Li Tuo’s “The Pandemic and Contemporary Capitalism”

I’m happy to announce that Boundary 2has released my translation of Li Tuo’s provocative interview, “The Pandemic and Contemporary Capitalism,” originally published in the Beijing Cultural Review 文化纵横 last summer. The interview ranges across a broad series of topics, but, at its core, engages the profound difficulties for critical thinking in the contemporary world. How, Li Tuo asks, do we think about capitalism today in the wake of its long, entangled history with struggles for socialism? Does Bernie Sanders or America’s Occupy Movement offer resources for thinking the future otherwise? If not, then where can we look? Finally, where does China figure in all of this and why do so many thinkers exclude it from their analyses altogether?

Harlan Chambers

Surviving a Uighur ‘re-education’ camp

Source: The Guardian (1/12/21)
‘Our souls are dead’: how I survived a Chinese ‘re-education’ camp for Uighurs
After 10 years living in France, I returned to China to sign some papers and I was locked up. For the next two years, I was systematically dehumanised, humiliated and brainwashed
By  with 

Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Uighur woman who spent two years in a re-education camp in western China.

Gulbahar Haitiwaji. Photograph: Emmanuelle Marchadour

The man on the phone said he worked for the oil company, “In accounting, actually”. His voice was unfamiliar to me. At first, I couldn’t make sense of what he was calling about. It was November 2016, and I had been on unpaid leave from the company since I left China and moved to France 10 years earlier. There was static on the line; I had a hard time hearing him.

“You must come back to Karamay to sign documents concerning your forthcoming retirement, Madame Haitiwaji,” he said. Karamay was the city in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang where I’d worked for the oil company for more than 20 years.

“In that case, I’d like to grant power of attorney,” I said. “A friend of mine in Karamay takes care of my administrative affairs. Why should I come back for some paperwork? Why go all that way for such a trifle? Why now?” Continue reading

Feminist comedian accused of ‘inciting gender-based antagonism’

Source: SupChina (12/29/21)
Feminist comedian accused of ‘inciting gender-based antagonism’ after critiquing sexist haters
When reflecting on her past year, Yang Li, the stand-up comedian known for her feminist men-bashing, delivered a barn-burner of a tirade against her critics, blasting them for being misogynist and overly sensitive to critique.

yang li

Yáng Lì 杨笠 knows haters gonna hate, and she has gleefully given them more fuel for the fire.

When she first appeared on the third season of hit stand-up comedy series Rock & Roast (脱口秀大会 tuō kǒu xiù dà huì), which hit streaming platforms over the summer, the young comedian became a national sensation almost overnight. By delivering an eclectic blend of thought-provoking, patriarchy-challenging jokes, Yang has earned rave reviews from women who felt heard and inspired — as well as a ferocious backlash from online trolls, who recently took their opposition to the political level with calls to have Yang censored over her “hate-inciting” views.

The renewed controversy surrounding Yang’s feminist men-bashing stemmed from her latest appearance on the year-end special episode of Rock & Roast, which asked a roster of the show’s previous contestants to share their biggest disappointments from 2020. When reflecting on her past year, Yang delivered a barn-burner of a tirade against her critics (in Chinese), blasting them for being misogynist and overly sensitive to critique. Continue reading

‘Multi-ethnic’ literature collection

Source: (12/22/20)
“Multi-ethnic” Literature: Yilin’s 2020 Cache of Fiction by non-Han Writers
By Bruce Humes

As your year-end holiday lockdown fast approaches, it’s worth noting a new series of books by non-Han writers launched this year by one of China’s best-known publishers, Yilin Press — lit., “translation forest” — that is normally associated with marketing popular foreign-language fiction in Mandarin for Chinese readers.

The name of the series itself, Library of Contemporary Classics by China’s Multi-ethnic Writers (中国当代多民族经典作家文库), is notable because it employs the term “multi-ethnic” rather than the former very politically correct, ubiquitous reference to “minority ethnic” literature (少数民族文学) that must surely have rankled some.

I will write more about the worrisome outlook for mother-tongue, multi-ethnic literature out of China — given moves to severely restrict education in Uyghur, Tibetan and Mongolian, and the ongoing incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Turkophone people in Xinjiang — but for now, here are the titles in Yilin’s new series (so far available only in Chinese) with a bit of background info and links: Continue reading

Chinese intellectuals and Carl Schmitt

Two notes on Chinese establishment intellectuals’ ever tighter embrace of the theories of the key supporter of the Nazis, the law professor Carl Schmitt, infamous for enthusiastically making up legal arguments to defend Hitler’s extra-judicial killings of political opponents.

  1. Jackson T. Reinhardt writes about “Totalitarian Friendship: Carl Schmitt in Contemporary China,” Inquiries, 2020, Vol. 12 No. 07.

Reinhardt highlights the literary scholar Zhang Xudong as one of the leading Chinese proponents of Schmitt, the authoritarian theorist of state power — and of the people as unanimously submitting to its self-appointed “Leadership,” the Communist Party:

” … literary theorist Zhang Xudong […] believes that it is impossible for China to construct an organic and particular cultural politics for China in “a [political] space delimited by Western universal values such as science, democracy, and liberty,” because Chinese cultural identity “often appears as an inferior mode [in Western discourse].” Zhang’s Chinese cultural politics is the reaffirmation of “Chinese subjectivity” which is “self-sufficient and not delimited by Western modernity.” The main content of this cultural politic is Schmittian homogeneity. To Zhang, Western values of market and political liberalism make “the genuine ideal of social equality in China… [impossible to] be realized.” This social equality occurs by aligning establishing and aligning a homogeneous character of the citizens in relation towards the state. Zhang concludes that only with the governing leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is China able to foster this egalitarian vision.” (Zhang is a Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies at NYU. His involvement in a censorship incident in a journal he edited, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, was discussed on MCLC in late April 2019, in a thread on “Censorship in Chinese Studies.” The censorship, and Zhang’s defense of it, later led to Brill’s termination of publishing the journal). Continue reading

Tribute to Rahile Dawut

A moving video tribute to Uyghur folklorist and anthropologist Rahile Dawut, organized by Rahile’s daughter, with a long series of people around the world paying homage to Rahile, demanding her freedom:

Rahile Dawut: Three Years of Silence. Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia, Dec 11, 2020.

This seven minute tribute was made on the three-year mark of Rahile Dawut’s enforced disappearance, on Dec. 12, 2020, as she was boarding a flight to an academic conference in Beijing. In the context of the mass atrocities perpetrated against her people, we fear the worst for our colleague. To help #FreeRahileDawut, go to Continue reading

What is China thinking

Source: SupChina (12/2/20)
What is China thinking?
How can we understand China if we don’t know what its most prominent intellectuals are saying? A translation project by David Ownby aims to make up for the absence of Chinese voices in Western discussions about the country that nobody can afford to ignore.
By Ian Johnson

What is China thinking?

Illustration by Derek Zheng

The last time a country challenged an established superpower, it was easy to figure out what the newcomer was thinking. That’s because the United States was an English-speaking nation, the same as the one it was slowly supplanting, the United Kingdom. The two countries had frequent contact, read each other’s novels and poems, and shared many of the same political ideas.

But a century later, few outsiders can access the world of ideas found in the new rising power, China. The most obvious problem is language, but that begs the question of why so few Chinese thinkers are translated and why their world of ideas is largely unmapped. Continue reading

Poetry on verge of extinction in Xinjiang

Source: The Guardian (12/5/20)
Poetry, the soul of Uighur culture, on verge of extinction in Xinjiang
Uighurs in the diaspora are fighting to keep the art form alive as poets and writers in Xinjiang are silenced or detained
By Lily Kuo (Taipei)

A Uighur woman look out from the window of an apartment Urumqi, China.

A Uighur woman look out from the window of an apartment Urumqi, China. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

A few weeks ago Mamutjan Abdurehim was trying to remember a poem that he and his wife used to teach their four-year-old daughter. The rhyming couplets were easy to remember instructions on etiquette at the dinner table – to say bismillah before eating and to start with one’s right hand. He hoped that by helping his daughter recite the qoshaq, a traditional Uighur folk poem, she would remember where she came from even as the family was living overseas.

Memories like these are dear to Abdurehim who has not been able to see or speak to his family in Xinjiang in almost five years. His daughter is 10 years old now; his son would be 5. He believes his wife has been detained in an internment camp or sent to prison, one of more than one million Uighurs caught up in what human rights advocates say is a state-led campaign of cultural genocide. Abdurehim, now living in Sydney, asked his friends on Facebook if anyone knew the rest of the poem but no one could remember. Continue reading

Organ harvesting

A new summing-up of what we know on Chinese state-managed organ harvesting. Suggests the reason they are targeting Uyghur detainees now is that they ran out of Falungong victims. Includes comments from Abduweli Ayup, a linguist, poet and Uighur-language activist in exile in France:

China’s ‘XXX Files’: ‘25 Thousand People Disappear Each Year, Their Organs Are Harvested.”

China experts and activists claim that the repression of minorities in Xinjiang has escalated in recent years, with thousands of Uighur Muslims in ‘reeducation camps’ being murdered and their organs harvested for wealthy Chinese and foreign patients. The Chinese deny all such allegations. David Stavrou, Haaretz, Dec 3, 2020.

–fwd by: Magnus Fiskesjö,

Inside a Xinjiang detention camp

A powerful new instalment was published today, in Buzzfeed’s series on the Xinjiang genocide: Part 3 of a series.

Inside A Xinjiang Detention Camp.” In a lush countryside idyll known for its horse farms and fields of yellow flowers, China built a system of total control. Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News Reporter; Alison Killing, BuzzFeed Contributor. BuzzFeed News, December 3, 2020

Part 2: “What They Saw: Ex-Prisoners Detail The Horrors of China’s Detention Camps.” Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News Reporter; Alison Killing, BuzzFeed Contributor. BuzzFeed News, August 27, 2020.

Part 1: “Built To Last. A BuzzFeed News investigation based on thousands of satellite images reveals a vast, growing infrastructure for long-term detention and incarceration.” Megha Rajagopalan, BuzzFeed News Reporter; Alison Killing, BuzzFeed Contributor, Christo Buschek, BuzzFeed Contributor. BuzzFeed News, August 27, 2020.

–fwd by Magnus Fiskesjö,

Uighur poetry as resistance

Source: NYT (11/23/20)
China Disappeared My Professor. It Can’t Silence His Poetry.
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Against overwhelming state violence, poetry might appear to offer little recourse. But for many Uighurs, it’s a powerful form of resistance.
By Joshua L. Freeman (Mr. Freeman is a historian at the Princeton Society of Fellows)

Credit … Emily Haasch

I last saw my old professor Abduqadir Jalalidin at his Urumqi apartment in late 2016. Over home-pulled laghman noodles and a couple of bottles of Chinese liquor, we talked and laughed about everything from Uighur literature to American politics. Several years earlier, when I had defended my master’s thesis on Uighur poetry, Jalalidin, himself a famous poet, had sat across from me and asked hard questions. Now we were just friends.

It was a memorable evening, one I’ve thought about many times since learning in early 2018 that Jalalidin had been sent, along with more than a million other Uighurs, to China’s internment camps.

As with my other friends and colleagues who have disappeared into this vast, secretive gulag, months stretched into years with no word from Jalalidin. And then, late this summer, the silence broke. Even in the camps, I learned, my old professor had continued writing poetry. Other inmates had committed his new poems to memory and had managed to transmit one of them beyond the camp gates. Continue reading

Where is Uyghur folklorist Rahile Dawut

Ruth Ingram writes below on our fellow scholar Rahile Dawut, disappeared in 2017 by the Chinese regime, and vanished since then, but also the recipient of this year’s Scholars at Risk “Courage to Think” award, which her exiled daughter Akida Pulat accepted on her behalf. Their family is but one of the hundreds of thousands of families torn apart by the Chinese Communist Party’s brutal regime. This holiday season, let’s think of the millions of men, women and children brutalized by the Chinese regime, in the genocide now under way in its 4th year, soon the 5th year — the regime undaunted, expanding slave labor, as it continues its reign of terror.–Magnus Fiskesjö,

ps. For more info, see the Uyghur Human Rights Project; one update Ingram missed, is that the number of confirmed detained/disappeared leading intellectuals like Rahile Dawut in the Uyghur region is 435, not 328, but this too is of course only the tip of a very large and very cold Chinese iceberg of oppression.

Source: The Diplomat (11/23/20)
Where Is Uyghur Folklore Expert Rahile Dawut?
Uyghur scholar Rahile Dawut, missing since 2017, was awarded the 2020 Scholars at Risk “Courage to Think” award.
By Ruth Ingram

Akida Pulat poses with a photo of her mother, missing Uyghur scholar Rahile Dawut. Credit: Twitter/ @akida_p

Rahile Dawut’s WeChat profile photo has not changed since she vanished. She is still staring up the same spiral staircase, her diminutive form and kind smile, her hallmark. All the messages we had exchanged have now gone. Every now and again I send a note hoping that something might have changed, but am blocked immediately.

Rahile Dawut, beloved guardian of Uyghur folklore and traditions and celebrated academic at home and abroad, set off for Beijing in December 2017 but has not been heard of since. She has recently joined the dubious roll call of incarcerated writers honored outside China, by becoming the recipient of this year’s Scholars at Risk “Courage to Think” award. Continue reading

The Tibetan Genocide (part II)

Source: China Channel, LARB (11/20/20)
The Tibetan Genocide (Part II)
HT on Tibet’s Chinese revolution, 1952-1976

Don’t miss part one of this series of reviews on Tibet’s experiences in the Mao era, part of a fortnight at the China Channel reminding readers of the horrors that Tibet underwent during the Chinese and Cultural Revolutions. Last week Robert Barnett and Susan Chen talked to Tsering Woeser, who also presented a number of her father Tsering Dorje’s photographs from the era.

Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959
Li Jianglin (2016, orig. 1959 Lasa!, 2010)

Li Jianglin is the daughter of CCP officials. She moved to New York in the 1980s, became a librarian, got to know some Tibetan people in Queens, and eventually set out to write a book about what happened in Lhasa in 1959. Unlike Benno Weiner, Li Jianglin has no time for United Front dialectics – her book is an open polemic. She tells us: “This book will document and show that Mao had active plans from very early on to impose his policies throughout Tibet despite the promises of the ‘Seventeen-Point Agreement’ [that guaranteed Tibetan self-rule within the PRC], even though he was aware that this would entail bloodshed. His explicitly stated view was that he welcomed Tibetan unrest and rebellion – and even hoped it would increase in scale – as it would provide him with an opportunity to ‘pacify’ the region with his armies.” Li Jianglin has a librarian’s command of Chinese-language sources. To cut through the tangle of conflicting claims about what took place, she reads from official histories, classified CCP communications, PLA memoirs, propaganda pronouncements, plus a host of published memoirs by Tibetans in exile, and supplements the story with interviews of survivors. Continue reading

The Tibetan Genocide (part I)

Source: China Channel, LARB (11/191/20)
The Tibetan Genocide (Part I)
HT on Tibet’s Chinese revolution, 1952-1976

Everybody knows that bad things happened when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into Tibet in 1952, but for a long time it has been hard to say exactly what. 2020 is a good year to ponder the fate of the Land of Snows under Maoism. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is on the march again: the concentration camps in Xinjiang are operating in full swing, dozens are reported dead in clashes along the Sino-Indian border in the Himalaya, and the free enclave of Hong Kong has been brought to heel by China’s security apparatus. Meanwhile, a series of important new memoirs and histories have come out on Tibet, clarifying parts of the story little-understood before today. Below are reviews of two of them, with a further two reviews to follow tomorrow.

The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier
Benno Weiner (2020)

Benno Weiner’s study is based on Maoist-period archival documents from a small county on the high-altitude prairie of the northern Tibetan plateau, in what the Tibetans call Amdo and the Chinese call Qinghai province. This in itself is quite a feat – only one other Western historian has ever got access to a Communist-period archive in the Tibetan regions (Melvyn Goldstein, On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet). Given how things are going in the PRC right now, it may be many years before another such book is written. The archive, and Weiner’s book, covers a roughly ten-year period between the first Communist arrival in northern Tibet in 1949, and the final pacification of the Tibetan uprising in 1959.

Weiner’s interest is in the details of state- and nation-building in nomadic Tibet, and particularly in the ideology of the United Front – the organization tasked with persuading influential members of society to ally with the Communist cause. (Today, among other things, the United Front manages religious figures within China, runs the Confucius Institutes abroad, and conducts influence-campaigns among Chinese diaspora communities world-wide.) In Weiner’s telling, before the Communists arrived, the fragmented chiefdoms of the Tibetan plateau had operated under an imperial “hub-and-spoke” political logic, in which non-Chinese elites rendered nominal allegiance to successive Chinese states, in exchange for official recognition and local autonomy. Continue reading