Changpian 24

长篇 // Changpian // Longform

Welcome to the 24nd 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 of Chinese politics. Feedback is very welcome ( or @tabithaspeelman). Back issues can be found here.

Welcome to a new issue of what now seems an annual newsletter, if those still exist. Due to illness, I did not get to Changpian much this year, but I still save too many articles, and enjoy what I do read. This fall, Sixth Tone also kindly invited me to be part of their first “China writing contest” (see below for more). If you have had a look at the rest of the jury, you’ll be as surprised by that as I was, but I am grateful for the chance to reconnect to the topic – and perhaps be in your inboxes again occasionally. I hope you’ll like some of the stories in this issue. Wish you good things for 2022 (and maybe write a story!).

干货// Ganhuo // Dry Goods

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


Late November, a jury of four announced the winners of the ““记者的家”新闻奖”, an interesting independent initiative held for the third time this year. In its category ‘public service reporting’, awards go to former journalist 褚朝新, whose WeChat articles on the detention of two well-known lawyers working on a case in northeast Liaoning aided their eventual release, and to the journalist who first captured with a drone the sea of flowers commemorating flooding victims at a Zhengzhou subway exit, and which authorities kept blocking from sight. (Another contender might have been the author of the impressive public spreadsheet connecting people in need with volunteers in the first 24 hours of the flooding.)

An investigative report by 红星新闻 that gathered key evidence on the Zhengzhou subway flooding won the 社会重大事件报道奖 (see here for a Sixth Tone video depictingthe reported events).

The whole list – censored but preserved on China Digital Times – is inspiring, featuring legal-political reporting and op-eds by independent writers as well as journalists at local and national outlets. See here for the editions from 2019 and 2020. In 2019, the best journalist award went to independent writer Huang Xueqin, who was detained in September of this year. An excellent recent 端传媒x NGOCN声音计划article profilesHuang and her work.


The ‘记者的家’ contest did not select a winner in its ‘non-fiction writing’ category this year, citing too few submissions. Given the general climate, it’s especially nice to see two significant China non-fiction writing contests announced in the last months. Sixth Tone is calling for nonfiction pieces in any format around the theme ‘Generations’. Individuals or teams of up to three people can submit articles in English until April 30, 2022. You can also sign up for updates on the contest and related events.

The second contest I wanted to point out or remind you of is called ‘在场’ and accepts submissions on any theme, as long as they are written in Chinese. In an episode of the 新闻实验室 podcast, CEO of initiating social media website Matters (and previous 端传媒 founder) Zhang Jieping explains that the theme aims to encourage writers to keep showing up ‘on site’, contrasting it with a mood of 内卷. The first round for story proposals has just ended (receiving 350 submissions), but they hope to develop this into a running writing scholarship, accepting proposals every three months. Check out the details, including the long list of mainland, HK, Taiwan and diaspora-based writers, publishers and institutions supporting the initiative. It is also exciting that both contests have significant funds.

So much of storytelling is about generational change, in any but certainly a fast-paced society like China. Several of the stories I link to below address this rich theme, as has been the case in just about every issue of this newsletter.

Here I wanted to briefly highlight the remarkable generational turnover in Chinese media. 正午故事, 好奇心日报, 大象公会… many great products exist or flourish for just a few years. But alongside the losses, careers keep moving and new initiatives emerging. Some recent examples: 正面链接, a non-fiction WeChat account that founder and former GQ editor 曾鸣 says is dedicated to portraying complexity; digital monthly magazine 小鸟文学,  whose app features original fiction, nonfiction and translations by renowned (media) authors and was started by Qdaily’s founders; or volunteer-run fact-check service 有据initiated by Pear Video’s (and founding editor of Sixth Tone) Wei Xing. While it seems impossible for a small outlet to take on Fake News, the service fills a real gap for a reliable Chinese-language resource that you can “send to your parents,” as a friend put it.

Finally, I recommend the recent podcast episode in which media scholar Fang Kecheng discusses Chinese nonfiction trends with Zhang and writer Guo Yujie. All three veterans of media change, their takes are always great, but this discussion flows especially well, as they debate understandings of the genre. They agree nonfiction remains an especially “inclusive” form (包容量更大) that battles fake objectivity by allowing authors to show their viewpoint and its limits. As Guo puts it: “文字还是最自由最强大的工具”.

其他好故事 // Gushi // More stories

Some other interesting stories.

1. 平原上的娜拉 – 人物 – Hard to summarize story about 刘小样, whose daily Shaanxi village life contrasts with her dreams, and the Beijing TV presenter on whose show she appears. Like another rare 10万+ nonfiction story of the past year (on a migrant worker who translates philosophy), it raises questions about the portrayal of rural-urban difference. But I’m glad Liu’s compelling voice got shared.

在北地冬季的漫天风雪中,刘小样穿着一件大红的外套,坐在灰黄一片的天地和田垄间,向张越讲述她对生活和所处世界的诸多不满。 「人人都认为农民,特别是女人不需要有思想,她就做饭,她就洗衣服,她就看孩子,她就做家务,她就干地里活。然后她就去逛逛,她就这些,你说做这些要有什么思想,她不需要有思想」。刘小样咬咬牙,「我不接受这个。」 「我宁可痛苦,我不要麻木,我不要我什么都不知道,然后我就很满足。有饭吃,有衣穿,有房住,这就很好了。我不满足这些的,我想要充实的生活,我想要知识,我想看书,我想看电视,从电视上得到我想要得到的东西——因为我不能出去。」

2. 我在哈佛这一年 (Part 1) (Part 2) – 季天琴 – Two-part essay by Caixin journalist Ji Tianqin on her year as a Nieman fellow. Thoughtful account of what she learnt about the US and China, with a focus on issues of diversity and politics in 2019-2020.

中国——一百年前,中国穷、弱、被边缘化,中国人不喜欢它;现在它富、强、自信满满,世界不喜欢它…全世界的目光都投到那个东方国家身上。它恰好又是我的祖国。我从遥远的地方跟那些在国内的朋友一样,关心武汉的命运。除了如饥似渴观看来自中文世界的消息,每天我打开纽约时报网站,也是在“World”这一栏里直奔“Asia Pacific”,查看关于中国的消息。

3. 张医生与王医生 – 保马 — Excerpt from a nonfiction book in which journalists 伊险峰 and 杨樱 write about China’s first reform generation, born in the 1970s, through the story of two Shenyang-based doctors (see also these interviews about the book).


4. 何伟:保持联系,记录一切 – 常识 – Meandering essay in which student 洋洋 observes her nonfiction teacher Peter Hessler. Some great moments.


5. 抵达哥廷根 – 三明治 – Former journalist 邹思聪 wrote this travelogue after he arrived in Göttingen for the first leg of his EU-sponsored graduate degree. Quiet reflection on European history and pandemic control.


6. 《再见爱人》:婚姻的变化和男性的失落 – 海螺社区 – 郭玉洁 on a reality show featuring couples who have divorced or plan to. On the same theme: this 故事FM episode (transcript) in which interviewer 甜糕 asks her divorced parents about their previous marriage, resulting in some beautiful cross-generational communication.


7. 谁在号召网络举报?谁在猎巫普通网民?——微博民粹意见领袖的成名史-端传媒- Portrait of 4 nationalist KOL, showing some of the faces behind the rise of举报 social media culture in recent years.


8. 专访许纪霖:感到深度的无聊,因为我们总是生活在表层 – 學人Scholar – Interview with historian Xu Jilin. Xu is too liberal and moralistic for me, but the interviewer, from a younger generation, gets into many current issues, and I do love this conclusion on online speech.


9. 我在B站跳大神:萨满文化的赛博复兴 – 液体青年 -Feature on young shaman 孙柏强in Northeastern China, who would like his heritage to be as politically acceptable as the Hanfu he also likes.

那是 2007 年,断了两代之后,14 岁的孙柏强懵懵懂懂地,成为家族里新一代的年轻萨满。然而大姑二婚时嫁给一个天主教徒,也放弃了“接班”.. 供奉几年,孙柏强也开始给人看事。一开始是给姥姥找戒指,“那时候就是想说啥说啥,跟随口瞎编的一样,结果就巧成这样,真的找到了。”乡土人际关系紧密,一传十十传百,孙柏强很快在当地小有名气起来。那时,他给人算一卦才五块钱,能买上两三袋 QQ 糖。到现在,这个价格已经翻了一百倍。

10. 我是外公外婆带大的孩子,这是他们的芬芳一生 — 腾讯新闻谷雨影像 – Beautiful compilation of images and handwritten notes, in which film academy graduate Wu Wei reflects on the grandparents who raised her.


11. “花开花常在 花开朋友来 请来吧 我们有未来奇观” – 实践论 – Pictures of a Yunnan trip with itinerary 三亚-陵水-五指山-兴隆华侨农场-后海村.

旧文// Jiuwen // Classic

A piece of nonfiction writing that seems worth a read months, years or decades after its initial publication.

老主编左方:《南方周末》是怎样炼成的 – 腾讯嘉宾访谈 – After co-founding editor of Southern Weekly newspaper Zuo Fang passed away on November 3, many shared obituaries and articles about Zuo and the paper, or just its motto: “可以有不说的真话,但绝不说假话”.  I came across this transcript of a long interview Zuo did for a Tencent online interview series that ran from 2010-2013. The video seems deleted, but Zuo’s account of his life and career offers insights and detail on decades of Chinese journalism history (1 of the 22 pages is missing). He ends on an optimistic note, saying that he looks forward to more editorial freedom for Chinese media. The interview was conducted before the protests following the censorship of Southern Weekly’s new year’s editorial of January 2013, which is when 大公报 reposted this.


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