Changpian 26

长篇 // Changpian // Longform

Welcome to the 26th 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 journalist and researcher of Chinese politics. Feedback is very welcome (tabitha.speelman@gmail.com or @tabithaspeelman). Back issues can be found here.

Welcome to what I think will be the final issue of Changpian. It is coming to you from Dongzhimen, Beijing – about twenty minutes from the office in which I used to write these when I started in early 2017. Last year, I finished my PhD and last month I returned to China as a correspondent. It feels exciting and uncertain. The conditions for doing this job have changed a lot while I was away, and so have I.

Also, the newsletter service I have been using, TinyLetter, will be discontinued at the end of February. This seems a fitting moment to give Changpian a proper send-off, after keeping it on a lifeline for several years (taking my cue from Chaoyang Trap and Christina Xu here). Thank you so much for reading – I really enjoyed doing this and was inspired by your interest and our interactions.

At the same time, as I am returning to media, I would like to share resources and thoughts that do not fit traditional media formats. So I plan to start a new newsletter (just what the world needs!) and would love to stay connected there too. I’ll try to transfer Changpian subscribers to this still unnamed newsletter, unless you would prefer me not to, in which case you can unsubscribe or send me a quick reply on this email. It would still share Chinese reads but also other China-related content I like, and observations on being back here – I’m thinking some sort of reporter’s notes.

See below for some more reflection on Changpian. For now, I hope you like this final issue and a happy Year of the Dragon to all of you (especially to those for who this is your 本命年, as it is for me)!

干货// Ganhuo // Dry Goods

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

离散创作

The ‘润’ generation of migrants from China includes many writers and other creators, who are figuring out their creative lives outside the mainland. Some take their reporting abroad, resulting in work like this in-depth report on Myanmar’s ‘Spring Revolution’ by former 澎湃 editor Wu Qin (here without paywall) and others. Others open bookstores, in Taiwan, Thailand, Germany or online, or go back to school.

With restrictions on mainland media increasing, Singapore-based 端传媒 is one of the main Chinese-language outlets where this diaspora writing can appear (which makes subscribing really worth it). The limitations also make it harder to be ‘in-between’ and active in both worlds, leading to more ‘decoupling’. When Zou Sicong, a former journalist now based in Europe, recently moved over his WeChat public account to a Substack titled ‘Diasporic Letters’, he wrote: “让我们赛博搬家吧”.

Lots of longform

With the discontinuation of TinyLetter, the Changpian archive will also go offline and the links in the newsletters will stop working. But all issues are still up and available for all of February, in case you would like to have a look at some of these time capsules from 2017and 2018, when Chinese non-fiction writing was really having a moment, when ‘wolf warrior’ still referred to a recent movie or when MeToo started in China. I personally like the compact first edition (with very few readers at the time), as well as the links in thesetwo.

And as this list-based newsletter has always loved to include more lists, let me recommend Douban’s best books overview of 2023 (in which the overall top 10 interestingly includes a book translated from my native Dutch), as well as a list of “可能在朋友圈错过、值得加入收藏的50篇文章”, compiled by 乌云装扮者. Both lists include lots of books and features worth checking out, but even a scroll-through gives a sense of salient themes and popular authors from the past year.

其他好故事 // Gushi // More stories

Some other interesting stories.1. 被两地“驱逐”的人 – 在场 – Moving personal storytelling by journalist 林秋铭, who writes about her mother’s migration from Fujian to Taiwan and her work in karaoke parlors there. The 25,000-character essay (which I thought kept building in the second half) won first prize at the third edition of the Frontline Non-fiction Fellowship. See also these notes by the author (“你不写,谁来写呢?”) and this recent conversation with her on the podcast 不合时宜.

没来台湾之前,丽珊对这片土地了解很少。她出生在福建省宁德市的A村。在镇上,她见过一个奇异的景象。天空漂浮着从台湾飞来的氢气球,落在地上,塌成一片,露出牛肉干、宣传单和邓丽君的磁带《何日君再来》——那是台海长达三十年“气球战”的一段小小注脚。丽珊想象,台湾一定是“宛如宫殿一样的地方”,楼宇高耸,华丽规整,空气中都飘散金粉。有人和她形容,走在台湾街头,纸钞能没过人们的膝盖。
众多有关迁移的故事,总以财富神话作为开端。丽珊生活的县城里,悄然流动着大大小小的台湾梦。在她之前,已经有数十位女性同乡、朋友通过“假结婚”的方式抵达台湾。

2. SARS幸存者的20年:不可能“清零”的痛 –端传媒 – A feature by well-known non-fiction writer关军 in which he profiles a SARS survivor’s struggle for recognition.

2003年下半年,武震听说,一些SARS幸存者出现了后遗症,股骨头坏死,还有肺纤维化,前者与抢救时大量使用激素有关。这两种病症,不久被确定为“非典后遗症”。我这么年轻,应该还好吧,武震安慰着自己,但还是决定去做个检查。​拿着报告单,第一眼看到了“无”字,还挺庆幸。妹妹提醒她仔细看看,不是无坏死,是“双侧股骨头无菌性坏死”。

3. 亲爱的招弟 – 人物 – Good reporting by journalist 林松果 who goes to an area of Guangdong where many women continue to live with names that call for a younger brother (like ‘招弟’).

今年9月12日,我在互联网上看到了一个帖子,一个女孩分享了自己改名的经历。她的名字很特别,钱传弟,广东人,2000年出生,今年23岁。9月的这一天,她改掉了自己的名字,更名为「钱雅晴」。在帖子的正文及评论区,她讲了自己的故事:她的名字是爸爸取的,她之后还有个妹妹,叫钱招弟,正如父母期待的那样,最后,他们生了个男孩。成年后,钱传弟和钱招弟一起去改了名,成了钱雅晴和钱宛清。她写,「懂事开始就一直很想改,各种原因没改好,今天实现了,很开心」、「今天我和妹妹都宛如新生」。

4. 胡舒立《穿越在历史边缘》前言:重走前辈流亡之路 – 财新 – Last month, Caixin published a series of excerpts from Hu Shuli’s new book, in which she travels to Sumatra to retrace the steps of her great-uncle and other Chinese cultural figures who were exiled there during World War II. See also this review.

清晨7点准时离开酒店,赴圣淘沙轮渡码头。8点半Sino 6号轮渡开船,我的苏门答腊之行正式开始了。石叻班让是个小城镇,位于印尼苏门答腊东部的直名丁宜岛(Pulau Tebingtinggi)。对我的寻踪之旅来说,这个小镇很重要,因为81年以前,它是胡愈之、郁达夫等一批中国抗日文化人逃离新加坡之后停留的第一站。

5. 他出家了,单位喊他回去填辞职申请表 – 三明治 – An enjoyable read on engineer 章瑜 who joins a monastery close to Shenyang.

与其说我不理解章瑜会出家,不如说我不相信这件事。章瑜是工科硕士,我对他的记忆还停留在五六年前在北京的项目会议上,章瑜虽然个子不高,却目光XX,引用很多先进的理论来论证自己的方案。2023年6月,我和章瑜打招呼时,不知道该怎么称呼他。章瑜出家了,有了法号。“不要谢我的发好。”这是他在答应采访后,唯一的要求。我以为他已经脱离了俗世,哪里知道单位还在催这位僧人回去办理辞职手续。

6. 高考之外,县城中学里“被剩下的孩子”  – 青年志 – A discussion with education policy professor 林小英on how gaokao reforms led to more pressures on those with less resources.

当然,我没办法替他们代言,但是从他们的讲述中,至少可以看出一些道道来。考试评价的体系设计得越复杂,对县中整体越不利;被纳入学校教育的考核要素越多,县中的孩子的不利地位越凸显;自身拥有的资源和条件越少的人,人生越早面临重大的人生选择,每一步都在做重大选择,每一步都不敢选错,一步错就步步错。教育的焦虑大概就是这样形成的。

7. 雄安手记:一些人先富了起来 – 端传媒 – More 端, whose reporter returns to Xiong’an after four years. The long-term reporting captures the stories of those who lost and those who gained from the attempt to create a new city there.

2017年雄安新区成立,我来容城采访,结识了张力。他开一辆破旧出租车,座椅凹陷,后座的门锁坏掉。我总是坐在副驾驶的座位上和他聊天。 “怎么样?我们这里变化大吧?”他笑着问我。我想起从前见面,他身上是一件万年不变的基础款羽绒服,和疏于清洁的出租车完美融合。“你变化也很大。”我说。“我哪儿变了?” “变有钱了。”他仰头哈哈大笑。

8. 张彦:在中国写下希望的样子–波士顿书评 – Lovely and insightful
review of Ian Johnson’s latest book Sparks, which tells the incredible stories of a number of Chinese 民间 historians incredibly well (see here for a Chinese excerpt).

读者看到的是一个人物谱系,连结这个谱系的不是血缘、地缘、党派、政治团体、社会工作性质,而是一种共享的人格,一种行动力,一种抵抗(不管是抵抗主流、抵抗遗忘,还是抵抗现存的政治结构对人的统治)和创造希望的能力…对一位中国读者来说,从《野草》到《星火》,是一串寻找希望之作。作者在一团黑漆中,开凿出希望,并向人们展示:希望,这是一种真实、具体存在的东西。

9. 陈朗:请君重作醉歌行 – 时间社THiS – A devastating and widely-read essay, in which author Chen Lang bends the boundaries of the obituary in writing about her married life with sociologist Xu Xiaohong, who recently passed away from cancer at 45. See also Chen’s follow-up notes, and here and here for more on and by Xu.

我曾经跟我的心理医生说,嫁一个情投意合的人怎么可能幸福。你们想要的是同一个东西,但是总得有人管孩子、报税、理财、做饭,于是这就成了一个零和博弈。他越成功你越痛苦。我说现在我明白了,人如果要结婚的话,就应该和跟自己爱好不同的人结婚,比如如果你爱虚无缥缈、形而上的东西,就最好嫁/娶一个发自内心热爱管孩子、报税、理财、做饭的人。在资本主义社会混下去需要效率,而效率需要劳动分工。

10. 未识别民族:穿青人、移民与西南文化 – 东腔西调 – Podcast in which Peking University sociologist and member of the 穿青 community, a not officially recognized minority group, discusses his identity with colleagues.

“穿青人”是怎样一种存在?“穿青人”为什么会成为“未识别民族”?“未被识别”的身份,对他们的日常生活有哪些影响?对民族身份的回溯,是否有助于进一步打开对于我们自身民族文化和历史的了解?

旧文// Jiuwen // Classic:

A piece of nonfiction writing that seems worth a read months, years or decades after its initial publication.高耀洁:我一生几次逃难 – Finally, two pieces of writing that show two impressive people in their own words: a reflection on her life of moving and exile by doctor and HIV activist Gao Yaojie from 2020 that ends with the poem below (see also these videos of Gao in her late years by journalist Vivian Wu), and a 南方周末 interview with legal scholar Jiang Ping from 2018. Gao and Jiang lived to 95 and 93, respectively, and both passed away last December. Both emphasize an attitude of speaking out when you can and when you cannot, to be silent rather than “说瞎话” (Gao) or “违心之言” (Jiang).

《思念》
我的夜晚是你的白天,
当我思念时你们进入睡眠。
九十二岁的我思念无定时间,
回想着你们幼年的小脸,
活泼无暇的行动,
奶声奶气的呼喊,
这是当年的乐景,
如今留在梦幻之间。

Changpian by tabithaseelman
Cellebroedersweg 5 Kampen, Netherlands

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