Culture, Covid, Controversy: Tokyo 2021 and Beijing 2022

An Olympic Symposium
Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 7pm
Presentations by MIT undergraduate students of 21M.848 and guest speaker Dr. Susan Brownell

Register for free tickets: (information, guest speaker and student photos/bios, registration link)

There have been only eight Olympics located in Asia in the 126-year history of the Games, two of them occurring in the next year.  The Tokyo 2020 Olympics being held in 2021 due to COVID-19 is the first time the Games have ever been postponed. Next February, Beijing will become the first city to ever host both a Summer and Winter Games.

This symposium offers a closer look at Tokyo and Beijing’s sport cultures and Olympic histories, their path to the upcoming Games, and the challenges and controversies surrounding them—and provides helpful history, cultural context, current events, and fun facts leading up to the the grandest spectacle on earth viewed by more than three billion people worldwide.

Please join the students of 21M.848 (Performance Studies: Advanced Theories of Sport) for two panels of their individual presentations and group Q&A, along with our special guest Dr. Susan Brownell, who will deliver a talk about the connections between the Olympics, NGOs, and human rights.

Precious Scroll of the Rat Epidemic

I did a translation of the Shuwen baojuan 鼠瘟宝卷 from 1910, in which the author comments on the plague epidemics of 1896/1897 and of 1910/1911. It was published in Sino-Platonic Papers 313 as the Precious Scroll of the Rat Epidemic, so it is freely available online. It may not be a great work of literature, but Chinese writings on epidemics are rare, and this text is interesting in combining a traditional description of the epidemics as divine punishment for the sins of humankind with more modern ideas on the cause and spread of the plague, which may have been picked up at an exhibition of public health posters. The text is also interesting in describing the reactions of the population at large to the disease, which in many ways resembles that of people these days. The translation comes with a short introduction.

I hope that some colleagues who want to pay attention to epidemics in their teaching might find the translation of some relevance.

Wilt Idema

US and China agree to work together on climate

Source: NYT (4/17/21)
Despite Tensions, U.S. and China Agree to Work Together on Climate Change
The two countries said they would treat global warming “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”
By Steven Lee Myers

China and the United States must “prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively,” John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, said in an interview in Seoul on Sunday. Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

SEOUL — The United States and China have agreed to fight climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands” by stepping up efforts to reduce carbon emissions, a rare demonstration of cooperation amid escalating tensions over a raft of other issues.

The agreement, which included few specific commitments, was announced on Saturday night, Washington time, after President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, visited China for three days of talks in which the negotiators managed not to be sidetracked by those disputes.

“It’s very important for us to try to keep those other things away, because climate is a life-or-death issue in so many different parts of the world,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview on Sunday morning in Seoul, where he met with South Korean officials to discuss global warming. “What we need to do is prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively.” Continue reading

The People’s Map of Global China

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are happy to announce a new initiative stemming from the Made in China Journal: The People’s Map of Global China.

Using an interactive, open access, and online ‘map’ format, we are collaborating with nongovernmental organisations, journalists, trade unions, academics, and the public at large to provide updated and updatable information on various dimensions of Global China in their localities.

The Map consists of profiles of countries and projects, sortable by project parameters, Chinese companies and banks involved, and their social, political, and environmental impacts.

This is a ‘people’s’ map in two ways. First, our content attempts to trace the global imprint of China focusing on the experiences of the people most affected by it. For this reason, you will discover that our profiles have a strong focus on issues related to labour rights, environment, land, Indigenous communities, etc. Second, our map relies on the input of a growing network of people who often hail from the places they are discussing, who have been conducting in-depth research on the various facets of Global China in their localities, and/or are working directly with communities impacted by these projects.

Beside the map homepage, you might also want to check out our project database, country database, list of contributors, and FAQ page. We are currently launching with profiles for 17 countries and 23 projects, but the map will be updated on a rolling basis. Even though we already have much more content in the pipeline, we welcome new pitches and submissions. To keep track of our updates, you can follow us on our dedicated Facebook and Twitter profiles. Continue reading

Threatened pink dolphins enjoy brief respite

Source: NYT (4/5/21)
Off Hong Kong’s Shores, Threatened Pink Dolphins Enjoy Brief Respite
A cut in ferry service because of the pandemic means the animals, a Hong Kong icon, are getting a little peace and quiet in a favored habitat. But the break is temporary and the future not bright.
By Austin Ramzy

A Chinese white dolphin, with a signature pinkish hue, in the waters off Hong Kong last month. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

HONG KONG — The most popular reward for hiking to the top of Fu Shan, a hill near Hong Kong’s westernmost point, is a selfie backed by the setting sun, the gleaming new bridge across the Pearl River or a flight landing at the nearby airport.

But for those who look more closely, there is the chance of a rarer prize: a glimpse of Chinese white dolphins swimming among fishing boats and cargo ships in the milky jade water.

“It’s amazing that Hong Kong still has this kind of rare animal,” said Michelle Chan, as she watched from Fu Shan on a recent day.

On the water below, a half-dozen tourist boats from the nearby fishing village of Tai O surrounded a single white dolphin. People cheered as it breached. Continue reading

Infrastructure as Planetary Sculpture (1)

Interesting. A bit credulous, is it?

Anyhow, it makes me think of Sun Yat-sen’s manifesto, The International Development of China, 1922, which pretty much laid out the same entire infrastructure plan, including railroads to Europe and all that. While Sun emphasized it would be for peace, not domination, he’s totally blatant about annexing and colonizing the nations that had already been conquered by the Chinese empires he himself had only just overthrown.

It’s a manifesto of naked colonialism: On pp 20 ff (in the 1953 Taipei reprint available online), Sun speaks of how Chinese colonization of Sinkiang etc. will be profitable just as colonialism — in tandem with transportation infrastructure — has been so nicely profitable in places like the USA, Canada and Australia.

Until I saw Sun Yat-sen’s uninhibited but unrealized plans from the 1920s, which must be the origin of the Communist Party’s current schemes, I had thought the current BRI schemes may have originated with the fringe-extremist sect founded by the American Lyndon LaRouche, a curious figure whose political cult (in Europe, and beyond) has been widely dismissed as nuts, and ignored. But in China, curiously, he’s praised, books are written about him — and Chinese embassies abroad can’t get enough of photo-ops with local Larouchians regardless of their local insignificance, which ought to have made them a bit of a non-starter. Embassies never do anything except on Beijing instructions, so this means it is probably all because Larouche (1922–2019) was a BRI believer and open proponent long before anyone else, and so orders have been issued to honor him (albeit not directly credit him too much). (A bit like Russia shall never forget Kim Philby?).

Nevertheless it’s clear that today’s grandiose schemes, of all roads leading to the Communist party, actually precedes it, as a specifically Chinese-modern Gargantuan fantasy.

Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Coal and China’s climate ambitions

Source: NYT (3/16/21)
The Rock Standing in the Way of China’s Climate Ambitions: Coal
Beijing’s new development blueprint is meant to steer the country to carbon neutrality before 2060, but companies and regions dependent on the fossil fuel aren’t making it easy.
By Chris Buckley

Coal being loaded on to a cargo ship at a port in Jiangsu Province, China, in November. Industry groups say China needs to use large amounts of coal for electricity and industry for years to come. Credit…Wang Jianmin/Visual China Group, via Getty Images

Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has promoted an uplifting vision for growth increasingly freed from greenhouse gas pollution, but turning that plan into action is already proving contentious.

The big issue is coal.

Mr. Xi’s climate-saving ambitions are a pillar of a plan for the country’s post-pandemic ascent that was endorsed by China’s Communist Party-controlled legislature days ago.

The plan is designed to steer the country toward two signature commitments that Mr. Xi made last year. China’s emissions of carbon dioxide would peak before 2030, he said, and the country would reach net carbon neutrality before 2060, meaning it would emit no more of the greenhouse gas than it takes from the atmosphere by methods like engineering or planting forests. Continue reading

Ai Xiaoming and the Quarantine Counter-Diary

Source: LARB (3/12/21)
Ai Xiaoming and the Quarantine Counter-Diary
By Thomas Chen

Huiming road ,Wuchang District, Wuhan during 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak. Wikepedia Commons.

THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK has spawned the resurgence of one literary form above all: the diary. Under variously imposed quarantines, people all over the world have turned to self-writing and recording to deal with the unprecedented state of isolation.

The “lockdown diary” first surged in China, when the city of Wuhan went into lockdown in late January 2020. The most famous example is the one posted online by the award-winning author Fang Fang, who grew up in Wuhan. Her diary, kept daily for 60 straight days and read by millions of people all over the country, was translated into English by Michael Berry and published as Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City. [Editor’s note: For more on Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary, see the review that Chris Madden wrote for the Hong Kong Review of Books, a Los Angeles Review of Books channel, which appeared July 20, 2020, here:]

But another online diary from Wuhan is just as noteworthy. Ai Xiaoming is a prolific filmmaker of over two dozen documentaries. Between the first, Taishi Village (2005), which is about a local government trying to sell collective land to developers, and the most recent, Jiabiangou Elegy (2017), which revisits a labor reform camp during the massive famine of the late 1950s, her documentaries have concerned grassroots activists, violence against women, the AIDS epidemic, the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, and the plight of migrant workers. Born and raised in Wuhan, she was there when COVID-19 erupted and trapped her in the city. Continue reading

China’s vegan revolution

Source: The Guardian (3/9/21)
China’s appetite for meat fades as vegan revolution takes hold
Concerns over carbon emissions and food crises are fuelling a move away from meat consumption as a symbol of wealth
By Crystal Reid

A person walks past an advertisement for plant-based products at a KFC store in Hangzhou

An advertisement for plant-based products at a KFC store in Hangzhou. International and domestic chains are expanding their range of meat alternatives. Photograph: VCG/Getty Images

The window of a KFC in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou hosts the image of a familiar mound of golden nuggets. But this overflowing bucket sporting Colonel Sanders’ smiling face is slightly different. The bucket is green and the nuggets within it are completely meat free.

Over the last couple of years, after many years of rising meat consumption by China’s expanding middle classes for whom eating pork every day was a luxurious sign of new financial comforts, the green shoots of a vegan meat revolution have begun to sprout. Although China still consumes 28% of the world’s meat, including half of all pork, and boasts a meat market valued at $86bn (£62bn), plant-based meat substitutes are slowing carving out a place for themselves among a new generation of consumers increasingly alarmed by food crises such as coronavirus and African swine fever.

China’s most cosmopolitan cities are now home to social media groups, websites and communities dedicated to meat-free lifestyles. VegeRadar, for example, has compiled comprehensive maps of vegetarian and vegan restaurants all across China. According to a report by the Good Food Institute, China’s plant-based meat market was estimated at 6.1bn yuan (£675m) in 2018 and projected to grow between 20 and 25% annually. Continue reading

Ecological Critique of Alienation in Recent Chinese SF

LECTURE: Ecological Critique of Alienation in Recent Chinese Science Fiction
Ban Wang
Register here
University of Kansas
March 4, 2021; 4:00 – 5:30 PM CST 2:00 – 3:30 PM PST

Capitalist industrialization, wrote Marx, “is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil.” Robbing workers means alienated labor whereby workers have no say over their work and are exploited and exposed to health hazards. Robbing nature refers to the extraction of natural resources for capital accumulation and endless growth. In ecological ecology, humans are an integral part of nature and the alienation of nature is the flipside of the alienation of workers. This dual alienation may offer an insight into recent Chinese SF fiction. Chinese SF writers have explored environmental crises, alienation of labor, social disintegration, and technologically induced class disparity in the context of globalization, technological advances, and geopolitical competition. This talk will discuss critiques of these anti-ecological trends by Chen Qiufan, Hao Jingfang, and Liu Cixin. Continue reading

How China beat the virus and roared back

Source: NYT (2/5/21)
Power, Patriotism and 1.4 Billion People: How China Beat the Virus and Roared Back
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
By Steven Myers, Keith Bradsher, Sui-Lee Wee, and Chris Buckley

Ships on the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus was first detected in 2019. The Chinese government, which sputtered at the beginning of last year, is the only major economy that has returned to steady growth.

Ships on the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus was first detected in 2019. The Chinese government, which sputtered at the beginning of last year, is the only major economy that has returned to steady growth. Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

The Chinese Communist Party reached deep into private business and the broader population to drive a recovery, an authoritarian approach that has emboldened its top leader, Xi Jinping.

The order came on the night of Jan. 12, days after a new outbreak of the coronavirus flared in Hebei, a province bordering Beijing. The Chinese government’s plan was bold and blunt: it needed to erect entire towns of prefabricated housing to quarantine people, a project that would start the next morning.

Part of the job fell to Wei Ye, the owner of a construction company, which would build and install 1,300 structures on commandeered farmland.

Everything — the contract, the plans, the orders for materials — was “all fixed in a few hours,” Mr. Wei said, adding that he and his employees worked exhaustively to meet the tight deadline.

“There is pressure, for sure,” he said, but he was “very honored” to do his part. Continue reading

How Beijing faced the outbreak

To view the slideshow of photos, click the title link below.–Kirk

Source: China File (2/4/21)
Running on Empty: How Beijing Faced the Outbreak
By Summer Sun, photographed by Dong Lin
Dong Lin photographed this project with support from the Abigail Cohen Fellowship in Documentary Photography. The fellowship is a joint initiative of Asia Society’s ChinaFile and Magnum Foundation.

A People’s Armed Police officer stands guard outside the entrance to the Forbidden City, in Tiananmen Square, January 24, 2020.

A People’s Armed Police officer stands guard outside the entrance to the Forbidden City, in Tiananmen Square, January 24, 2020.

Afew days before the Lunar New Year last year, I called my mother for some urgent advice. Since I live in Europe and was not traveling home for the celebration, I decided to host a dinner party at my apartment. My invitation list soon grew out of hand, ending up with 15 guests. There were vegetarians, vegans, and non-pork eaters, a difficult endeavor for any Chinese chef, let alone a novice. My mother helped me decide on some easy-to-make and filling recipes. Before hanging up, we briefly discussed the mysterious, pneumonia-like disease sickening people in central China, far away from where my parents live. Around that time, Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese pulmonologist well-respected for his work during the SARS outbreak in 2003, publicly confirmed that the virus that would come to be known as COVID-19 spread from human to human. Still, given how little information the government had yielded on the extent of transmission, the outbreak remained obscure, if alarming. “Are you guys wearing masks?” I asked my mother. “I’ve started to, but your dad hasn’t. We still have some masks that he bought on Taobao years ago,” she said. “Who knows if they’re still good—you know your dad always buys whatever’s the cheapest.” Continue reading

China cancels New Year for millions of migrants

Source: NYT (1/28/21)
To Avoid an Outbreak, China Cancels Lunar New Year for Millions of Migrants
China has added restrictions, offered incentives and appealed to a sense of filial and national responsibility, in an effort to prevent about 300 million migrant workers from going home for the holiday.
By Javier C. Hernández and Alexandra Stevenson

Passengers boarding a train last week at Hankou Station in Wuhan, China. A year ago, the station was among the first places to be closed as the government tried to contain the world’s first coronavirus outbreak. Credit…Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

Every winter, Pang Qingguo, a fruit seller in northern China, makes the 800-mile trip to his ancestral home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the biggest holiday of the year in China, with his family.

The coronavirus ruined the festivities last year, stranding Mr. Pang in the northern city of Tangshan, as many Chinese cities imposed lockdowns. Now, as China confronts a resurgence of the virus, the pandemic is set to spoil the holiday again, with the authorities announcing onerous quarantine and testing rules to dissuade migrant workers like Mr. Pang from traveling for the new year, which begins this year on Feb. 12.

Mr. Pang, who describes his home in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang as the “happiest place,” is anguished by the rules. He has taken to social media in recent days to express frustration about his situation and post photos of his 7-year-old daughter, whom he has not seen in more than a year. “Society is so cruel,” he wrote in one post. Continue reading

China’s efforts to show off its vaccines is backfiring

Source: NYT (1/25/21)
China Wanted to Show Off Its Vaccines. It’s Backfiring.
Delays, inconsistent data, spotty disclosures and the country’s attacks on Western rivals have marred its ambitious effort to portray itself as a leader in global health.
By Sui-Lee Wee

Brazilian indigenous people waiting in São Paulo to receive the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinovac. Brazilian officials have complained that Chinese companies have been slow to ship the doses and ingredients.

Brazilian indigenous people waiting in São Paulo to receive the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinovac. Brazilian officials have complained that Chinese companies have been slow to ship the doses and ingredients. Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

China’s coronavirus vaccines were supposed to deliver a geopolitical win that showcased the country’s scientific prowess and generosity. Instead, in some places, they have set off a backlash.

Officials in Brazil and Turkey have complained that Chinese companies have been slow to ship the doses and ingredients. Disclosures about the Chinese vaccines has been slow and spotty. The few announcements that have trickled out suggest that China’s vaccines, while considered effective, cannot stop the virus as well as those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, the American drugmakers.

In the Philippines, some lawmakers have criticized the government’s decision to purchase a vaccine made by a Chinese company called Sinovac. Officials in Malaysia and Singapore, which both ordered doses from Sinovac, have had to reassure their citizens that they would approve a vaccine only if it has been proven safe and effective. Continue reading