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 ( 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.


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.


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.


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’).


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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).


Changpian by tabithaseelman
Cellebroedersweg 5 Kampen, Netherlands

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