Books

12.17.13

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Nicholas Griffin
The spring of 1971 heralded the greatest geopolitical realignment in a generation. After twenty-two years of antagonism, China and the United States suddenly moved toward a détente—achieved not by politicians but by Ping-Pong players. The Western press delighted in the absurdity of the moment and branded it “Ping-Pong Diplomacy.” But for the Chinese, Ping-Pong was always political, a strategic cog in Mao Zedong’s foreign policy. Nicholas Griffin proves that the organized game, from its first breath, was tied to Communism thanks to its founder, Ivor Montagu, son of a wealthy English baron and spy for the Soviet Union. Ping-Pong Diplomacy traces a crucial inter­section of sports and society. Griffin tells the strange and tragic story of how the game was manipulated at the highest levels; how the Chinese government helped cover up the death of 36 million peasants by holding the World Table Tennis Championships during the Great Famine; how championship players were driven to their deaths during the Cultural Revolution; and, finally, how the survivors were reconvened in 1971 and ordered to reach out to their American counterparts. Through a cast of eccentric characters, from spies to hippies and Ping-Pong-obsessed generals to atom-bomb survivors, Griffin explores how a neglected sport was used to help realign the balance of worldwide power.  —Scribner{chop}

China: Five Pounds of Facts

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
No one seems to have measured exactly how old Chinese civilization is, but Endymion Wilkinson can probably give a more precise answer than anyone else. “1.6 billion minutes separate us from the Zhou conquest of the Shang,” he informs us at the...

Environment

12.05.13

Daoism, Confucianism, and the Environment

from chinadialogue
In September, an unusual environmental organization was launched in one of the most ancient and significant sites in China—the Songyang Academy, Dengfeng, Henan. Founded in the eleventh century AD, this was one of the four Confucian Academies of...

The Surprising Empress

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In the mid-1950s, when I was a graduate student of Chinese history, the Manchu Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) was invariably condemned as a reactionary hate figure; Mao Zedong was admired. In the textbooks of that time, leading American scholars...

Conversation

12.03.13

What Posture Should Joe Biden Adopt Toward A Newly Muscular China?

Susan Shirk
Susan Shirk:United States Vice President Joseph Biden is the American political figure who has spent the most time with Xi Jinping and has the deepest understanding of Xi as an individual. Before Xi’s selection as P.R.C. president and C.C.P. general...

Sinica Podcast

12.03.13

One Journalist’s Journey through China

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
This week, Kaiser and Jeremy are pleased to be joined by Isabel Hilton, a longstanding British journalist whose youthful interest in China got her blacklisted by the British security services and the British Broadcasting Corporation and redirected...

Conversation

11.27.13

Why’s the U.S. Flying Bombers Over the East China Sea?

Chen Weihua, James Fallows & more
Chen Weihua:The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is not a Chinese invention. The United States, Japan and some 20 other countries declared such zones in their airspace long time ago.China’s announcement of its first ADIZ in the East China Sea...

Conversation

11.24.13

What Should the Next U.S. Ambassador to China Tackle First?

Mary Kay Magistad & Robert Kapp
Mary Kay Magistad: Gary Locke succeeded in a way that few U.S. ambassadors to China have—in improving public perceptions of U.S. culture.  Locke’s down-to-earth approachability and lack of ostentation certainly helped. So did the...

Excerpts

11.22.13

Shen Wei’s ‘Chinese Sentiment’

Peter Hessler
When Shen Wei was growing up in Shanghai during the nineteen-eighties and nineties, his mother worked as a fashion designer who specialized in calendars. If a company wanted to publish one, they hired Shen Wei’s mother, and she designed clothes for...

Dreams of a Different China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Last November, China’s newly installed leader, Xi Jinping, asked his fellow Chinese to help realize a “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation. In the months since then, his talk has been seen as a marker in the new leadership’s thinking, especially...

Books

11.20.13

Empress Dowager Cixi

Jung Chang
Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a medieval empire into the modern age. At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China—behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male. In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Cixi fought against monumental obstacles to change China. Under her the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state: industries, railways, electricity, the telegraph, and an army and navy with up-to-date weaponry. It was she who abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts” and put an end to foot-binding. She inaugurated women’s liberation and embarked on the path to introduce parliamentary elections to China. Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot.Based on newly available, mostly Chinese, historical documents such as court records, official and private correspondence, diaries and eyewitness accounts, this biography will revolutionize historical thinking about a crucial period in China’s—and the world’s—history. Packed with drama, fast paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman. —Knopf{chop}

Culture

11.19.13

Why You Should Read Pearl Buck’s ‘New’ Novel

Sheila Melvin
When I first heard that The Eternal Wonder, a new novel by Pearl Buck, was scheduled for publication by Open Road Media on October 22 of this year, I assumed the announcement was either a mistake or a joke.Buck, of course, is the author of The Good...

Sinica Podcast

11.13.13

Daoism for the Action-Oriented

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
{vertical_photo_right}What Would Confucius Do? What for that matter would Laozi not do? This week on Sinica, Kaiser and Jeremy ask these and other questions of Sam Crane, Professor of Contemporary Chinese Politics at Williams College and author of...

Culture

11.11.13

All He Needs is a Miracle

Debra Bruno
Courtesy of the USF Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History A portrait of Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci by You Wenhui; painted at the time of Ricci’s death in Beijing, 1610. It now hangs at the Jesuit residence in Rome. It is the...

Chinese Authorities Blocked Protest Voyage to Senkakus, Activist Says

Global Post
Authorities barred a planned protest to the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea last month involving activists from both the mainland and Taiwan, but the protesters are now eyeing another try next month, one of the activists said...

Wikipedia China Becomes Front Line for Views on Language and Culture

Grace Tsoi
New York Times
The Chinese-language version of Wikipedia has become more than an online encyclopedia: it is a battlefield for editors from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in a region charged with political, ideological and cultural differences.&...

Viewpoint

11.07.13

Deciphering Xi Jinping’s Dream

Ouyang Bin & Roderick MacFarquhar
On November 9, the Chinese Communist Party will host its Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Central Committee. This conference will be a key to deciphering the ruling philosophy of the new Chinese leadership, who will run the country for the...

Books

11.06.13

The Birth of Chinese Feminism

Edited by Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca E. Karl, Dorothy Y. Ko
He-Yin Zhen (ca. 1884-ca.1920) was a theorist who figured centrally in the birth of Chinese feminism. Unlike her contemporaries, she was concerned less with China’s fate as a nation and more with the relationship among patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, and gender subjugation as global historical problems. This volume, the first translation and study of He-Yin’s work in English, critically reconstructs early twentieth-century Chinese feminist thought in a transnational context by juxtaposing He-Yin Zhen’s writing against works by two better-known male interlocutors of her time.The editors begin with a detailed analysis of He-Yin Zhen’s life and thought. They then present annotated translations of six of her major essays, as well as two foundational tracts by her male contemporaries, Jin Tianhe (1874-1947) and Liang Qichao (1873–1929), to which He-Yin’s work responds and with which it engages. Jin, a poet and educator, and Liang, a philosopher and journalist, understood feminism as a paternalistic cause that liberals like themselves should defend. He-Yin presents an alternative conception that draws upon anarchism and other radical trends. Ahead of her time, He-Yin Zhen complicates conventional accounts of feminism and China’s history, offering original perspectives on sex, gender, labor, and power that remain relevant today.  —Columbia University Press{chop}

The Challenges of Conveying Absurd Reality: An Interview with Yu Hua

Megan Shank
Los Angeles Review of Books
Thus, Los Angeles Review of Books Asia Co-editor Megan Shank and Yu exchanged Chinese-language e-mails about history’s most over- and underrated Chinese writers, the evolution of an ancient language and why Yu will never read&...

Media

11.01.13

Apologies for a Horrific Past

On October 9, a farmer named Zhang Jinying appeared on the television show Please Forgive Me, a program usually dedicated to public apologies by unfaithful husbands and wayward sons. But the sixty-one-year-old Zhang’s apology had a depth and a...

Viewpoint

11.01.13

What the Heck is China’s ‘Third Plenum’ and Why Should You Care?

Barry Naughton
China’s economy is already two-thirds the size of the economy of the U.S., and it’s been growing five times as fast. But now, China’s economy is beginning to slow and is facing a raft of difficult problems.  If China’s leaders don’t address...

China Yangtze River Yields American World War II Bomber

BBC
A U.S. scholar says the plane, discovered by fishermen in the Yangtze River, was a B-25 bomber from the “Flying Tiger” squadrons, a special unit of World War II U.S. military pilots tasked with training Chinese pilots in air combat. 

A Muzzled Chinese Artwork, Absent but Speaking Volumes

Jane Perlez
New York Times
Exiled sculptor Wang Keping’s controversial piece “Silence” — a wooden head with a plug stuffing its gaping mouth — has not been allowed in China since it was shown in 1979 and 1980, but the artist is now showing newer art in Beijing.&...

China Venerates a Revolutionary, the Father of Its New Leader

Chris Buckley
New York Times
The Communist Party has devoted official meetings, books, a six-episode television documentary, a garish children’s performance and postage stamps to mark a century since the birth of Xi Zhongxun, a veteran revolutionary and Xi Jinping’s father...

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Philosophy?

Christine Gross-Loh
Atlantic
Professor Michael Puett uses Chinese philosophy as a way to give undergraduates concrete, counter-intuitive, and even revolutionary ideas, which teach them how to live a better life, putting ancient Chinese thought in the context of contemporary...

Sinica Podcast

10.11.13

Steven Schwankert and the HMS Poseidon

Kaiser Kuo & Jeremy Goldkorn from Sinica Podcast
When the HMS Poseidon struck a Chinese freighter in the Gulf of Bohai in 1931, the collision sparked a devastating accident that would see the British submarine plunge to the ocean floor in mere minutes, claiming the lives of nearly half the crew,...

The Good, the Bad and the Exiled? China's Class of '77

Jaime FlorCruz
CNN
After walking several blocks through New York's busy streets recently, I finally found Wang Juntao in the middle of Times Square, where the exiled Chinese dissident was holding a sit-down protest.

Mao’s Little Red Book to Get Revamp

Tania Branigan
Guardian
The re-emergence of Quotations from Chairman Mao comes amid an official revival of the era’s rhetoric. Xi Jinping has embraced Maoist terminology and concepts, launching a “mass line rectification campaign” and even presiding over...

Books

10.02.13

The Tragedy of Liberation

Frank Dikötter
“The Chinese Communist party refers to its victory in 1949 as a ‘liberation.’ In China the story of liberation and the revolution that followed is not one of peace, liberty, and justice. It is first and foremost a story of calculated terror and systematic violence.” So begins Frank Dikötter’s stunning and revelatory chronicle of Mao Zedong’s ascension and campaign to transform the Chinese into what the party called New People. Following the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, after a bloody civil war, Mao hoisted the red flag over Beijing’s Forbidden City, and the world watched as the Communist revolution began to wash away the old order. Due to the secrecy surrounding the country’s records, little has been known before now about the eight years that followed, preceding the massive famine and Great Leap Forward. Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, secret police reports, unexpurgated versions of leadership speeches, eyewitness accounts of those who survived, and more, The Tragedy of Liberation bears witness to a shocking, largely untold history. Interweaving stories of ordinary citizens with tales of the brutal politics of Mao’s court, Frank Dikötter illuminates those who shaped the “liberation” and the horrific policies they implemented in the name of progress. People of all walks of life were caught up in the tragedy that unfolded, and whether or not they supported the revolution, all of them were asked to write confessions, denounce their friends, and answer queries about their political reliability. One victim of thought reform called it a “carefully cultivated Auschwitz of the mind.” Told with great narrative sweep, The Tragedy of Liberation is a powerful and important document giving voice at last to the millions who were lost, and casting new light on the foundations of one of the most powerful regimes of the twenty-first century.  —Bloomsbury Publishing {chop}

Famous Trials of China’s Communist Party

Celia Hatton
BBC
An historical look at two other famous trials in recent Communist Party history: the Gang of Four trial after the Cultural Revolution, and the corruption trials of Chen Xitong and Chen Liangyu which bears greater resemblance to the Bo Xilai case...

Sinica Podcast

09.27.13

Laszlo Montgomery and the China History Podcast

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
The broken chopstick fell to our studio floor, its shaft splintered beyond repair where Laszlo had snapped it between his fingers. “Alone we are weak,” he looked Jeremy and Kaiser in the eyes while those of us outside the studio wondered faintly who...

Postcard

09.25.13

The Strangers

James Palmer
In the winter of 2009, I was spending my weekends in the northeast Chinese city of Tangshan, and eating most of my food from the far-western province of Xinjiang. Like many minorities, the Uighur, the native people of Xinjiang, have made their chief...

Books

09.25.13

Forgotten Ally

Rana Mitter
For decades, a major piece of World War II history has gone virtually unwritten. The war began in China, two years before Hitler invaded Poland, and China eventually became the fourth great ally, partner to the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain. Yet its drama of invasion, resistance, slaughter, and political intrigue remains little known in the West.Rana Mitter focuses his gripping narrative on three towering leaders: Chiang Kai-shek, the politically gifted but tragically flawed head of China’s Nationalist government; Mao Zedong, the Communists’ fiery ideological stalwart, seen here at the beginning of his epochal career; and the lesser-known Wang Jingwei, who collaborated with the Japanese to form a puppet state in occupied China. Drawing on Chinese archives that have only been unsealed in the past ten years, he brings to vivid new life such characters as Chiang’s American chief of staff, the unforgettable “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, and such horrific events as the Rape of Nanking and the bombing of China’s wartime capital, Chongqing. Throughout, Forgotten Ally shows how the Chinese people played an essential role in the wider war effort, at great political and personal sacrifice.Forgotten Ally rewrites the entire history of World War II. Yet it also offers surprising insights into contemporary China. No twentieth-century event was as crucial in shaping China’s worldview, and no one can understand China, and its relationship with America today, without this definitive work.—Houghton Mifflin Harcourt {chop}

Insecurity Drives China’s Syria Policy

Kendrick Kuo
Diplomat
At home, the Party sees parallels between Gaddafi and Morsi and its own regime. Any legitimization of the West’s role in their demises is inherently a legitimization of future interference in China with the aim of undermining the Party. ...

Conversation

09.17.13

What’s Behind China’s Recent Internet Crackdown?

Xiao Qiang, John Garnaut & more
Last weekend, Charles Xue Manzi, a Chinese American multi-millionaire investor and opinion leader on one of China’s most popular microblogs, appeared in handcuffs in an interview aired on China Central Television (CCTV). Xue is just the most visible...

Conversation

09.13.13

What Can China and Japan Do to Start Anew?

Paula S. Harrell & Chen Weihua
Paula S. Harrell:While the media keeps its eye on the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute, heating up yet again this week after Chinese naval ships and aircraft were spotted circling the area, a parallel, possibly game-changing development in...

China Past Due: Facing the Consequences of Control

Mary Kay Magistad
Public Radio International
In the midst of it all, the Chinese people increasingly expect a different kind of relationship with their government – one of citizens and not subjects. They want their rights respected and their preferences heard. 

Milestone for Yuan Marks Rise of China

Wall Street Journal
China for the first time joined the ranks of the most-traded international currencies, underscoring the rise of the world’s second-largest economy and the growth of the global foreign-exchange market.  

Viewpoint

09.11.13

Beijing’s Air in 2013 or Ground Zero’s After 9/11: Which Was Worse?

Emily Brill
When I moved to Beijing from New York in February to study Chinese, a question began to haunt me: Could Beijing’s air in 2013 be more dangerous than the toxic brew produced by the 9/11 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center, which hung over...

The Puzzle of Identifying as Chinese

Didi Kristen Tatlow
New York Times
In the U.S.A., there’s a tension between the self that is invented and the self that is inherited,” Chinese-American writer Gish Jen said. “But in China, it’s 20 percent of one and 80 percent of another,” whereas in America, “it’s the...

Conversation

09.09.13

What Are Chinese Attitudes Toward a U.S. Strike in Syria?

Chen Weihua, Vincent Ni & more
Chen Weihua:Chinese truly believe that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, a U.S. air strike would only worsen the situation there. Chinese have seen many failures of U.S. intervention in the Middle East in the past...

Deng Xiaoping’s Lessons for Today’s China

Bloomberg
The earthy Deng, father of reform-era China, favored a Chinese phrase to describe the current anti-corruption maneuvers being undertaken at Xi Jinping’s behest: killing a chicken to scare the monkeys. 

Look Who’s Afraid of Democracy

New York Times
For all of China’s vaunted influence in the world, many of its top leaders are deeply fearful of losing control of their own country. That fear is reflected in the Bo Xilai trial and the recently revealed “Document No. 9” warning of subversive...

Conversation

09.05.13

To Reform or Not Reform?—Echoes of the Late Qing Dynasty

Orville Schell, John Delury & more
Orville Schell:It is true that China is no longer beset by threats of foreign incursion nor is it a laggard in the world of economic development and trade. But being there and being steeped in an atmosphere of seemingly endless political and...

China’s Press Corps Ordered to Study Marxism

Josh Rudolph
China Digital Times
The nation’s 307,000 reporters, producers and editors will soon have to sit through at least two days of Marxism classes, the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department has announced along with the press association...

30-Year Throwback: What Fodor’s Was Saying About China Three Decades Ago

Paul Chung
Asia Blog
When asked to give examples of China's transformation over the last three decades, you may first be tempted to cite year-to-year G.D.P. growth figures. Yet in 2013, we may also find some of these answers tucked inside a Fodor's...

Books

09.03.13

China Across the Divide

Rosemary Foot (Editor)
Understanding China’s world role has become one of the crucial intellectual challenges of the 21st century. This book explores this topic through the adoption of three conceptual approaches that help to uncover some of the key complex and simultaneous interactions between the global and domestic forces that determine China’s external behavior. A central assumption of this study is that it is unhelpful to treat the global and domestic levels as separate categories of analysis and that the study of China can be enriched by a recognition of the interpenetrated nature of the domestic and international spheres.The first section of the book concentrates on the role of ideas. It examines Chinese conceptions, at both the elite and mass levels, of the country’s status and role in global politics, and how these conceptions can influence and frame policies. The second section provides evidence of Chinese societal involvement in transnational processes that are simultaneously transforming China as well as other parts of the world, often in unintended ways. The third section assesses the impact of globalization on China in issue areas that are central to global order, and outlines the domestic responses—from resistance to embrace—that it generates. This study adopts a multidisciplinary approach involving scholars in international relations, history, social anthropology, and area studies. It offers a sophisticated understanding of Chinese thought and behavior and illustrates the impact that China’s re-emergence is having on 21st century global order.  —Oxford University Press {chop}

China: When the Cats Rule

Ian Johnson
New York Review of Books
On one level Lao She’s novel is a work of science fiction—a visit to a country of cat-like people on Mars—that lampoons 1930s China. On a deeper level, the prophetic work predicts the terror and violence of the early Communist era’s chaos and...

‘The Grandmaster,’ Wong Kar-wai’s New Film

Manohla Dargis
New York Times
When Ip Man slyly asks “What’s your style?” it’s clear that director Wong Kar-wai is asking the same question because here, as in his other films, style isn’t reducible to ravishing surfaces; it’s an expression of meaning.  

The East is Still Red

John Garnaut
Foreign Policy
China’s Left believes that only a stronger Communist Party could solve the country’s problems of corruption, inequality, and moral torpor. Those on the Right believe unbridled state power is actually the problem, as China learned during the Mao...

Model Gives Glimpse of Old Beijing

Jin Haixing
China Daily
A model on a sand table, made 64 years ago, replicating the city's landscape in 1949, will provide a bird's eye view after it is fully restored later in September. The model, in the Beijing Urban Construction Archives Museum,...

Bo Xilai Trial Draws Comparisons to China’s Greatest Courtroom Drama

Barbara Demick
Los Angeles Review of Books
In 1980, the Gang of Four trial was widely mocked in the West as a political show trial in which Deng Xiaoping purged his enemies. While there are many differences between that trial and Bo’s it is the long ago trial that is likely to prove more...

At Bo Xilai Trial, a Goal to Blast Acts, Not Ideas

Edward Wong and Chris Buckley
New York Times
In a delicate balancing act, China’s leaders aim to simultaneously parade Mr. Bo as a criminal and silence his most vocal supporters while avoiding tarring the leftist policies he championed or alienating important revolutionary families. 

Conversation

08.28.13

Beijing, Why So Tense?

Andrew J. Nathan, Isabel Hilton & more
Andrew Nathan:I think of the Chinese leaders as holding a plant spritzer and dousing sparks that are jumping up all around them.  Mao made the famous remark, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”  The leaders have seen that...

Books

08.27.13

Ancestral Intelligence

Vera Schwarcz
In Ancestral Intelligence, Vera Schwarcz has added a forceful and fascinating work to her ever-growing list of publications depicting the cultural landscape of contemporary China. Here, she has created stunning “renditions” of poems by a mid-20th century dissident poet, Chen Yinke, and has added a group of her own poems in harmony with Chen Yinke’s. Like his, her poems show a degradation of culture and humanity, in this case through comparison of classic and modern Chinese logographs.  —Antrim House {chop}

Visitors Flock to China’s ‘Kingdom of Women’

Nicola Davison
Guardian
Lugu Lake, situated in the mountains on the border between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, is the historical home of the Mosuo, an ethnic minority with a population of 40,000 that forms one of the last matrilineal societies on Earth.&nbsp...

China: When the Cats Rule

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In the Northwest corner of Beijing’s old city is a subway and bus workshop. It was built in the early seventies on the site of the Lake of Great Peace, which was filled in as part of a plan to extend the city’s subway system. In the bigger picture...

Viewpoint

08.22.13

How Bo Xilai Split the Party and Divided the People

Ouyang Bin from Chinese Law Prof Blog
After the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, Chinese political struggles became milder and more mundane. Members of the Politburo and politicians of higher rank rarely were toppled (except for Chen Liangyu in 2006) and ideology seldom triggered significant...

Conversation

08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa?

Michael Anti & Shai Oster
Michael Anti:Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs” communist campaign in southwest China's megacity Chongqing, is on trial today, live-Twittered from...

Amid Tribute to King of Pop, an Echo of Tiananmen Square

Edward Wong
New York Times
 The famous and politcally sensitive “Tank Man” photograph of June 1989 appears during a Michael Jackson tribute concert in Beijing.