Digital authoritarianism/Leninism

On the occasion of the China congress, the BBC has an excellent, brief overview of Chinese digital authoritarianism, only leaving out mention of repressive measures retained for those who try anything:  See the link for lots of illustrations and video.

“How authorities censor your thoughts.” By Stephen McDonell. BBC News (16 October 2017).

Some are now identifying the new system as “digital Leninism”:

Heilmann, Sebastian. “Big Data reshapes China’s approach to governance.” Merics (2 October 2017).

–Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Science fraud

Source: NYT (10/13/17)
Fraud Scandals Sap China’s Dream of Becoming a Science Superpower
查看简体中文版  | 查看繁體中文版
By Amy Qin

A plastic surgery procedure at a hospital in Shanghai in August. Under President Xi Jinping, China has set a goal of becoming “a global scientific and technology power” by 2049.CreditChandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIJING — Having conquered world markets and challenged American political and military leadership, China has set its sights on becoming a global powerhouse in a different field: scientific research. It now has more laboratory scientists than any other country, outspends the entire European Union on research and development, and produces more scientific articles than any other nation except the United States.

But in its rush to dominance, China has stood out in another, less boastful way. Since 2012, the country has retracted more scientific papers because of faked peer reviews than all other countries and territories put together, according to Retraction Watch, a blog that tracks and seeks to publicize retractions of research papers. Continue reading

Sexual harassment in China

Source: Sup China (10/16/17)
Sexual harassment in China: Different than in the U.S.?
By Jiayun Feng

On October 16, the state-owned China Daily tweetedWhat prevents sexual harassment from being a common phenomenon in China, as it’s in most Western societies?” and linked to an opinion piece that says China’s traditional values mean that men are more respectful to women. The reaction on Twitter was mocking and highly critical: Yuen Chen, a former journalist and Chinese University of Hong Kong teacher, responded, “Let me edit that for you: What prevents sexual harassment from being as commonly reported in China as in most Western societies?”

So how do levels of sexual harassment in China compare with those in the U.S., and what are the differences?

  • According to research conducted by the China Youth Daily, more than 53 percent of women said they or someone they knew had been sexually harassed on the subway.
  • A report released by the China Family Planning Association shows that one in three college students in China have experienced sexual violence or sexual harassment.
  • A 2013 survey by a labor rights group in Guangzhou found out that up to 70 percent of female workers in the city’s factories had been sexually assaulted. Continue reading

Asia’s comedy scene

Source: NYT (10/15/17)
Heard the One About Asia’s Comedy Scene? First, You’ll Need a Permit

Storm Xu, a Chinese comedian from Shanghai, gave up a career as an engineer to become a stand-up comedian. In order to tell jokes, he must first submit his scripts to government censors.CreditYuyang Liu for The New York Times

HONG KONG — Every comedian takes the stage wanting to make people laugh. But it is less satisfying when the audience has been ordered to do so before the first joke has been told.

Storm Xu, a Chinese comedian, found that out during a surreal experience of performing for the country’s military.

In Asia, where a youthful stand-up comedy scene is still developing, comedians in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are finding creative ways to tell jokes about sex and politics, while coming up against cultures of censorship and taboos.

Among them is Mr. Xu, 30, who lives in Shanghai and ekes out a full-time living from stand-up comedy. Mr. Xu said Shanghai’s small comedy scene involves about 20 regulars who could perform at least 10 minutes of material, and most are Western expatriate men, not Chinese like him.

A former automotive engineer for General Motors, Mr. Xu was able to quit his day job because of corporate comedy gigs, many of which come through Chinese government agencies.

The Chinese government requires him to submit scripts in advance of his commercial performances — that gets him a permit to tell jokes. He also has to provide video of someone reading the comedy lines aloud. Government censors have told him to remove jokes not for political content, but for being too rude.

“They’ll decline you if it’s too obscene or dirty; you can’t swear on stage,” he said.

When Mr. Xu travels to Hong Kong to perform, he can put the swear words back into the script. With its more hands-off local government, Hong Kong has developed into a hub for touring comedians from Asia and further afield, though its scene is fairly new: Its first full-time comedy club wasn’t founded until 2007.

Vivek Mahbubani, 34, is considered one of Hong Kong’s best and longest-serving local comedians, even though he only started performing 10 years ago. Mr. Mahbubani performs in both English and Cantonese, sometimes switching between languages within the same joke, and his material tackles local concerns: Hong Kong’s subway system and his mistreatment by police officers as a Hong Kong-born, ethnically Indian resident.

Mr. Mahbubani said Hong Kong’s comedy scene was diverse and somewhat segregated, with some comedians catering to expatriates with material that deployed exaggerated use of Asian accents, which Mr. Mahbubani felt was lazy.

An audience in Hong Kong watches Vivek Mahbubani, a comedian, perform. Rules for telling jokes are less stringent on the island than in mainland China. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

In bars further away from the glittering night life of the central city, young comics tell jokes in Cantonese, the dominant language in Hong Kong but one on the retreat elsewhere. The city’s annual comedy competition is split into English and Cantonese sections; Mr. Mahbubani is the only person to have won both.

In a city rocked by China’s efforts to exert its political influence over the autonomous territory, Hong Kong’s stand-up comedy scene has become something of a beacon for comedians seeking to push boundaries.

Sorabh Pant, a popular Indian comedian, recently tackled the topic of democracy while on tour in Hong Kong.

“That’s so cute!” he joked about Hong Kong’s election, in which a pro-Beijing candidate won from a slate selected by members of the establishment. “You think your vote mattered! Such an amateur mistake!”

He joked that Hong Kong’s election of a chief executive sympathetic to Beijing showed how the territory was just the latest acquisition by China.

“This is not a nation. You are being sublet,” he said. “This is a franchise.”

Mr. Mahbubani said the local media’s vigorous use of satire and its criticism of the government helps shield the local comedy scene from government scrutiny.

That is not the case in Singapore, where Jinx Yeo, 37, performs. The soft-spoken Mr. Yeo is referred to by fellow comedians as one of the “wise men” of the Asian comedy scene, even though he only started performing in his early 30s.

He grew up watching xiangsheng, or cross talk, a traditional style of Chinese comedy where lines are typically traded between two performers. Asian audiences have slowly learned the conventions of Western-style, single-person stand-up, he said, and now appreciate the value of raucous laughter as reward for a joke well told.

Mr. Yeo has made a full-time career in comedy, even though there are no comedy clubs in Singapore. Most of his performances take place in bars on weeknights, and he supplements his income with lucrative corporate shows.

Mr. Mahbubani performs in both English and Cantonese in Hong Kong. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

To get a license to perform in a theater in Singapore, Mr. Yeo had to submit scripts in advance, as comedians in China do. His work is frequently political; at a recent show in Hong Kong he sang satirical songs to tunes from “Les Misérables.”

In another joke, he imagined what would happen if Singapore legalized adultery in the same way the city-state had legalized protests: only if reported to the government in advance, and only if taking place in designated public parks.

Mr. Yeo said censorship is the biggest obstacle facing Singapore’s comedy scene. And comedians performing in bars had little opportunity to leap to television, as promising comedians in Western countries do, because their best material was unlikely to be approved.

Despite the challenges, the comedians said they were committed to building up the comedy scenes at home rather than forging more comfortable careers overseas.

Mr. Xu has recently started his own comedy club in Shanghai. He has steered away from political humor in his work because he did not see a point in making himself a martyr, or risk destroying his career, just as he was helping to pioneer a new comedy scene.

“I’m not trying to compare myself to Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, but the position they were in the 1960s is perhaps the position people like me are in now,” he said. “There are a lot of obstacles and a lot of opportunities.”

He agreed Chinese audiences were coming around to the idea of stand-up.

“When I used to post my videos online, people didn’t understand what stand-up comedy was and the comments were quite harsh,” he said. But now he predicts “exponential” growth for stand-up in China.

In Malaysia, Hannan Azlan, 22, has been winning fans in the local comedy scene after going full-time in 2016. She was the youngest ever person, and the first woman, to win the Hong Kong International Comedy Festival, and since then gigs have rolled in, including spots at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival.

Ms. Azlan’s sweet-voiced comic songs skewer sexism, racism and gender stereotypes. But she said she wasn’t interested in pandering to liberal audiences elsewhere; one of the tests of her success was whether she could perform her edgiest social commentary in more conservative Malaysia.

“Comedy is soft power,” she said, “I’m starting to talk about Malaysian politics more at home, and it’s been received very well.”

U of Wisconsin position

Assistant Professor of Modern China Studies
Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison seeks a scholar of the humanities or qualitative social sciences with expertise in Modern China Studies. Candidates should have professional-level fluency in Mandarin and English. Preference will be given to applicants who demonstrate eagerness to extend our multidisciplinary conversation about culture in the transasian context, and who have the vision and skills to contribute to building new academic programs. PhD or equivalent is required prior to start of the appointment.

The successful candidate will be expected to teach in at least one of the following fields of Modern China Studies: media studies, literary analysis, cultural politics, digital humanities, or visual culture. The appointment, at the rank of tenure-track Assistant Professor, is scheduled to begin in August 2018. Salary is negotiable. Continue reading

Museum accused of racism over photos

Source: The Guardian (10/14/17)
Chinese museum accused of racism over photos pairing Africans with animals
More than 141,000 people visit the exhibit in Wuhan before it is eventually removed after sparking complaints from Africans
By Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong


A photo of an African boy and a gorilla by Yu Huiping in an exhibit in China that was removed after sparking accusations of racism. Photograph: Shanghaiist

A museum in China has removed an exhibit this week that juxtaposed photographs of animals with portraits of black Africans, sparking complaints of racism.

The exhibit titled This Is Africa at the Hubei Provincial Museum in the city of Wuhan displayed a series of diptychs, each one containing a photo of an African person paired with the face of an animal. In a particularly striking example, a child with his mouth wide open was paired with a gorilla and other works included baboons and cheetahs. Continue reading

“Dividing up the [Chinese] Melon”

Dear colleagues,

Perhaps the (exceedingly long) article “Dividing up the [Chinese] Melon, guafen 瓜分”: The Fate of a Transcultural Metaphor in the Formation of National Myth,” Transcultural Studies 1 (2017), 9-122. (open access) is of interest to members of the MCLC list.


Rudolf G. Wagner <>

Literate Modernism (1)

Thanks for posting my article. It’s come to my attention that I very unfortunately wrote two inaccuracies in my review: that Shu Zhendong’s typewriter was a commercial failure, and that Mullaney’s article in Foreign Policy was a direct attack on Moser and his book.

The article has now been corrected, including an editor’s note regarding the corrections. See:


Matt Turner <>

Literate Modernism

Source: Asian Review of Books (10/12/17)
Literate Modernism: How and Why China Has Shaped Chinese
By Matt Turner


In mid-19th century China, after suffering multiple humbling defeats by imperial powers, a movement to modernize China’s military developed. The idea was that the national essence or culture of China could be better defended with superior Western methods and technology than outdated Chinese methods—seen as the extension of a static political culture. That the methods and technology were Western did not matter—they were not tied to the imperial aims which produced them; they could be adapted by anyone, and were essentially culture-less.

Modernity in this instance was technical, an application used to preserve something unchanging—Chinese culture. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century and again in the early 20th century that questions of modernity were recast as residing in the cultural sphere, yoking the military to political representation to women’s emancipation to literature. Part of this new modernization of China was the question of language: was it explicitly or implicitly political, but also whether or not it would aptly serve as an instrument of modernization, a technique by which modernity is formed. Continue reading

Behind “Turn it on: China on Film”

Source: China Film Insider (10/12/17)
Behind The Guggenheim’s “Turn it on: China on Film”: An Interview with Wang Fen and Ai Weiwei
By Haisong Li and Chen Zeng

From left to right: Wang Fen, Ai Weiwei.

If China is a mystery to you, if what you learned about this country through newspapers confuses you, how about relearning it through art and cinema?

This fall, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents documentary series “Turn it on: China on Film, 2000-2017,” along with “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” an exhibition curated by Phil Tinari, Alexandra Munroe, and Hou Hanru, to showcase work by Chinese artists and groups “whose critical provocations aim to forge reality free from ideology, to establish the individual apart from the collective, and to define contemporary Chinese experience in universal terms.”

This week, in advance of the opening of “Turn it on: China on Film, 2000-2017,” Wang Fen and Ai Weiwei, curators of the documentary series, spoke to CFI on their curatorial process, China, documentary filmmaking, and more. Continue reading

Excerpt from Guo Xuebo’s “Mongolia”

List members may be interested in the following:

Source: (9/28/17)

“The Mongol Would-be Self-Immolator”:An excerpt from “Mongolia,” a novel by Guo Xuebo

The reason I mention this is that, to the best of my knowledge, self immolation (自焚) is a largely taboo subject in Chinese fiction today. This text — penned by Guo Xuebo 郭雪波, an ethnic Mongol raised in Inner Mongolia — not only poke funs at the omnipresent “stability maintenance” policy, it actually deals head on with the paranoia surrounding the topic of self-immolation.

Bruce Humes <>

Party Congress news

Source: Sup China (10/12/17)
Today’s reading on the 19th Party Congress and Chairman Xi
By Jeremy Goldkorn

If you can’t get enough news about President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party’s 19th Congress, the meeting set for next week when the leadership team and policy direction for the next five years will be announced, here is a selection of interesting reading:

  • On Macro Polo, Damien Ma says that despite the extraordinary power that Xi has in his hands, and the official adoration of Xi that some call a personality cult, Xi will probably “still be bound by certain core ideas of how the Party-state behaves and functions.” Ma borrows “from the CCP’s preference for numerology” and call the core Party ideas “the Four Avoids and Three Imitates”:
    • Avoid the Soviet Union’s political sclerosis and collapse.
    • Avoid India’s raucous and unbridled democracy.
    • Avoid Japan’s economic bust and subsequent stagnation.
    • Avoid Latin American-style urbanization and shock therapy. Continue reading

Asia dreams in skyscrapers

Source: NYT (10/11/17)
Asia Dreams in Skyscrapers

The skyline of Shenzhen, China, in 2017. Credit Justin Chin/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

The skyscraper was born in the United States, but in recent years, it has grown and flourished in Asia. Countries there recognize that to be seen as a player on the global stage, it helps to have tall buildings.

Over a century ago, New York and Chicago demonstrated that the skyscraper is, fundamentally, a solution to an economic problem: how to allow for hundreds, if not thousands, of people and businesses to be at the same place at the same time. Urban clustering, especially in a high-tech world, is more important than ever. By promoting density, skyscrapers confer a competitive advantage and allow a city to become a beacon of commerce. Continue reading

Interview with Shelly Kraicer on Chinese cinema, part 1

Source: Rice Paper Magazine (10/4/17)
INTERVIEW: Shelly Kraicer on Chinese Cinema – Part 1 of 2

Shelly Kraicer, programmer of Dragons & Tigers at VIFF

A long-time Beijing resident (only recently relocated to Toronto by way of Taiwan) for the past decade, Shelly Kraicer has been the programmer of East Asian films for the Vancouver International Film Festival. More recently, he has consulted for the Venice, Udine, Dubai, and Rotterdam International Film Festivals, organizing a retrospective on legendary Hong Kong director Johnnie To for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival’s fall programming.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese cinema, Kraicer has been a tireless promoter of big and small names alike. His selections for VIFF over the years have ranged from shoestring documentaries to big budget costume dramas.

Chances are, if you’ve enjoyed an East Asian film at VIFF in the last ten years,  Kraicer was behind the scenes, pulling the strings to make it happen.  The result has been a phenomenal amount of high quality Chinese language cinema, much of it almost impossible to see otherwise. To find out more about the method behind the madness, I sat down with Shelly to talk about some of his picks for this year’s festival, which runs from September 28 to October 13. – Nick Stember Continue reading