Changpian 23

长篇 // Changpian // Longform

Welcome to the 23nd edition of Changpian, a selection of feature and opinion writing in Chinese. 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 ( or @tabithaspeelman). Back issues can be found here.

Hi all, I hope this finds you well. In this Changpian, which I’m excited to get back to, some Chinese-language stories and debates to read, watch or listen to wherever you are during this pandemic. As mentioned below, the non-fiction publishing trend that first inspired this newsletter has slowed down. But some of the platforms founded at its height are still around — one, 真实故事计划, recently celebrated its 4th anniversary and currently has a non-fiction writing contest going on. The jury is impressive and the deadline is end of August.

干货// Ganhuo // Dry Goods

In this section I highlight any themes that stood out in my recent reading.

Podcast society

2019 was described as the “爆发之年” for podcast making in mainland China at a podcast festival I attended in Shanghai last November. The number of new shows had exploded, although participants agreed that the podcast still occupies a niche in the Chinese content market and that it is difficult to earn money making them. A low-budget talk show format is the norm. (For more on the market, see this report and an interview with two former journalists who started influential podcasting company JustPod.)

These shows arrived at a moment in which written media obviously face increasing difficulties. As former 正午故事 editor Guo Yujie explains in this lecture, this includes the non-fiction platforms that saw a boom starting about five years ago. Guo’s excellent team got cut from Jiemian’s operations in March (although the 正午 brand continues to exist in some form). In a response to a recent Politico article on some of these new Chinese-language podcasts, media expert Fang Kecheng tweeted that their voices form “the last oasis on the Chinese internet”.

I’ve been most attracted by a couple of shows that routinely talk through and reflect on societal issues, such as gaokao fraud, the future of studying abroad, MeToo two years on, climate change activism, how and whether to have children, online violence and fake news, or the publishing climate in China and Taiwan (from 25:00 and 50:00 onwards). As the Politico story by the Chinese Storytellers’ Shen Lu points out, many of the new shows have a transnational outlook. A recent focus on issues of racism includes this 纽约文化沙龙 online lecture series on ethnic exclusion in the U.S, in-depth takes on political correctness by political philosopher Yao Lin and 随机波动 (see 澎湃思想市场 for more related content), conversations on how to understand and address racism within China’s borders by 不合时宜 and 有点田园, and discussions of cultural products from Gone with the Wind and Black Panther to If Beale Street Could Talk on 小声喧哗 and 文化土豆.

See also the archives of the shows linked to above for their coronavirus epidemic coverage earlier this year, including that of 剩余价值 whose smart hosts moved on to start 随机波动 after they were censored during that period.


Since mid-June, tens of millions in central and southeast China have been hit by severe flooding (see here for a timeline). At first, on the ground reporting was all but absent, even as journalists shared Caixin reporter Zhang Jin’s archived disaster reporting guidelines. Space for coverage seemed to increase early July, followed by quality reporting on affected gaokao students, disaster shelters for the displaced, mudslides making deadly victims, reconstruction efforts without insurance, and the sacrifice of those living by breached dykes or in the 蓄洪区 of dam reservoirs. Anhui farmer 王玉敏 had first been excited by the rain after a very dry Spring. But when the notice to evacuate came, he could not save his 500 pear trees: “来不及了,太累了”. (More on this and last year’s droughts.)

First-person accounts like this one from Jiangxi are deleted on WeChat, and, as some point out, with only limited “systematic, authoritative, and informative reporting” it remains difficult to gauge the full impact of the disaster, coming so shortly after the epidemic.

其他好故事 // Gushi // More stories

Some other interesting stories.

  1. 疫情下,打工子弟的网课、辍学与返乡 – 财新 – Feature on migrant children education during Covid-19, one of many important epidemic impact stories, reported among a community over 90% of whom don’t know what’s next according to one survey cited.


  1. 疫情下全球百万海员海上漂泊:有人崩溃自杀,有人打算转行–界面新闻 – Story on the international sailors stranded at sea due to coronavirus, many of whom are Chinese.


  1. 我成了美国所有排外政策的交集点 – 世界说 – A Chinese graduate in the US on OPT reflects on returning to China. (See also accounts of a law professor’s journey back to China and a Chinese worker stranded in a Singapore migrant dorm.)


  1. 历史的转折——美苏冷战起源的经济因素 – 澎湃思想市场 – Historian Shen Zhihua on the beginning of the Cold War, in which he argues that mutual misunderstanding and “diplomatic error” escalated solvable economic differences.


  1. 项飙:空间、资本和社会分化中的“地摊经济” — 知识分子 — Good interview with anthropologist Xiang Biao on the history and economy of street vending in Chinese cities. See also this new volume of conversations between Xiang and《单读》editor Wu Yi in which they discuss a range of social science themes.

80年代地摊很能赚钱,从 “浙江村” 的例子来看,摊贩积累的第一桶金很快就投放到扩大生产上,然后他们就能够用高额的租金包租柜台,进入西单市场这些高档市场。它是上升的一个方式。今天的地摊显然是一个兜底方式了,不可能提供上升的途径。但究竟兜底能兜到什么程度还是有待观察。

  1. 《乘风破浪的姐姐》:真人秀是今天的现实主义 — 人物 – Inspired by a new reality show featuring established women artists author and editor Guo Yujie writes an essay on women portrayals in Chinese tv and film.


  1. 我不是完美受害者,我想要一个调查结果 — 三联生活周刊 – Following one woman’s anonymous account of sexual harassment on a podcast, a group of women come together to sue their shared harasser.


  1. 高考之后,放虎归山 — 十点公社 — Film director Jia Zhangke on the summer after he received a low gaokao score.


  1. 黄灯:我的二本学生,毕业后都去哪儿了?– 正午故事 – Excerpt from non-fiction author Huang Deng’s book on her students at a Guangdong lower-tier college.


  1. 隔离在伊朗的日子 – 正午故事 – Pictures of quarantine life in Tehran by Chinese trader Sun Jianlong.


旧文// Jiuwen // Classic:

A piece of nonfiction that seems worth a read long after its initial publication.

In line with this issue’s multimedia theme, two documentaries about Wuhan, which entered lockdown a bit over half a year ago. In 好久不见,武汉, Nanjing-based Japanese video maker Takeuchi Ryo and his team present ten stories of Wuhan residents rebuilding their lives after the outbreak. For 澎湃新闻, Chinese director Fan Jian filmed “被遗忘的春天”, a more subdued but moving account of post-lockdown life in one heavily-hit Wuhan neighborhood that came out early July. Both 1-hour films are available for free on various platforms. And for a flashback to those winter weeks that turned out to be the start of this pandemic, listen to this interview with Gao Yu, the editor that led Caixin’s coverage of the outbreak in Wuhan (the Chinese audio at the top of the page is not paywalled).

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