Conversation

03.28.20

Is U.S.-China Cooperation on COVID-19 Still Possible?

Julian B. Gewirtz, Deborah Seligsohn & more
Over the past two weeks, as the outbreak of the virus known has COVID-19 has accelerated its deadly spread around the world, an already collapsing U.S.-China relationship appears to be entering a period of free fall. This is happening at a moment...

Books

03.24.20

Vernacular Industrialism in China

Eugenia Lean
Columbia University Press: In early 20th-century China, Chen Diexian (1879-1940) was a maverick entrepreneur—at once a prolific man of letters, captain of industry, magazine editor, and cosmetics magnate. He tinkered with chemistry in his private studio, used local cuttlefish to source magnesium carbonate, and published manufacturing tips in how-to columns. In a rapidly changing society, Chen copied foreign technologies and translated manufacturing processes from abroad to produce adaptations of global commodities that bested foreign brands. Engaging in the worlds of journalism, industry, and commerce, he drew on literati practices associated with late-imperial elites but deployed them in novel ways within a culture of educated tinkering that generated industrial innovation.Through the lens of Chen’s career, Eugenia Lean explores how unlikely individuals devised unconventional, homegrown approaches to industry and science in early 20th-century China. She contends that Chen’s activities exemplify “vernacular industrialism,” the pursuit of industry and science outside of conventional venues, often involving ad hoc forms of knowledge and material work. Lean shows how vernacular industrialists accessed worldwide circuits of law and science and experimented with local and global processes of manufacturing to navigate, innovate, and compete in global capitalism. In doing so, they presaged the approach that has helped fuel China’s economic ascent in the 21st century. Rather than conventional narratives that depict China as belatedly borrowing from Western technology, Vernacular Industrialism in China offers a new understanding of industrialization, going beyond material factors to show the central role of culture and knowledge production in technological and industrial change.{chop}

Conversation

03.19.20

As Its Coronavirus Outbreak Abates, China Is Trying out a New Look. Is It Working?

Daniel R. Russel, Pamela Kyle Crossley & more
As the coronavirus spreads globally, China’s government is working aggressively to change its international image. In the span of just a few weeks, China has gone from the embattled epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic to presenting the country as...

Viewpoint

03.18.20

‘This Is Not Forensic Genetics Anymore. This Is Surveillance.’

Jessica Batke
Yves Moreau, a professor specializing in human clinical genomics, had been emailing with Promega since 2016, warning its communications department first about how Promega’s products might be used in a proposed DNA databasing project in Kuwait, and...
03.05.20

China Alters Civil Society Rules, Allowing More Groups to Respond to Coronavirus

Holly Snape
As the COVID-19 epidemic continues in China, so do the efforts of civil society organizations and concerned citizens to mitigate the harm. In the official approach to managing their involvement, there have been clumsy force-of-habit measures from...

Books

03.05.20

Playing by the Informal Rules

Yao Li
Cambridge University Press: Growing protests in non-democratic countries are often seen as signals of regime decline. China, however, has remained stable amid surging protests. Playing by the Informal Rules highlights the importance of informal norms in structuring state-protester interactions, mitigating conflict, and explaining regime resilience. Drawing on a nationwide dataset of protest and multi-sited ethnographic research, this book presents a bird’s-eye view of Chinese contentious politics and illustrates the uneven application of informal norms across regions, social groups, and time. Through examinations of protests and their distinct implications for regime stability, Li offers a novel theoretical framework suitable for monitoring the trajectory of political contention in China and beyond. Overall, this study sheds new light on political mobilization and authoritarian resilience and provides fresh perspectives on power, rules, legitimacy, and resistance in modern societies.{chop}

Viewpoint

02.22.20

Despite Government Assurances, Medical Workers in Hubei Say They Lack Supplies

Tracy Wen Liu
Amid quickly changing news about the trajectory of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, on February 20, the Chinese government body overseeing the response to the epidemic announced that medical supplies adequate to combating the spread...

Books

02.18.20

Vigil

Jeffrey Wasserstrom
Columbia Global Reports: The rise of Hong Kong is the story of a miraculous post-war boom, when Chinese refugees flocked to a small British colony, and, in less than 50 years, transformed it into one of the great financial centers of the world. The unraveling of Hong Kong, on the other hand, shatters the grand illusion of China ever having the intention of allowing democratic norms to take root inside its borders. Hong Kong’s people were subjects of the British Empire for more than a hundred years, and now seem destined to remain the subordinates of today’s greatest rising power.But although we are witnessing the death of Hong Kong as we know it, this is also the story of the biggest challenge to China’s authoritarianism in 30 years. Activists who are passionately committed to defending the special qualities of a home they love are fighting against Beijing’s crafty efforts to bring the city into its fold—of making it a centerpiece of its “Greater Bay Area” megalopolis.Jeffrey Wasserstrom draws on his many visits to the city, and knowledge of the history of repression and resistance, to help us understand the deep roots and the broad significance of the events we see unfolding day by day in Hong Kong. The result is a riveting tale of tragedy but also heroism—one of the great David-versus-Goliath battles of our time, pitting determined street protesters against the intransigence of Xi Jinping, the most ambitious leader of China since the days of Mao.{chop}

Culture

02.06.20

What a Picture of China’s One-Child Policy Leaves Out

Jie Li, Susan Greenhalgh & more
Brainwashed? Reflections on Propaganda in One Child NationBy Jie LiOne Child Nation, a documentary distributed by Amazon Studios which was shortlisted for an Academy Award, is becoming one of the most influential films about China in the United...

Stuck in Central China on Coronavirus Lockdown

Lavender Au from New York Review of Books
Before Shiyan, a city in Hubei province, went into quarantine, the sum of 30 yuan (about $4) could buy two cabbages, enough spring onions for two soups, a large white radish, two lettuces, a potato, and 10 eggs. Not any more. Wanting to record the...

Viewpoint

01.29.20

How Much Could a New Virus Damage Beijing’s Legitimacy?

Taisu Zhang
A month into the coronavirus epidemic that has swept across China, the details of the Chinese government’s political and administrative response remain highly ambiguous. What has been unmistakable, however, is the volume and intensity of social...

Viewpoint

01.14.20

Why Aren’t More Countries Confronting China over Xinjiang?

Matt Schiavenza
China has justified its repressive actions in Xinjiang as a response to a series of terror attacks attributed to Uighurs. But the measures Chinese authorities have employed have attracted international condemnation. In July, the United Nations...

Conversation

01.08.20

China: The Year Ahead

David Schlesinger, Scott Kennedy & more
As 2019 drew to a close, ChinaFile asked contributors to write about their expectations for China in 2020.

Books

12.16.19

Becoming Taiwanese

Evan Dawley
Havard University Press: What does it mean to be Taiwanese? This question sits at the heart of Taiwan’s modern history and its place in the world. In contrast to the prevailing scholarly focus on Taiwan after 1987, Becoming Taiwanese examines the important first era in the history of Taiwanese identity construction during the early 20th century, in the place that served as the crucible for the formation of new identities: the northern port city of Jilong (Keelung).Part colonial urban social history, part exploration of the relationship between modern ethnicity and nationalism, Becoming Taiwanese offers new insights into ethnic identity formation. Evan Dawley examines how people from China’s southeastern coast became rooted in Taiwan; how the transfer to Japanese colonial rule established new contexts and relationships that promoted the formation of distinct urban, ethnic, and national identities; and how the so-called retrocession to China replicated earlier patterns and reinforced those same identities. Becoming Taiwanese is based on original research in Taiwan and Japan, and focuses on the settings and practices of social organizations, religion, and social welfare, as well as the local elites who served as community gatekeepers.{chop}

Books

12.12.19

Betraying Big Brother

Leta Hong Fincher
Verso: On the eve of International Women’s Day in 2015, the Chinese government arrested five feminist activists and jailed them for 37 days. The Feminist Five became a global cause célèbre, with Hillary Clinton speaking out on their behalf and activists inundating social media with #FreetheFive messages. But the Five are only symbols of a much larger feminist movement of civil rights lawyers, labor activists, performance artists, and online warriors prompting an unprecedented awakening among China’s educated, urban women. In Betraying Big Brother, journalist and scholar Leta Hong Fincher argues that the popular, broad-based movement poses the greatest challenge to China’s authoritarian regime today.Through interviews with the Feminist Five and other leading Chinese activists, Hong Fincher illuminates both the difficulties they face and their “joy of betraying Big Brother,” as one of the Feminist Five wrote of the defiance she felt during her detention. Tracing the rise of a new feminist consciousness now finding expression through the #MeToo movement, and describing how the Communist regime has suppressed the history of its own feminist struggles, Betraying Big Brother is a story of how the movement against patriarchy could reconfigure China and the world.{chop}

Viewpoint

12.11.19

Is Violence in Hong Kong’s Protests Turning off Moderates?

Andy Buschmann
As protests in Hong Kong have become more violent, have the demographics of the protesters changed? The level of violence employed by protesters as well as the police force has escalated to new heights ever since July 21, when alleged triad members...

Viewpoint

11.14.19

Violence by Hong Kong Protesters Won’t Advance Their Cause

Thomas Kellogg
I have watched with growing concern as violence has intensified in Hong Kong. I have been deeply dismayed to see escalating police violence, which has fundamentally damaged the reputation of a police force once known as among Asia’s best. And I have...

Conversation

11.04.19

How Should Universities Respond to China’s Growing Presence on Their Campuses?

Charles Edel, Vicky Xiuzhong Xu & more
How should universities encourage respectful dialogue on contentious issues involving China, while at the same time fostering an environment free of intimidation, harassment, and violence? And how should university administrators and governments...

Reports

11.01.19

Scanning the Horizon

Bertram Lang
Bertram Lang
International Civil Society Centre
China’s growing influence in the world has been identified as one of the top global trends influencing the trajectory and development of other major trends relating to sustainable development. China’s relevance for civil society organisations (CSOs...

Conversation

10.24.19

Can China’s Government Advance Its Case on Twitter?

Mia Shuang Li, Lotus Ruan & more
How successful have Chinese officials been at their use of English-language social media? Has the Chinese Party-state’s use of Facebook and Twitter been good or bad for Chinese soft power?

Viewpoint

10.18.19

Converting the Converters

Darius Longarino
Chinese LGBT advocates have set out to convince China’s mental health field that being professionally competent means being LGBT-affirming (and for the already LGBT-friendly counselors, that mere friendliness is not enough—they also need to have...

Postcard

10.17.19

‘If We Give up on Our Husbands Today, Tomorrow Our Children Will Be Ashamed of Us’

Jiang Xue
This is a story about fear and the attempt to conquer fear. The wives of some of the lawyers who disappeared in China’s “709” crackdown have suffered house arrest, threats, and suppression. In their search to find their husbands, they hope no longer...

Conversation

10.10.19

What Just Happened with the NBA in China?

Brook Larmer, Jonathan Sullivan & more
Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted—and then quickly deleted—a post supporting the protests in Hong Kong. The tweet generated an immediate outcry. The Chinese Basketball Association announced it was suspending cooperation with the...

Culture

09.30.19

The Same Old ‘China Story’ Keeps Chinese Sci-Fi Earthbound

Ying Zhu
In the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic on October 1, China’s television regulator has mandated that all television channels only air patriotic shows. The ban might be short-lived, but it has kept the news in the headlines and...

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...

Features

09.21.19

Which European Companies Are Working in Xinjiang?

Benjamin Haas
Foreign companies continue to conduct business in Xinjiang despite widespread evidence of human rights abuse. This list identifies 68 European companies with ties to Xinjiang ranging from building infrastructure and investing in joint ventures to...

Conversation

09.13.19

Why Is the FBI Investigating Americans Who Study in China?

Rosie Levine, Johanna M. Costigan & more
Over the last two years, the FBI has questioned at least five U.S. citizens who have studied at Yenching Academy, a Master’s degree program hosted by Peking University. The purpose of the interviews, according to NPR, is to “ascertain whether they...

Postcard

08.28.19

Thwarted at Home, Can China’s Feminists Rebuild a Movement Abroad?

Shen Lu & Mengwen Cao
A small number of China’s feminist movement’s influential thinkers and organizers have relocated overseas, in search of an environment more hospitable to their activism. Today, though their numbers are relatively small, they have succeeded in...

Conversation

08.27.19

Can China’s Government Replace Hong Kong?

David Schlesinger & Jerome A. Cohen
As the Hong Kong protests enter their fourth month with no end in sight, on August 18 Beijing announced that the nearby Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen would again become a new type of special economic zone. In a clear message to Hong Kong, the plan...

Viewpoint

08.27.19

China’s Government Wants You to Think All Mainlanders View Hong Kong the Same Way. They Don’t.

Kiki Tianqi Zhao
Mainland Chinese flood the Internet with messages calling protesters in Hong Kong “useless youth.” They send obscene messages and death threats to supporters of the Hong Kong demonstrations. But reports on episodes like this, while important, are...

Conversation

08.07.19

Will Hong Kong Unravel?

Ho-fung Hung, Thomas Kellogg & more
Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, Wang Zhimin, called the protests a “life and death war” and compared them to the “color revolutions.” Coming a week after Hong Kong police charged 44 people with rioting and days after strikes paralyzed parts of...

Viewpoint

08.02.19

‘Once Their Mental State Is Healthy, They Will Be Able to Live Happily in Society’

Timothy Grose
We should pause before impetuously tracing the practice of describing Islam as an illness, disease, or even cancer to “Western” politicians. While the United States-led “War on Terror” and subsequent global anxieties over Islam have undeniably...

Conversation

08.01.19

How Should the U.S. Government Treat Chinese Students in America?

Siqi Tu, Mary Gallagher & more
The State Department’s top education official Marie Royce gave a speech entitled “The United States Welcomes Chinese Students.” In it, she quoted recent remarks from Donald Trump, who said, “We want to have Chinese students come and use our great...

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...

Photo Gallery

07.24.19

‘I Love HK but Hate It at the Same Time’

Todd R. Darling
A central issue many of the Hong Kong people in my portraits are wrestling with is how to define an identity and being challenged in that pursuit by cultural, social, or political pressures. There is a lot of frustration and anger over the recent...

Viewpoint

07.18.19

‘See, They Are So Happy with Our Generosity!’

Yaqiu Wang
On June 22, in Sihanoukville, a port city in southwest Cambodia, a Chinese-owned building under construction collapsed, killing at least 28 people, all Cambodians. The owner had undertaken the construction without the required permit, and defied...

Culture

06.27.19

‘What I’m Always Doing Is Escaping, Escaping, Escaping’

Perry Link
Liu Xia, widow of Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and died while in Chinese custody in 2017, has opened up to the public for the first time since she began a life of exile in Germany nearly a year ago. On May 4, in a dialogue with...

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...

Viewpoint

05.31.19

Taiwan and Hong Kong Have a Stake in Mainland China’s Political Development. They Should Act on It.

Andreas Fulda
A range of observers and experts predicted that mainland China’s rapid economic modernization since the early 1990s would lead to social and political liberalization. Needless to say, that has not come to pass. The mainland’s economic reforms have...

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}

Conversation

05.14.19

Islamophobia in China

Ian Johnson, Kelly Hammond & more
Roughly 20 million Muslims live in China today; many of them live in the northwest region of Xinjiang, where the government is incarcerating an estimated one million Uighur Muslims. In recent weeks, news reports have emerged of the razing of mosques...

‘One Seed Can Make an Impact’: An Interview with Chen Hongguo

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Chen Hongguo might be China’s most famous ex-professor. Five years ago, he quit his job at the Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi’an, publishing his resignation letter online after administrators prohibited him from inviting free-...

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

04.22.19

The Messy Truth About Social Credit

Shazeda Ahmed from Logic
Almost every day, I receive an email from Google Alerts about a new article on China’s “social credit system.” It is rare that I encounter an article that does not contain several factual errors and gross mischaracterizations. The social credit...

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...

Viewpoint

03.28.19

Finding a Voice

Lü Pin from Logic
When I started writing this article, Feminist Voices had been deleted for six months and ten days. Yes, I have been keeping track of the time: ten days, fifteen days, thirty days, sixty days, three months, six months. . . The first week after it...