Changpian (June 2018)

长篇 // Changpian // Longform

Welcome to the 19th 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 journalist and researcher currently based in Leiden, The Netherlands. Feedback is very welcome ( or @tabithaspeelman). Back issues can be found here.

A late happy 夏至. Thanks for reading and for your messages, including those asking whether this issue would ever arrive. If you could use more longform stories from China, you might also like Chinarrative, a new project by Sixth Tone’s Colum Murphy that includes a newsletter. Compared to Changpian’s 杂锅, Chinarrative seems to focus more exclusively on narrative nonfiction, with each issue discussing a couple of quality stories in more depth. It links to the Chinese original but also includes beautifully translated excerpts. I recommend checking it out.

干货 // Ganhuo // Dry Goods

In this section, I highlight any (loose) themes that stood out in my recent reading.


At the top today just three older stories by (very) young people:

Among the many articles commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake last May, a feature by a team of Wuhan University students at university publication 武大新视点 stands out. Written up by first-year student Zhang Yingyu, 《记者们的震后十年》 is based on in-depth interviews with journalists who covered the events in 2008.

Zhang switches between the (ex-)journalists’ often poignant memories of the events and their reflections on their investigative work at the time, now considered a major chapter in recent Chinese journalism history. Through this discussion of changes in the media industry in the past decade, she manages to add a layer of political context missing from most of the anniversary coverage this year. At the same time, the effort itself demonstrates that the 衰落of the profession described by respected practitioners in the article is not the whole story. (See here on 新闻实验室 for more by 18-year-old Zhang on how the project came about.)

Another anniversary piece, US-based graduate student and ”马克思主义青年“ Zhang Yueran writes about the meaning of revolution and its distance from middle-class daily realities. How does someone young and left-leaning for whom “稳定的日常生活构成了我们的基本盘” and “其他的一切东西——政治也好、社运也好、左翼思想也好——都只是这基本盘之上的点缀” start to think about radical social change? Zhang’s thoughtful, honest response seems by no means limited to a Chinese context.

Finally, Peking University undergraduate student Yue Xin’s online accounts from last April on how university authorities responded to student demands for more transparency in the Shen Yang (#MeToo) affair have inspired many. Her thoughts on the complex mix of reasons that made her speak out are well worth (re-)reading. (See China Digital Times forcontext and a partial translation.)

其他好故事 // Gushi // More stories 

Some other interesting stories.

不理解政治,我们就难以真正理解命运 – 理想岛– Fudan-based social scientist Xiong Yihan writes a personal essay on his relation to his academic work on second-generation urban migrants. I found part 5 and 6 on the political and ethical implications he draws from his research especially powerful.


2. 二本院校学生的优势与使命:懂得更真实的中国中国好青年In this commencement speech at a lower-ranking “二本college, academic and non-fiction writer Huang Deng tells graduates to value their experience outside China’s elite institutions.

那么,作为一所二本院校,我们的优势到底在哪儿?我的观察是,因为更少受制于应试教育的戕害,二本院校的学生保持了更多的灵性,相比重点大学孩子的沉稳,我们更多了一份年轻人的张扬和天性。更重要的是,因为毕业后,二本院校的学生,几乎全部留在国内和基层工作,而中国近四十年来翻天覆地的变化,以及无数的尝试机会,毫无疑问,为这些年轻人,提供了最好的成才土壤… 很多事情,我们不去做,就没有人去做,很多话,我们不去说,就没有人说,很多人,我们不去帮,就没有人去帮..

3. 亦庄的马斯克新京报 – Feature on China’s fledgling civilian space industry.


4. 乞丐的歌单正午故事Noonstory’s 黄昕宇 follows Beijing creative SHUO on his quest to improve beggar 利生s livelihood.


5. 逃离美发厅人物Harrowing account of a young woman’s four years of forced sexual labor at a hair salon at the outskirts of Shanghai. Five years after her escape, she is part of a group of women suing for compensation.


6. 闾丘露薇:人生五十,从头开始 大家 — Researcher and former journalist Luwei Rose Luqiu on going to graduate school and re-entering the workforce age 50 and female.


7. 我的移民故事——献给那些永远离开了草原的牧人们 — CHARU — University student 索南求培 reflects on his youth as a nomad in the Yushu highlands. Includes some very nice pictures.


8. 孟冰纯:公共性的消亡、关于女子力的反思与精英中产的抗争| 访谈录好奇心日報LSE-based media scholar Meng Bingchun on media, class and identity in and outside China. While this repost on Douban remains, the original post on the interesting Qdaily was deleted.

Q:我们注意到现在有一些非传统的群体,比如女权组织、LGBTQ 群体、文青(hipster),他们通过线上或线下的聚集试图挑战当前的主流文化。您如何评价他们的社会参与?M:我觉得评价这些也要看语境。如果是在中国语境下,这些组织从阶级、阶层的角度来说都具有相当丰富的文化资本和社会资本,受过良好教育,大部分可能是都市中产… 当然,拓展言论空间、拓展身份认同的维度、价值观的多元是积极的。但我觉得这部分群体是比已经很精英的西方(LGBT 等)群体更精英的

9. 《黄河尕谣》:土味民谣的西北乡愁 谷雨计划Introduction and trailer to ‘music documentary’ Stammering Ballad. Director Zhang Nan follows Gansu-born singer 张尕怂as he travels China’s northwest to study its music.


10. 这些词你懂多少:本命、CP粉、白嫖、担当、糊、唯粉…… 新闻实验室Excerpt from a new volume on key terms in online popular culture compiled and written by Peking University graduate students.


11. 京都球侠 1987 comedy about a Chinese-European football match in lateQing Beijing. A loosely World Cup-themed bonus recommendation that isn’t non-fiction (apart from its historical interest). (Found via this review at 正午.)

旧文// Jiuwen // Classic

A piece of nonfiction writing that Chinese academics, writers, journalists — or just me – think worth a read months, years or decades after its initial publication.

在桥梁工地上 – 人民文学 – Published during the Hundred Flowers Campaign, this essay from 1956 on the construction of a bridge over the Yellow River is one of several critical stories well-known journalist and writer Liu Binyan wrote the year before he was labeled a rightist and sent to work in labor camps for over two decades. The 20,000-character story is an example of the lyrical, engaged 报告文学of the early socialist period, formulating its critique within a CCP ideological framework. Liu is a great writer, and this piece is especially strong in showing the mechanics of official language and communication, some of which still feels familiar today. (See for instance this story on one school’s response to the Wenchuan earthquake.

See also this article by HKU-based media scholar and former journalist Qian Gang from 2006, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Liu’s 1956 exposes. Qian’s cautiously optimistic article, written shortly after the temporary suspension of investigative project Freezing Point at the China Youth Daily (where Liu worked too), covers the decades before the story on 2008-2018 media development with which this newsletter opened.


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