Beijing’s Advances


While Beijing may choose to close its eyes to it, the shift in Hongkongers’ self-understanding is real. The end of the resistance to colonialism may have paradoxically weakened the feeling of cultural belonging to the Chinese nation. A new resistance to Beijing’s fixation on patriotism has emerged.  


Document 9: A ChinaFile Translation

How Much Is a Hardline Party Directive Shaping China’s Current Political Climate?

Document 9 calls on Party members to strengthen their resistance to “infiltration” by outside ideas, renew their commitment to work “in the ideological sphere,” and to handle with renewed vigilance all ideas, institutions, and people deemed threatening to unilateral Party rule.  


Will China Shut Out the Foreign Press?

A ChinaFile Conversation

Some two dozen journalists employed by The New York Times and Bloomberg News have not yet received the visas they need to continue to report and live in China after the end of this year. We asked contributors to react to this news and suggest how the United States should respond.