‘Low-level red’ and other concerns

Source: China Media Project (3/11/19)
“Low-level Red” and other concerns

“Low-Level Red” and Other Concerns

On the last day of February, a pair of new political catchphrases made their way not just into the Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper but into a central-level Party document. These were “high-level black,” or gaojihei (高级黑) and “low-level red,” or dijihong (低级红). Before we explore how these two terms emerged on the internet and then made their way into central Party documents (中央文件), let us first take a look at some of the key trends that could be noted in Chinese political discourse in February.

Slogans, Hot and Cold

According to the six-level heat index developed by the China Media Project, here is how various important political phrases appeared in the People’s Daily:

One important thing to note as we look at phrase frequencies is that during February the total number of pages in the Party’s flagship newspaper was reduced to eight in light of the Spring Festival holiday, meaning that the total number of articles was likewise reduced, and so word frequencies were about half of what might usually be expected and we don’t see any dramatic changes in the temperature of various keywords. Continue reading

Wandering Earth and the Chinese millennial

Wandering Earth has received a lot of attention domestically in China and abroad. While most people have talked about its special effects and particularly Chinese cultural elements, few people have talked about what it says about Chinese millennials.–Lee Mack <leeallenmack@gmail.com>

Source: White Confucius.com (2/26/19)
Wandering Earth and the Chinese Millennial

There’s a new Chinese movie out – Wandering Earth. Chinese people are pretty excited about it. It made a bajillion RMB during Spring Festival. It’s currently the second-highest rated film on Douban. It’s been written about extensively by Western media, which unanimously crowned it “China’s first sci-fi blockbuster”. It accomplished the rare feat of uniting both Western film critics and Chinese government officials in praise. Intrigued, I went to see it. I did find something very interesting in it, but not what you might expect.

The film’s set-up goes something like this. Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Earth is falling apart. This is due to the sun, which is dying. In fact, things have gotten so bad, humanity has migrated to underground cities. You now need a space suit to go to the surface. A global government has mobilized and built 20,000 rocket thrusters on the surface of the planet, turning Earth in effect into a giant spaceship. The idea is to navigate our way to another solar system, a trip which will take a thousand generations. Unfortunately, around Jupiter, something goes wrong, Earth is sucked into Jupiter’s gravitational pull and it’s going to slam into it in 36 hours. Unless someone saves the day. Cue unlikely-but-ultimately-heroic effort. Continue reading

Youths in China’s snowbound rustbelt

Source: NYT (2/26/19)
Young People Left Behind in China’s Snowbound Rust Belt
Ronghui Chen’s photographs of young people in Northeastern China capture a loneliness he recognized in his own trek from village to city.
Photographs by Ronghui Chen
Text by Tiffany May

A group of students about to take an art exam standing in front of promotional posters for Fushun, China. February 2018. Credit Ronghui Chen

As a sub-zero blizzard raged outside, Ronghui Chen pushed open a glass window to let in a gust of cold air.

He was in Yichun, a faded boomtown in northeastern China, where in December, 2016 he began photographing young people whose isolation he recognized in his own life. “This kind of heating puts people into the most lethargic state, depriving them of the ability to reflect,” he later said in a phone interview. At the same time, he also finds it frightening to become emotionally hardened like ice underfoot in the northeastern regions that made up China’s Rust Belt. “I feel that many people, like the land itself, are making themselves freeze.” Continue reading

Robot does tedious homework

Source: NYT (1/21/19)
Chinese Girl Finds a Way Out of Tedious Homework: Make a Robot Do It
By Daniel Victor and Tiffany May

Upgrading a handwriting robot’s software at an exhibition in Guiyang, China. A student made the news in China for putting a similar machine to inventive use.CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

HONG KONG — Some would say she cheated. Others would say she found an efficient way to finish her tedious assignment and ought to be applauded for her initiative.

The debate lit up Chinese social media this week after the Qianjiang Evening News reported that a teenage girl had found a loophole for her homework: She bought a robot that mimicked her handwriting. Instead of having to manually copy phrases or selections from a textbook dozens of times, a repetitive task common in learning Chinese, she could just teach the robot to do it for her. Continue reading

Changpian no. 22

长篇 // Changpian // Longform

Welcome to the 22nd edition of Changpian, a selection of feature and opinion writing in Chinese. With other resources devoted to the many interesting sound bites from Chinese social media, this newsletter focuses instead on some of the wealth of longer writing that is produced in Chinese, both in traditional news media and on platforms like WeChat.

Changpian includes any nonfiction writing, from stories and investigations to interviews and blog posts, that I found worth my time — and that you might like as well. It aims to be relevant to an understanding of Chinese society today, covering topics in and outside the news cycle.

The selection is put together by me, Tabitha Speelman, a Dutch researcher currently based in Shanghai. Feedback is very welcome (tabitha.speelman@gmail.com or @tabithaspeelman). Back issues can be found here. Continue reading

Chinese Parents video game

Source: NYT (2/12/19)
In China, This Video Game Lets You Be a Tiger Mom or a Driven Dad
Mete out love and discipline. Set ambitious goals. Endure a teenager’s first dates. Fans say the game Chinese Parents is a surprisingly poignant exercise in role reversal.
By Carolyn Zhang and Raymond Zhong

As in real life, maintaining appearances is important in the game Chinese Parents. If your child misbehaves in front of your relatives, you may get upset about “losing face.”CreditCreditMoyuwan Games

SHANGHAI — You want your children to do well in school. You want them to have nice friends and interesting hobbies and to not go out with creeps. You may even want them to be happy.

But in this computer game, you can always start over with a new digital child if things don’t work out as planned.

A new game in China puts players in control of those most fearsome of characters: Mom and Dad. The mission? Raise a son or daughter from cradle to college.

In a nation of famously demanding, scolding and, yes, sometimes loving mothers and fathers, the game, Chinese Parents, is a hit. Since its release in September, it has found a huge audience on Steam, an online marketplace run by the American game maker Valve Corporation. There are no official figures for how many people have downloaded the game, but it has provoked heated discussion online, while earning tens of thousands of reviews. Continue reading

Reality show slammed for gender stereotypes

Source: Sixth Tone (1/30/19)
Chinese Reality Show Slammed for Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes
“My Little One” preaches the importance of marriage and traditional gender roles to the single female celebrities starring in the program.
By Li You

A screenshot from the reality TV program “My Little One” shows celebrity actress Yuan Shanshan with two dogs.

A reality television show has become the target of feminist fury after portraying several Chinese celebrities as spinsters and urging them to get married.

Though “My Little One” was intended to give viewers a peek into the personal lives of celebrities, it has largely devolved into preaching to its female stars about outmoded gender roles. Since the premiere of the second season on Jan. 5 on state-owned Hunan Satellite TV, the show casts a spotlight on TV personality Wu Xin, swimmer Fu Yuanhui, trampoline gymnast He Wenna, and actress Yuan Shanshan for remaining single. Continue reading

Caring in Times of Precarity

New Book Announcement
Yiu Fai Chow, Caring in Times of Precarity: A Study of Single Women Doing Creative Work in Shanghai (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)

“Drawing on a wonderfully eclectic mix of theory and research, Chow hits the reader time and again with critical and humane insights. Caring in Times of Precarity is a major contribution to studies of creative labour, and a brilliant feminist-inspired sociology of women’s lives in contemporary China.”– David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds, UK

“This remarkable book makes a timely scholarly intervention. Provocatively, it supplements the standard Leftist critique of creative labour’s neoliberal precarity with attention to the ethics of self-care. With solidarity and deep respect for these women, Chow reveals the complexities and singularities of their social and affective experience, challenging our understanding of Shanghai, the creative classes, and female individualization.”– Fran Martin, University of Melbourne, Australia Continue reading

Can China turn nowhere into the center of the world economy

Source: NYT (1/30/19)
Can China Turn the Middle of Nowhere Into the Center of the World Economy?
In the barely inhabited steppes of Central Asia, it is establishing the next foothold in its trillion-dollar campaign to transform global infrastructure.
By BEN MAUK, Photographs and Video by ANDREA FRAZZETTA

Nunur, a farmer and taxi driver whose family fled from China’s Xinjiang region into Kazakhstan when he was a child. Andrea Frazzetta/Institute, for The New York Times

The Eurasian Pole of Inaccessibility is a striking name for an absence. It is the point farthest from a sea or ocean on the planet. Located in China just east of the border with Kazakhstan, the pole gets you a good distance from harbors and coastlines — at least 1,550 miles in any direction — into an expanse of white steppe and blue-beige mountain that is among the least populated places on earth. Here, among some of the last surviving pastoral nomads in Central Asia, nestled between two branches of the Tian Shan range on the edge of Kazakhstan, the largest infrastructure project in the history of the world is growing.

About 80 miles from the Pole of Inaccessibility, just across the border in Kazakhstan, is a village called Khorgos. It has spent most of its existence on the obscure periphery of international affairs, and its official population is just 908. But over the last few years, it has become an important node of the global economy. It is part of an initiative known informally as the new Silk Road, a China-led effort to build a vast cephalopodic network of highways, railroads and overseas shipping routes, supported by hundreds of new plants, pipelines and company towns in dozens of countries. Ultimately, the Belt and Road Initiative, or B.R.I., as the project is more formally known, will link China’s coastal factories and rising consumer class with Central, Southeast and South Asia; with the Gulf States and the Middle East; with Africa; and with Russia and all of Europe, all by way of a lattice of land and sea routes whose collective ambition boggles the mind. Continue reading

Wu Kangyang adds to China’s gender debate

Source: Sixth Tone (1/23/19)
Artist Brings ‘Haha-Then-Aha’ Moments to China’s Gender Debate
A Chengdu artist is hoping his witty works could have a real-world effect.
By Fan Yiying

Header image: A row of how-to books for men designed by Wu Kangyang to satirize women’s bookshelves at his exhibition in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Oct. 24, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

SICHUAN, Southwest China — In most Chinese bookstores, there’s a section of bright pink books instructing women on how to be a good housewife or find a man before they hit 30.

But at an out-of-the-way underground art space some distance from provincial capital Chengdu’s city center, there are how-to books of a different kind. “Be a Man Who Never Cries,” instructs one. Other titles include: “Men, Don’t Lose Arguments Because You Don’t Know How to Fight” and “‘Bad Boys’ Go Everywhere; Good Boys Go to Heaven.” Continue reading

Chinese Discourse of Happiness

New Publication
Chinese Discourse on Happiness
Edited by Gerda Wielander and Derek Hird
Hong Kong University Press, November 2018

[We are glad to offer a discount to MCLC members to order your book on our website.  Please enter the code ‘MCLC2019’ in the discount box of our website to enjoy 30% off when ordering the books. The offer is valid from 22 Jan – 22 Feb 2019. URL: https://hkupress.hku.hk/pro/1699.php.

Happiness is on China’s agenda. From Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” to online chat forums, the conspicuous references to happiness are hard to miss. This groundbreaking volume analyzes how different social groups make use of the concept and shows how closely official discourses on happiness are intertwined with popular sentiments. The Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to define happiness and well-being around family-focused Han Chinese cultural traditions clearly strike a chord with the wider population. The collection highlights the links connecting the ideologies promoted by the government and the way they inform, and are in turn informed by, various deliberations and feelings circulating in the society. Continue reading

China debates euthanasia

Source: SCMP (1/16/19)
Is it killing for kindness or convenience? China debates euthanasia
Trial judge sparks conversation by sharing his reasoning after sentencing three for assisted death of beloved family member
By Michelle Wong

A judge’s heart-wrenching account of a euthanasia trial has triggered a renewed conversation in China about an emotive subject which sharply divides the country.

The case involved a woman, surnamed Leng, from Taizhou city in Zhejiang province, eastern China, who was suffering from an autoimmune disease.

Leng had asked her son-in-law to buy rat poison to help her end the pain of her illness. The court heard that Leng swallowed the poison with her husband, daughter and son-in-law, surnamed Zhang, gathered around her bed to bid her a tearful farewell. Continue reading

China enjoys increased book sales

Source: China Daily (1/11/19)
China enjoys more bookstores, increasing sales
By Xinhua | Updated: 2019-01-11 08:18

[Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

China had 225,000 bookstores and sales outlets for books at the end of 2018, a 4.3-percent increase from the previous year, according to an annual report on the country’s bookstore industry released Tuesday.

Issued by China’s Books and Periodicals Distribution Association, the report showed that the total sales revenue of publications in China reached 370.4 billion yuan (about $54.1 billion) last year, up 5.9 percent year on year, while 158 billion yuan was from retail, which enjoyed an 11.3-percent growth.

Private bookstores played a significant part in the development, as 85 of the over 160 popular Sisyphe Bookstore chain as of October last year were opened in 2018 alone, and Yanjiyou, another popular brand, opened another 53 bookstores from January to November last year, according to an article on Wednesday’s People’s Daily. Continue reading

Leave No Dark Corner

Leave No Dark Corner, an Australian documentary about the Social Credit system, aired last September. In case other list members missed it then as I did, I’d like to commend it to your attention. It’s well made, despite resorting to a couple of “re-enactments” along with its riveting interviews. The half-hour film focuses on three people: a young professional who, with her cadre husband, thinks the social credit system will do wonderful things for the Chinese people; Liu Hu, the Chongqing journalist whose career was terminated  by the system; and Tahir Hamut, a Uyghur refugee who describes how the system works in Xinjiang.


A. E. Clark <aec@raggedbanner.com>

The Shinto past of a Buddhist shrine

Source: Taipei Times (1/11/19)
Highways and Byways: The Shinto past of a Buddhist shrine
The Bilian Temple in Hualien County’s Shoufeng Township is one of many structures throughout the nation that uses Chinese iconography to paper over Japan’s presence in Taiwan
By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Externally, Bilian Temple in Hualien County’s Shoufeng Township today resembles thousands of other places of worship in Taiwan. Photo: Steven Crook

I’m not interested in remnants of the colonial period as much as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) efforts after World War II to erase the Japanese imprint. Recently, I was thrilled to learn of a few old houses in the south that bear Republic of China (ROC) embossed flags on their facades — but where the post-1945 paint job is now so faded it’s possible to see Hinomaru (the Japanese flag) emblems that were the original adornments.

The KMT’s animosity toward Japan was understandable given Japanese aggression and wartime atrocities when it ruled Taiwan as a colony from 1895 to 1945. After 1949, however, Japan was a key trading partner and an important investor. What’s more, Taipei and Tokyo were both closely aligned with Washington. However, Japan’s 1972 decision to break off diplomatic ties with the ROC and establish formal relations with the People’s Republic of China provoked a fresh wave of anti-Japanese sentiment, at least among the ROC leaders. Continue reading