China Imagined review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Sean Macdonald’s review of China Imagined: From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power, by Gregory B. Lee. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/sean-macdonald. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

China Imagined:
From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power

By Gregory B. Lee


Reviewed by Sean Macdonald

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2020)


Elderly people, or honest people, all seem to adhere to the motto “the name is guest of the thing.” But being neither an elderly person, nor wishing to immodestly declare myself an honest person, I have sometimes put more emphasis on “name” than “thing.” I feel that in many everyday experiences, a “name” is anything but ordinary.  Under appropriate conditions, it can increase the value of the “thing” it represents. On the other hand, under inappropriate conditions, no matter how beautiful, elevated, or respected a thing is, a “name” can devalue the “thing” it represents. As for myself, with regard to putting stress on “name,” I have really not understood what it’s for.–Shi Zhecun[1]

There was an obsession with graft among officials. Many regulatory and supervisory methods are outlined, with itemized punishments for specific infractions. In a typical example, punishment is exacted for the discovery of poorly maintained granaries: we learn that when it comes to the Law, three mouseholes are equal to one rathole.–Dean and Massumi[2]

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing/Through the graves the wind is blowing/Freedom soon will come/Then we’ll come from the shadows.–Leonard Cohen/Hy Zaret, “The Partisan.”

Gregory B. Lee, China Imagined: From European Fantasy to Spectacular Power London: Hurst & Company, 2018. xxi + 231 pgs. ISBN-13: 9781787380165.

French Sinology and American and British colonial history share a date. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane, in the Niagara Falls region now shared by the US and Canada, occurred in 1814, the same year the first “Chair in Chinese and Tartar-Manchurian Languages and Literatures” was established at Collège de France. ​​American Chinese studies emerged from European Sinology, but like the US, Britain only started professionalizing “Orientalist” Chinese studies during WWII.

Professor of Chinese at Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 and Director of Institut d’études transtextuelles et transculturelles (IETT), Gregory B. Lee has been writing and teaching in Chinese studies since the 1980s. In 2011, Lee was elected a Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities. His work ranges from critical studies and translations of modern and contemporary literature, popular music and media, to recent autobiographical stories around his grandfather, an early twentieth century immigrant to Liverpool, as well as a dystopic fictional narrative of China in 2030. Lee’s writing could be described as a critique of state cultural policies in China and the West. In an earlier book, Chinas Unlimited, Lee shows the way racism created two separate British policies towards opium, one banning opium for English citizens, and one promoting the sale of opium to Chinese people.[3] Continue reading

Wuhan Diary review

MCLC Resource Center is please to announce publication of Howard Y. F. Choy’s review of Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City, by Fang Fang and translated by Michael Berry. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/choy-wuhan/.

Kirk Denton, editor

Wuhan Diary:
Dispatches from a Quarantined City

By Fang Fang
Translated by Michael Berry


Reviewed by Howard Y. F. Choy
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright August, 2020)


Fang Fang. Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City Trans. Michael Berry. New York: HarperVia, 2020. E-book version: ISBN 9780063052659, 0063052652.

The COVID-19 outbreak from Wuhan has impacted not only China but the entire globe, with the highest numbers of infections and deaths in the United States reaching around 5,380,000 and 170,000, respectively, as of August 15, 2020.[1] In a time of pandemic, what is the role of literature, particularly the form of online diary—the daily-based documentary genre that first appears on social media and is then translated into foreign languages and published in print abroad? Must the translator bear the burden of xenophobia from the nation of the source language? How much courage does one need to translate a testament to COVID-19 from China? Such was the situation that Michael Berry faced in April of this year, when he was translating the last entries of Fang Fang’s 方方 Wuhan Diary (武漢日記) and received more than six hundred hateful comments and threats against him and his family on his Weibo 微博 account. [2] In his “Translator’s Afterword,” Berry makes it clear that he did not intend to “weaponize” the book as a tool to criticize China and that his translation has nothing to do with the CIA; instead, he “felt the pressing need for the United States, and the world for that matter, to learn from Fang Fang” (368) from her epidemic experience, compassion, conscience, bravery and “audacity to refuse to be silenced,” and to “speak truth to power” (373). Continue reading

New China books, history, art, literature

Source: China Channel, LARB (8/5/20)
2020 China Books (Part 4): History, Art, Literature
A fourth list of new China books – compiled by Brian Spivey

We have arrived at the fourth and final part of our 2020 China Books series (also read parts onetwo, and three), showcasing books about China’s past that came out, or are coming out, in 2020 – and giving their authors, who wrote the blurbs below, an opportunity to suggest why readers might be interested in their book in this current historic moment. Art and culture in various forms features prominently in this list: from the literature of Yan Lianke to the global spread of Chinese antiquities; Chinese cinema to Maoism’s influence on modern and contemporary art; before ending with historical fiction on Ming courtesans, and literary nonfiction on China’s youth.  – Brian Spivey

Three Brothers
Yan Lianke, trans. Carlos Rojas
Grove Atlantic, March 2020

As with most large-scale natural disasters, in the current pandemic there exists a large gap between the official and actual death rates. Although many pandemic-related deaths are carefully tabulated and mourned in real time, the actual number of deaths is almost certainly significantly higher. Due to testing limitations, imperfect record-keeping, and general chaos at a time when health care systems are stretched to capacity, many deaths may not be linked to the disaster until long after the fact. Yan Lianke’s memoir Three Brothers emerges out of a similar interregnum between death and mourning. Near the beginning of the work, Yan describes how, after his father passed away in 1984, Yan resolved to express his filiality “by writing something about him, narrating his life and love of life – even if it was a short piece only about three hundred or five hundred characters long.” Yan concedes that for years afterwards he never even remembered to observe the anniversary of his father’s death, much less fulfill his promise to write an account of his father’s life. In fact, it was over a quarter of a century later, with the Chinese release of Three Brothers in 2009, that Yan was finally able to complete and publish the memorial he had promised to write. The result is not only a moving celebration of Yan Lianke’s memory of his father and three uncles, it is also an anguished meditation on the inherent difficulty of mourning.  – Carlos Rojas Continue reading

Realistic Revolution review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Brian Tsui’s review of Realistic Revolution: Contesting Chinese History, Culture, and Politcs after 1989, by Els van Dongen. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/tsui/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton

Realistic Revolution: Contesting Chinese
History, Culture, and Politics after 1989

By Els van Dongen


Reviewed by Brian Tsui

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright August, 2020)


Els van Dongen, Realistic Revolution: Contesting Chinese History, Culture, and Politics after 1989 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. xii + 276 pgs. ISBN-13: 978-1108421300.

At a recent conference on Maoist China I attended, a historian gave, in proxy, a presentation on the People’s Commune experiment. The scholar, who was with the school of Marxism at a prestigious Beijing-based university, cited Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper as his inspirations. I was bemused, to put it mildly. “What does a scholar attracted to the doyens of Cold War liberalism,” I almost thought aloud, “have to do with Marxism?” Had I read Els van Dongen’s Realistic Revolution then, I might have been able to put my unease in better perspective.

Writing on the recent past is a risky business for historians. In the case of China, the Maoist era is now a burgeoning field. Yet, the same cannot be said of the decades after Mao Zedong’s death. The dust, it seems, has yet to settle. Van Dongen’s choice of topic and period is a bold one. She focuses on the period from 1989 to 1993, arguably the most tumultuous period in the history of the People’s Republic from Mao’s death up to the current epidemic and all-out competition with the United States. Confronted with the onslaught of the Tian’anmen crackdown, the Soviet bloc’s dramatic demise, and the marketization of society, Chinese intellectuals in the immediate post-Tian’anmen era were forced to adjust their priorities and commitments. The “high culture fever,” as Jing Wang puts it, of the 1980s gave way to a much more sober and somber but no less complicated intellectual culture.[1] This complex development is the subject of van Dongen’s study. Many of the figures van Dongen discusses are not only alive, but are still highly influential in their fields. Van Dongen’s training in Europe and current position in Singapore, both removed from China and the United States, have given her a unique outsider vantage point from which to scrutinize transpacific events. Continue reading

Wuhan Diary review

Source: SCMP (7/16/20)
Review: Wuhan Diary: Chinese writer Fang Fang’s nuanced, personal account of life under quarantine
Fang Fang documents confusing, conflicting and distressing circumstances in real time. The book collects 60 social media posts, written daily during the world’s strictest Covid-19 lock­down
By Yeung Ji-ging

Chinese novelist Fang Fang. Photo: Getty Images

Chinese novelist Fang Fang. Photo: Getty Images

Wuhan Diary, or at least its recent English transla­tion, is a work whose reputation precedes it. Its author, a 65-year-old award-winning writer known as Fang Fang, was targeted with online trolling and state censor­ship after she began posting about the coronavirus outbreak on her personal Weibo account.

Outrage grew in April after Harper Collins began marketing an English-language compilation of her posts, to be published in book form in June. Fang Fang was accused of casting the nation’s coronavirus response in a poor light. Continue reading

The Last Kings of Shanghai

Source: Sup China (7/2/20)
A fresh look at the 1930s Jewish refuge, in ‘The Last Kings of Shanghai’
Jonathan Kaufman’s latest book provides an engaging, colorful history of Shanghai’s past that fully explores, but does not romanticize, the cosmopolitanism and colonialism of that era.
By Alex Smith

last-kings-shanghai-illustration

SupChina illustration by John Oquist

When I was living in Shanghai in the mid-2010s, two very different landmarks became constant tour stops as I played guide to visiting friends and family: the 1920s throwback Fairmont Peace Hotel, and the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, housed in an old synagogue in Shanghai’s Hongkou District, once known as the Shanghai Ghetto. Jonathan Kaufman’s latest book, The Last Kings of Shanghai, provides an engaging history of how the iconic hotel and the Shanghai Ghetto came to be.

Kaufman traces the interconnected histories of two entrepreneurial families: the Sassoons, once known, due to their wealth and influence, as “the Rothschilds of Asia” — a term Kaufman notes the Sassoons themselves considered somewhat of an insult, since the Rothschilds were mere nouveau riche — and the Kadoories, depicted as the Sassoons’ less connected but determined distant cousins. Continue reading

New Studies in Socialist Performance

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Xiaomei Chen’s “New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay,” which reviews Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan, and Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/xiaomei-chen/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC book review editor for media studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

New Studies in Socialist Performance: A Review Essay

Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution, by Xing Fan
Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy, by Emily Wilcox


Reviewed by Xiaomei Chen
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June, 2020)


Xing Fan, Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Beijing Opera during the Cultural Revolution Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018. 308 pp. ISBN: 978-988-8455-81-2 (cloth).

Emily Wilcox, Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018. 322 pp. ISBN: 9780520300576 (cloth).

This review essay examines two outstanding recent books in Chinese performance studies: Xing Fan’s monograph Staging Revolution: Artistry and Aesthetics in Model Peking Opera during the Cultural Revolution (Hong Kong University Press, 2018) and Emily Wilcox’s Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy (University of California Press, 2019). Both books are substantial and significant contributions to theatre studies, contemporary Chinese literary and cultural studies, and comparative Asian theatre history, with a sharp focus on aesthetic traditions in the context of intellectual and political history.

Xing Fan’s Staging Revolution focuses on the complexities of the “revolutionary modern Peking opera” promoted during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), also widely known as “model theatre.” She is among the very few in English language scholarship to fully delve into the aesthetic features of Peking opera (jingju 京剧) in the modern period, with an emphasis on five major components of jingju arts: playwriting, acting, music, design, and directing. Staging Revolution expands the scope of Barbara Mittler’s remarkable book A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture (Harvard University East Asian Center, 2013) and Rosemary A. Roberts’s excellent study Maoist Model TheatreThe Semiotics of Gender and Sexuality in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (Brill, 2010)With a comprehensive study of the artistry of model theatre, Fan’s Staging Revolution has raised to a new level the academic study of the model theatre, and by extension, the cultural legacy of the Cultural Revolution.

The scope of her book, moreover, reaches beyond the period of the Cultural Revolution. Her succinct narrative of jingju history and practice—from the late eighteenth century to the Yan’an period of the 1930s-40s and on to the high Maoist period before the Cultural Revolution—delineates a rich history of the sociological and ideological functions of jingju and its artistic heritage and development, with the latter being the most innovative contribution of Fan’s book. Continue reading

Illiberal China review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Gabriele de Seta’s review of Illiberal China: The Ideologicial Challenge of the People’s Republic of China, by Daniel F. Vukovich. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/de-seta/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC media studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Illiberal China: The Ideological Challenge
of the People’s Republic of China

By Daniel F. Vukovich


Reviewed by Gabriele de Seta

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


Daniel F. Vukovich, Illiberal China: The Ideological Challenge of the People’s Republic of China London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 250 pages. ISBN: 9789811344466 (Paper); 978-9811305405 (Hardcover).

Daniel F. Vukovich’s Illiberal China is an unabashedly provocative book, both in the sense of stringing together provocations that spare no academic field or political camp (except, perhaps, the author’s own) and in the sense of being thought-provoking (if, at times, in a maddeningly disagreeable way). The title of this book is almost a détournement of Elizabeth J. Perry’s 2012 article “The Illiberal Challenge of Authoritarian China,”[1] which is herein repeatedly referenced and functions as a springboard for Vukovich’s own argument. A few pages in, it becomes rapidly clear how Vukovich has taken Perry’s sensible conclusion—that “under certain conditions, a robust civil society may actually work to strengthen and sustain an attentive authoritarian regime” (Perry, 15)—and subtly reshuffled the terms of her formulation: instead of the illiberal challenge posed by Chinese authoritarianism, the author identifies instead China’s illiberalism as a challenge to the liberal world. The latter is often equated with the West, which conveniently overlaps with the other target of the book’s critique: orientalism, and more specifically the brand of “Sinological orientalism” that was the target of Vukovich’s previous monograph (2013).[2] Illiberal China is chronologically situated after 1989—Vukovich has previously written about orientalist interpretations of the Tiananmen square protests[3]—and maps the vicissitudes of liberal and illiberal politics during China’s “definitive and even epochal” rise on the world stage (vii). Continue reading

Animation in the Sinosphere

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of “Animation in the Sinosphere: A Review Essay,” by Evelyn Shih. The essay reviews two recent publications on animation in China and Taiwan. The review appears below, and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/evelyn-shih/. My thanks to Jason McGrath, MCLC media studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Animation in the Sinosphere: A Review Essay

Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan, by Teri Silvio
Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation, 1940s-1970s, by Daisy Yan Du


Reviewed by Evelyn Shih
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2020)


Teri Silvio, Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2019. 290 pages. ISBN: 9780824881160 (Paper); 9780824876623 (Hardcover).

Daisy Yan Du, Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2019. 276 pages. ISBN: 9780824877644 (Paper); 9780824872106 (Hardcover).

Has the age of animation begun? And if it has, to whom does it belong? Two new books on Chinese and Taiwanese animation bring these questions into focus using materials that have thus far received scant attention in English-language scholarship. In global animation studies, by far the dominant loci for animation have been America and Japan—the former beginning with the worldwide stardom of Mickey Mouse, and the latter beginning with the post-WWII boom of anime, which subsequently drew interest to earlier animation and related media. The modes of animation that emerged from these locations have come to define the paradigms through which most scholars approach animation, and included among these framing paradigms is the specter of national cinema. While both Teri Silvio’s Puppets, Gods, and Brands: Theorizing the Age of Animation from Taiwan and Daisy Yan Du’s Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation engage with that framework, they also work to push the model forward with new perspectives.

Silvio challenges “Japanamerica” through the lens of post-colonialism, taking as her case study a past colony of Japan and a neo-colonial client state of the US: Taiwan.[1] More importantly, however, she broadens the field of animation studies by finding an interdisciplinary interface with anthropology and religious studies—that is, she engages seriously with media studies, especially areas such as fan and reception studies, film analysis, and production studies, but her strength is in cultural theory. The “age of animation” that she proposes in her title is not just an acknowledgement of increasingly sophisticated digital technologies and virtual realities reaching a new level of omnipresence in contemporary life; it also redefines animation as a mode of post-humanism. As she puts it, “animation in the narrow sense (a kind of cinema or video) is popular because animation in the broad sense (giving objects lives of their own) is good to think with—specifically, to think through what is happening right now in the intersections of technology and capitalism, of the global and the local, of the human and the nonhuman” (3). In one deft move, Silvio provincializes Japanese and American animation, which is after all just “a kind of cinema or video,” and finds a larger question that puts a relatively marginal mode of Taiwanese puppet animation at the center. Puppets, after all, are objects that exist precisely to have a “life of their own.” Continue reading

After Eunuchs review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Elise Huerta’s review of After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China, by Howard Chiang. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/huerta/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine,
and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China

By Howard Chiang


Reviewed by Elise Huerta

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April, 2020)


Howard Chiang, After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. xx + 391 pgs. ISBN: 9780231185790 (Paper); Hardcover published 2018: ISBN: 9780231185783.

Since the late 1980s, China scholars have produced a steady stream of research on sex, gender, and feminism that has critically reframed the way the field approaches major topics such as love, labor, nationalism, and modernity. Despite the vast magnitude of  existing work on sexuality and same-sex desire, Howard Chiang’s After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China (2018) is the first book-length history of sex change to appear within the field of Chinese studies. In this meticulously-researched interdisciplinary study, Chiang unearths a plethora of archival evidence to not only shed fresh light on decades-long debates about shifting discourses of sex in modern China, but also to reveal the precise mechanisms and conditions that made such discourses possible. Chiang’s detailed close reading of visual and literary texts, his rigorous engagement with queer, Sinophone, and post-structuralist theories, and his sensitive treatment of the archive culminate in a coherent and convincing genealogy of sex in China, from the demise of eunuchism in the late imperial period through the emergence of public discourse on transsexuals in 1950s Taiwan. The book’s major historical intervention is its establishing of an unexpected relationship between these two phenomena, arguing that the conceptual foundation necessary for “transsexual” to emerge as an intelligible category in 1950s Taiwan can be traced back to a three-pronged “‘epistemic nexus’” that came to the fore during the early twentieth century (13). This nexus, which posited a new conceptualization of sex as composed of  “elements of visibility, carnality, and elasticity,” was constructed by Chinese sexologists and self-proclaimed “sexperts” who developed globally-circulating ideas within the context of examples from traditional culture, among which was the body of the eunuch (14). Continue reading

The Book of Shanghai review

Source: China Channel, LARB (5/11/20)
Map of Shanghai’s Neglected Crannies
By Kevin McGeary
Kevin McGeary reviews a new story collection, The Book of Shanghai

Cover of The Book of Shanghai.

In 2019, the Globe and Mail published an op-ed titled ‘Welcome to Shanghai: Capital of the Future.’ In it, the author describes his experience of visiting the city as like “walking through the looking glass into the future.” Citing the city’s “muscular” building strategy, colossal scale, citizens’ entrepreneurial energy, and (of course) China’s ancient history, much of the article would not have been out of place in The Global Times. While he says London and New York are “the world’s current leading cities,” some of his arguments as to why Shanghai is primed to overtake them are strong.

Yet fiction leaves more room for exploring the conflict between how a city sees itself and how the world sees it. At its best, literature can capture both the appealing and the abhorrent aspects of a particular time and place. As editor Jin Li mentions in his introduction to a new collection of fiction based in the city, The Book of Shanghai, unlike Beijing, Xi’an or nearby Hangzhou, Shanghai did not become a major city until after the first Opium War when the colonial powers used it as a port. From its hey-day in the 1920s, Shanghai was an important hub through which an ancient culture entered the modern world. Continue reading

Manchukuo Perspectives review

fMCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of of Pei-Yin Lin’s review of Manchukuo Perspectives: Transnational Approaches to Literary Production, edited by Annika A. Culver and Norman Smith. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/pei-yin-lin/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC book review editor for literary studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Manchukuo Perspectives:
Transnational Approaches to Literary Production

Edited by Annika A. Culver and Norman Smith


Reviewed by Pei-Yin Lin
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2020)


Annika A. Culver adn Norman Smith, eds., Manchukuo Perspectives: Transnational Approaches to Literary Production. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2019. xii + 315 pgs. ISBN: 978-988-8528-13-4.

Since the 1990s, a growing body of scholarship on the Japanese Empire has embarked upon a systematic “de-imperialization.” This effort is manifested primarily through two interrelated reappraisals. The first is that of the literary production from Japan’s former colonies, such as Taiwan and Korea, as well as its occupied areas, such as Manchuria. The impetus of this type of de-imperialization is to eschew the rigid colonizer-colonized and collaboration-resistance dichotomies, in order to paint a more nuanced picture of how individual writers navigated the muddy waters between censorship and identity[1] in their literary negotiations with “colonial modernity”; this approach also sheds light on how the subjectivity of Japanese citizens was artistically renegotiated in relation to Japan proper and its colonies.[2] The second type of reappraisal explores the transnational (or trans-colonial) literary interactions within the Japanese Empire or Japanophone cultural representations,[3] offering an alternative framework through which to understand dynamic exchanges across Japanese colonies and semi-colonies. Continue reading

The flowers blooming in the dark

Source: NYRB (3/26/20)
The Flowers Blooming in the Dark
By Ian Johnson

(Getty Images) A visitor reads ‘One Day in 2003,’ a diary story also broadcast over a loudspeaker at The Factory, which housed exhibitions during the first Beijing International Art Biennale, in northern Beijing, September 21, 2003.

Voices from the Chinese Century: Public Intellectual Debate from Contemporary China
edited by Timothy Cheek, David Ownby, and Joshua A. Fogel
Columbia University Press

Rethinking China’s Rise: A Liberal Critique
by Xu Jilin, translated from the Chinese and edited by David Ownby
Cambridge University Press

Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals
by Sebastian Veg
Columbia University Press

Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, Chinese people have sought to give voice to how they would like their country to be run. In 1956, Mao Zedong announced a brief flourishing of free speech called the “Hundred Flowers Campaign,” referring to a vibrant era in antiquity that gave rise to Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, and other ideas that went on to dominate Chinese thought for thousands of years. Of course, Mao didn’t really want such an atmosphere to take hold; it was a trap, and people who spoke out in favor of political reform or against government abuses were quickly snapped up by the security apparatus. China entered a 20-year period of brutal policies that only ended with Mao’s death and the purging of his allies in the late 1970s.

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping began to relax government control over the economy and society, allowing a freewheeling decade of spirited discussion in which the country’s future seemed up for grabs. It ended with the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, setting China on what many people now take to be its inevitable course: that of a development dictatorship, in which economic growth is guided by a repressive state that brooks little opposition. Continue reading

A Stormy Petrel review

Source: The International (4/28/20)
‘A Stormy Petrel’: Hong Kong Governor John Pope Hennessy
P. Kevin MacKeown’s biography ‘A Stormy Petrel’ (City University of Hong Kong, 2020) argues for John Pope Hennessy as a character full of contradictions, bridling against his historical circumstances but never quite transcending them.
Reviewed by Nicholas Haggerty

The only physical vestiges of British colonial governor John Pope Hennessy in Hong Kong, other than a street or public space named after him, is the foliage. He pioneered a reforestation campaign, planting over a million trees along the avenues and hillsides.

This longevity contrasts with Pope Hennessy’s short-lived political vision. He was neither an especially effective political operator nor an anti-colonial visionary. His plans were typically flustered by his ease at making enemies or, more often, just the structures of colonial rule.

The biographer P. Kevin MacKeown’s purpose in A Stormy Petrel is not so much restoring Pope Hennessy’s reputation as an important historical figure but an appreciation of him as a fascinating character. He makes for an intriguing comparison with Carrie Lam, as she likewise makes decisions with an eye toward their reception in a distant capital. Continue reading

The Journey of Liu Xiaobo review

Soure: SCMP (4/18/20)
The Journey of Liu Xiaobo reveals how Chinese dissident went from ‘dark horse’ to Nobel laureate
Friends and colleagues recall the late Nobel Peace Prize winner and a fearless champion of human rights and democracy in China
By Ajay Singh

Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Photo: EPA

Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Photo: EPA

The Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate
edited by Joanne Leedom-Ackerman with Yu Zhang and others
Potomac Books

Towards the end of a book launch held in Taipei in July 2017, bestselling Chinese author and demo­cracy advocate Yu Jie invoked a quote that was also the title of his latest work: “Take out a rib and use it as a torch.” Socrates had used these words, the author told the gathering, but Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo had practised them throughout his life.

Liu Xiaobo was someone who used his rib as a torch to light the darkness of China after the June 4 massacre,” said Yu, alluding to Liu’s non-violent activism and prolific writing following the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Moments later, Yu received a text message, informing him that Liu had died.

Yu describes the loss of his best friend and winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in an emotionally charged article included in The Journey of Liu Xiaobo: From Dark Horse to Nobel Laureate, a marvellous collection of 70 essays and reflections – and a few poems – by the late dissident’s friends, acquaintances and academic colleagues. Continue reading