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Tea Leaf Nation

Tea Leaf Nation is a channel on ForeignPolicy.com that decodes Chinese media—mainstream, social, local, special interest—to illuminate the country from within.

Last Updated: February 10, 2016

Media

08.08.16

How Chinese Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Their Military Again

Every evening, as regular and obstreperous as a rooster, the People’s Liberation Army (P.L.A.) soldiers sing from the barracks outside my Beijing home, a chorus of teenage troops reminding the neighborhood when it’s dinner time:“Unity is strength,...

Media

07.21.16

More Than 100 Chinese Muslims Have Joined the Islamic State

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
A July 20 report from New America, a think tank in Washington, DC, examined more than 4,000 registration records of fighters who joined the Islamic State between mid-2013 and mid-2014.

Media

06.22.16

‘Wukan,’ Once a Byword For Chinese Democracy, Now Censored

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
A fishing village in southern Guangdong province, once a standard-bearer for small-time democracy in China, has now become a political disaster—and the most-censored term on Chinese social media.In September 2011, amid protests over land sales in...

Environment

05.26.16

Beijing Calls South China Sea Island Reclamation a ‘Green Project’

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
Sand, cement, and Chinese military facilities now sit on top of some of the South China Sea’s once-thriving reefs; China has built over half a dozen new artificial islands in a bid to bolster its territorial claims in the hotly disputed region. Such...

Media

05.20.16

The Chinese Trolls Who Pump Out 488 Million Fake Social Media Posts

David Wertime
They are the most hated group in Chinese cyberspace. They are, to hear their ideological opponents tell it, “fiercely ignorant,” keen to “insert themselves in everything,” and preen as if they were “spokesmen for the country.” Westerners bemoan...

Media

05.18.16

My Uncle Was a Red Guard in the Cultural Revolution—He Isn’t Sorry

Lishui is the nickname for my uncle, a farmer who has lived all his life in the suburbs of Tianjin, a big city in northeastern China. Whenever people talk about Lishui, my mother’s older brother, they always say: “Lishui is a nice guy, honest,...

Media

05.12.16

Chinese Is Not a Backward Language

Thomas S. Mullaney
Even in the age of China’s social media boom, and billion-dollar valuations for Beijing-based IT start-ups, prejudice against the Chinese language is alive and well. One would be forgiven for thinking that by 2016, the 20th century’s widespread...

Media

04.15.16

A ‘Lost’ Daughter Speaks, and All of China Listens

A woman in her mid-40s cradled a scrap of blue cloth checkered with red. “Have you seen this before?” she asked. “Do you recognize this pattern?”I held it up to the light and noticed the cotton edges had frayed and tattered over years. “We already...

Media

04.14.16

‘Taiwan Independence’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think

On February 23, all eyes were on Taiwan’s new Member of Parliament Freddy Lim as he took the podium at the Legislative Yuan for the first time. Lim is now best known as the heavy metal rock star who, following January 2016 elections on the self-...

Media

04.05.16

Chinese Censors Rush to Make ‘Panama Papers’ Disappear

David Wertime
On April 3, the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit International Committee of Investigative Journalists dropped what struck many as a bombshell: news that a leaked trove of 11.5 million previously secret files from Panama-based law firm Mossack...

Media

03.10.16

China’s Secret Weapon on Disputed Island: Beer and Badminton

Soldiers, ships, and military outposts are the usual tools of nations staking out their territory. But on disputed shoals in the South China Sea, Beijing may be deploying a new arsenal: soccer fields, pipelines, and tea shops.Woody Island is a...

Media

03.04.16

China’s Coming Ideological Wars

Taisu Zhang
For most Chinese, the 1990s were a period of intense material pragmatism. Economic development was the paramount social and political concern, while the various state ideologies that had guided policy during the initial decades of the People’s...

What Han Han's App Means for Chinese Censorship

Liz Carter
By publishing "The One" as an iPhone app, China's superblogger bypassed the State Administration of Radio Film and Television.

What’s Really Trending on China’s Twitter: The Voice of China

LIz Carter
Coverage of China in Western media tilts toward the political and economic, so it might surprise some to learn that the top trending terms this summer on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, have mostly related to the season’s top television hit: ...

“Digital Disaster” Frustrates Would-Be Train Ticket Buyers

David Wertime
It’s a digital disaster. With a Chinese travel crunch looming, China’s online ticketing system is quickly turning into a boondoggle of historic proportions.

Protests Roiling, China’s Mainstream Media Showed an Alternate Reality

Sandra
It’s already entered the annals of China’s brief but rich Internet history: On Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, posts showing massive anti-Japan protests in China went viral on September 15th and 16th. Out in the real world, protestors across dozens of...

Prominent Chinese Writer: I Am a Traitor

Sijia Song
Li Chengpeng, an influential writer and social commentator, has published an article on his blog denouncing the boycott of Japanese goods and the violent anti-Japan sentiment currently sweeping China as the two wrangle over the Diaoyu Islands,...

Anti-Japan Protests in China Turn Violent, Cooler Heads Prevail Online

Jimmy
On Saturday protestors in dozens of Chinese cities took to the streets to voice their anger at the Japanese government’s nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku Islands in Japanese) in the East China Sea as a flagrant violation of Chinese...

Winter For Chinese Media: Why So Many Respected Journalists Are Leaving the Field

Yueran Zhang
Although the government’s control over news media has always been tight, the range and intensity of the purge this year has been rarely seen, suggesting that the censors’ controlling hand is tightening. As Wang Keqin, a former investigative...

Where’s Xi? Using New Code Words, China’s Netizens Speculate by the Thousands

Rachel Lu
It’s a cat and mouse game for netizens who are interested in Mr. Xi’s coming and goings. Certain code words for Mr. Xi, such as “Crown Prince (太子)” or XJP, are blocked search terms on Sina Weibo. However, netizens have invented others, such as heir...

What "911" Means in Chinese

Liz Carter
Even in Chinese, “911” is shorthand for September 11 and the events that transpired 11 years ago today. Web users in China have taken to social media to mark the anniversary, some waxing philosophical about the passage of time and the elusiveness of...

Chinese Netizens Find Michelle Obama’s Speech “Amazing”

David Wertime
First Lady Michelle Obama knew she was speaking to the American electorate when she took the stage yesterday at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte, North Carolina. But she may not have known the size–or, it turns out, the...

Chinese Writer on Honest, Generous, “Foolish” Americans

David Wertime
I’ve already been in the U.S. for a long time. I regret that choice. We’ve been [fooled] by Western media the whole time, making us think that the U.S. is a modernized country. Harboring hopes of studying American modern science in order to serve my...

To Know What’s Wrong With China, Look At Her Construction

Li Chengpeng
Every time I walk down the street and see a new project about to break ground, I know that several billionaires are about to be made. Every time I see a project has been completed, I know that a few unknown “temporary workers” are about to become...

Can One Woman’s Case Change a 70-Year Old System of Injustice?

Yueran Zhang
The story of Tang Hui, a mother sentenced to hard labor through the “re-education through labor,” or RTL, program when seeking justice for her raped daughter, may have created new impetus for legislative change. Among the voices urging Tang...

Should the Chinese Government "Fight Back" Against Rumors on Social Media?

Liz Carter
Tea Leaf Nation wonders if there is any truth in a piece entitled "We Must Do Our Best to Keep Fake News From Fermenting For Too Long" that appeared on August 17 in Beijing Daily, a Party-controlled paper known to take a hard-line stance...

Taiwanese Mega Bookstore Causes Frenzy in Hong Kong

Chieh-Ting Yeh
As any self-respecting booklover in Taipei knows, you can immerse yourself in the endless variety of glossy printed books at the Eslite Bookstore on Dunhua South Road. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Moreover, the flagship store near Taipei 101...