Echoes of Harbin

NEW BOOK: Dan Ben-Canaan, Echoes of Harbin – Reflections on Space and Time of a Vanished Community in Manchuria (Lexington Books) is being published and will be available in early March 2024.

Echoes of Harbin: Reflections on Space and Time of a Vanished Community in Manchuria deals with Harbin, a Chinese city that was established by Russians in 1898 and was a home for more than 38 different national ethnic communities for over 60 years. Among the communities, and second in size, was the Jewish community. This book exposes several areas that have contributed to the Jewish experience in China, particularly in Harbin, and paints a revealing picture of what a Jewish community in an alien land was and how it functioned in a space that was shared with other communities. While it starts with a unique space called Manchuria that had its mark on the town of Harbin, it uncovers the active and productive life of a community that wished for a haven but found unrest and hostilities and had to look for it elsewhere.

A blurb on the back cover:

“While much international attention has been focused in recent years on China’s northwest (Xinjiang and the Uyghurs), the study of modern northeast China, which was a considerably more important historical and strategic arena, has been somewhat marginalized. Focusing on Harbin, this book provides a vertical and horizontal analysis of northeast China since the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, underlying the role of Jews in comprehensive, virtually encyclopedic details never discussed before. As such, it is an outstanding lifelong achievement.” —Yitzhak Shichor, professor emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Posted by: Dan Ben-Canann <>

Youth in Chinese History project

Youth in Chinese History: bibliography and video-papers

The research project ‘Youth in Chinese History: Education and Representations of Young People in Chinese Sources between Tradition and Modernity,’ coordinated by Giulia Falato (University of Parma, former Oxford University) and Renata Vinci (University of Palermo), included the organization of the Youth in Chinese History Workshop at the China Centre, University of Oxford, in September 2023. From this rich moment of exchange and dialogue, the idea arose to create digital resources to make the research of project participants available to the academic community and a broader audience.

On the project’s website, you can consult a thematic bibliography and a video-papers series produced by project participants on topics related to education and the representation of young people in imperial times. Both resources are constantly updated, so we invite you to visit the website and subscribe to the Youtube channel. You will already find the first four video-papers, and by subscribing to the channel, you will receive a notification whenever a new video is uploaded.

Project website:

Direct link to the thematic bibliography:

Direct link to the video-papers series:

Youtube channel:

For further information, you can contact the coordinators at


Posted by: Renata Vinci

Shih Ming-teh dies at 83

Source: NYT (1/23/24)
Shih Ming-teh, Defiant Activist for a Democratic Taiwan, Dies at 83
He spent 25 years in prison for campaigning for Taiwan’s independence and democratization. After his release, he led protests to oust one its presidents.
By Chris Buckley and 

A black and white photo of Shih Ming-teh in a suit jacket over an open-collared shirt as helmeted police officers escort him toward a courtroom. He is smiling, and his hands are in his pockets.

Shih Ming-teh being taken into court in 1980 to face trial after he helped lead a pro-democracy protest in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, that was brutally broken up by the police. Credit…CNA

Shih Ming-teh, a lifelong campaigner for democracy in Taiwan who spent over two decades in prison for his cause and later started a protest movement against a president from his former party, died on Jan. 15, his 83rd birthday, in Taipei, the island’s capital.

The cause was complications of an operation to remove a liver tumor, said his wife, Chia-chiun Chen Shih.

Mr. Shih helped lead a pro-democracy protest in 1979 that was brutally broken up by the police and that is now viewed as a turning point in Taiwan’s journey from authoritarianism to democracy. When he stood trial over the confrontation, he smiled defiantly to the cameras, although his original teeth had been shattered years before under police torture, and delivered a groundbreaking argument for Taiwan’s independence from China, an idea banned under the rule of Chiang Kai-shek and then his son, Chiang Ching-kuo.

“I was imprisoned for 25 years, and I faced the possibility of the death penalty twice, but each time I came out, I instantly plunged back into the whole effort to overthrow the Chiang family dictatorship,” Mr. Shih said in an interview with The New York Times in 2022. “I’m someone who never had a youth.” Continue reading

Xinjiang’s Ominous ‘Looking Back Project’

Source: (12/30/23)
回头看工程 — Xinjiang’s Ominous “Looking Back Project”
By Bruce Humes

Uyghur poet’s memoir recalls the Xinjiang administration’s retrospective hunt for unPC content in textbooks once commissioned, edited and published by the state:

Following the Urumchi incident in 2009, the regional government had initiated the Looking Back Project. The Propaganda Department organized special groups to go over Uyghur-language books, newspapers, journals, films, television shows, and recordings from the 1980s to the present. These groups were tasked with identifying any materials that contained ethnic separatist themes or religious extremist content.

. . .  Several years later, as one result of these investigations, half a dozen Uyghur intellectuals and officials were arrested for editing Uyghur literature textbooks for grades one through eleven. The textbooks had been used in schools for over a decade before the “problem” with them was discovered in 2016.  

Word spread that similar “problems” had been found in nearly all Uyghur historical novels, and that they would soon be banned. The government had even banned a popular historical novel by Seypidin Ezizi, the highest-ranking Uyghur official in the history of the Chinese Communist Party. If the work of such a trusted party veteran could be banned, there was little question what the future held for other Uyghur writers.

(Excerpted from Waiting to be Arrested at Night by Tahir Hamut Izgil, translated by Joshua  Freeman)

Omerta on history

Source: China Digital Times (12/20/23)
Party-State’s Omerta on History Mutes Popular Book Series, Academic Discourse, and Genghis Khan
By Cindy Carter

Some recent restrictions placed on historical books, museum exhibits, and academic discourse have brought renewed attention to the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to rewrite history, control the historical narrative, and combat what the Party perceives as “historical nihilism.”

Earlier this month, acclaimed historian and Xiamen University professor Yi Zhongtian’s 24-volume series on Chinese history was pulled from bookstore shelves after the publisher announced it was making revisions to the long-running series in order to “comply with official requirements.” “Yi Zhongtian’s History of China” (《易中天中华史》Yì Zhōngtiān Zhōnghuá Shǐ), which encompasses prehistoric China to the modern age, is the product of Yi’s decades of scholarship, as well as his popular history lectures on CCTV-10’s “Lecture Room” series. Overseas political analyst Liang Jing (梁京) once praised Yi Zhongtian for subverting the historical distortions of Chinese officialdom, and imbuing the telling of Chinese history “with the spirit and values of modern civilisation.”

An article from WeChat public account 进击的熊猫 (jìnjī de xióngmāo, “Attack Panda”) examines the political sensitivities behind the current “crisis” in the publication of history books, and suggests three possible reasons why the Party-state might have objected to Yi Zhongtian’s approach to Chinese history. The first is Yi’s argument that true Chinese civilization took hold approximately three and a half millennia ago, in contrast to the “5000 years of Chinese civilization” frequently quoted by state media and Party propagandists. The second is the fact that Yi’s assessments of historical figures and events often diverge from orthodox CCP interpretations, causing some to accuse him of “using the past to satirize the present.” The third reason is Yi’s lively, humorous, vernacular writing style, and his frequent use of contemporary slang and internet buzzwords to help modern readers relate to events in the distant, and not-so-distant, past. Some of Yi’s critics see this approach as disrespecting and belittling—or even distorting and tampering with—the serious business of Chinese history. Continue reading

China Unofficial Archives

Official Launch of the China Unofficial Archives 民间档案馆
Online Event 13 December 2023 1pm GMT
Contemporary China Centre, University of Westminster

Register here, zoom link will be sent to all registered participants nearer the date.

Join us for this special edition of our Conference, Deconstructed to mark the official launch of China Unofficial Archives. We will have a panel discussion with Ian Johnson, author of Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and Their Battle for the Future and Shao Jiang, author of Citizen Publications in China Before the Internet to discuss a significant and unique new online archive which will be launched at this event.

Billed as the first independent archive of unofficial citizen histories, 民间历史 in Chinese, China Unofficial Archives (CUA) spans 75 years of samizdat magazines, books, and movies. It currently features over 860 items but has plans to grow ten-fold in the coming years as it scans and makes available online material that is in the public domain (and thus not-IPR protected). The site is curated, with introductions to the items, and fully bilingual. Aimed at global audiences, its goal is to show the span and breadth of Chinese people’s efforts to write their own history, free of political control.

Following a short presentation by each speaker, they will field questions, advice and constructive criticism from the audience. The event will be chaired by Gerda Wielander.

Registration link: Official Launch of the China Unofficial Archives Tickets, Wed 13 Dec 2023 at 13:00 | Eventbrite

Posted by: Gerda Wielander <>

Chongzhen Emperor book withdrawn

China Digital Times (10/18/23)
Xi Parallels Suspected behind Withdrawal of Book on Ill-Fated Chongzhen Emperor

On October 16, it was reported online that a recent reprint of the historical biography “The Chongzhen Emperor: Diligent Ruler of a Failed Dynasty” (《崇祯:勤政的亡国君》Chóngzhēn: Qínzhèng de Wángguó Jūn, ISBN 9787549640775) had been recalled by the book distributor Dook Media Group (读客文化Dúkè Wénhuà). A notice from the distributor stated that due to an unspecified “printing problem,” the book was being recalled from the shelves of all online booksellers, Xinhua bookstores, and private bookstores. At present, the cover image of the book is no longer displayed on online platforms, and the hashtag #Chongzhen has been search-censored on Weibo, with searches only showing content from verified users.

Continue reading

Chinese Revolution in Practice

New Publication
Chinese Revolution in Practice: From Movement to the State, by Guo Wu
Routledge, 2023


This book employs multiple case studies to explore how the Chinese communist revolution began as an ideology-oriented intellectual movement aimed at improving society before China’s transformation into a state that suppresses dissenting voices by outsourcing its power of coercion and incarceration.

The author examines the movement’s methods of early self-organization, grass-roots level engagement, creation of new modes of expression and popular art forms, manipulation of collective memory, and invention of innovative ways of mass incarceration. Covering developments from 1920 to 1970, the book considers a wide range of Chinese individuals and groups, from early Marxists to political prisoners in the PRC, to illustrate a dynamic, interactive process in which the state and individuals contend with each other. It argues that revolutionary practices in modern China have created a regime that can be conceptualized as an “ideology-military-propaganda” state that prompts further reflection on the relationships between revolution and the state, the state and collective articulation and memory, and the state and reflective individuals in a global context.

Illustrating the continuity of the Chinese revolution and past decades’ socialist practices and mechanisms, this study is an ideal resource for scholars of Chinese history, politics, and twentieth-century revolutions. Continue reading

Underground Historians

Source: NYT (9/21/23)
China Keeps Trying to Crush Them. Their Movement Keeps Growing.
By Ian Johnson (Mr. Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who spent two decades in China)

Credit…Illustration by Linda Huang; source photograph by Tsering Dorje

In 1959, a group of university students in the northwestern Chinese city of Tianshui embarked on a quixotic plan. China was in the midst of the Great Famine, a catastrophe caused by government policies that would kill as many as 45 million. These young people had witnessed farmers starving to death and cannibalism; they also saw how the government had brutally punished or killed people who appealed for help. They felt someone needed to do something to spread word of what was happening. They decided to publish a journal.

The students called it Spark, after a Chinese expression, “xinghuo liaoyuan,” or “a single spark can start a prairie fire.” They hand-wrote the essays onto plates and, with the help of local officials, used a mimeograph machine to run off copies.

At just eight pages, and with no photos or graphics, Spark looked primitive. But it was filled with articles that got to the heart of China’s authoritarian politics — then and now: Farmers weren’t allowed to own property, all of which belonged to the state; top leaders brooked no opposition; corruption was endemic; and even critics loyal to the regime were persecuted. The lead article on the first page set the tone: Continue reading

Kingdom of Characters review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Gina Anne Tam’s review of Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

Kingdom of Characters:
The Language Revolution That Made China Modern

By Jing Tsu

Reviewed by Gina Anne Tam

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2023)

Jing Tsu, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern New York: Riverhead Books, 2022. xix + 314 pp. ISBN: 9780735214736​ (Paperback); 9780735214729 (Hardcover); 9780735214743​ (E-book)

Jing Tsu believes that Americans do not understand China well. With an eye on deteriorating US-China relations in the past several years, the prolific literary scholar has repeatedly made public her concern about the information gap between China and the West, a reality she sees as increasingly dangerous. Scholars who have deep, lived experience in China, she contends, have an increasingly important responsibility. She states that the “days of armchair scholarship are over,” instead imploring fellow specialists to do all we can to help readers understand China on its own terms—as a place that is textured and complicated, not a two-dimensional caricature of a dangerous and threatening hegemon.[1]

It was to further this goal that Tsu wrote Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, a work that has topped best-seller lists and gained widespread attention by mainstream audiences around the world. The book is a history of Chinese language modernization as told through several compelling biographies placed vividly into the context of the tumultuous history of China’s twentieth century. It is meant, Tsu purports, to help bridge the understanding gap between the average American and citizens of China. Language, she believes, is a vector through which we can understand China today—from the state processes that control and shape culture, to the economics of technological advancement, to ideas about foreignness, nativity, and power. Continue reading

Overseas Chinese History Museum lecture

The ‘Global Diasporic Chinese Museums Network Initiative Public Talk Series’ will be hosting the next talk on Monday 18th September at 12: 00 pm to 13:30 pm (BST)

Our speaker, Mr. Ning Yi, Deputy Director of Overseas Chinese History Museum of China, will give a talk on Tracing the History of Chinese Diasporas and Narrating Stories of Cultural Exchange — Explorations and Practices at the Overseas Chinese History Museum of China. The talk will be given in Mandarin Chinese. Simultaneous translation into English is provided.

The event is jointly hosted by HOMELandS (Hub On Migration, Exile, Languages and Spaces) at University of Westminster and the Chinese Heritage Centre of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. It is organised as part of the project Global Diasporic Chinese Museums Network Initiative funded by AHRC.

This is a free event, held online via Zoom. Please register here – Eventbrite link – for access to the meeting on the day.

Best wishes,

Cangbai Wang

Diasporic Chinese Museums talk series

Diasporic Chinese Museums Network Initiative Public Talk Series

Talk One

Museum across borders: toward a dialogical approach to museum representations of Chinese diasporas around the world

Date: Tue 22 August 2023
Time: 12:00 pm to 13:30 pm (BST)
Venue: Online
Zoom ID: 839 0520 6326
Password: 12345
Or click on the link here:

Chair: Associate Professor Yow Cheun Hoe, Chinese Heritage Centre, Nanyang Technological University
Speaker: Dr. Cangbai Wang, University of Westminster

Museum has become a vital platform of making and preserving diasporic heritage, articulating identities and negotiating the relationship between diasporas and the homeland. This talk first outlines the emerging landscape of diasporic Chinese museums around the world. Next, it introduces a dialogical approach to museums that underpins the ‘Global Diasporic Chinese Museums Initiative’ project. It argues for the value and urgency of developing a global network as a platform for open and interdisciplinary dialogue between academics and museum professionals on this important but so far under-studied topic. By initiating and facilitating dialogues across geographic and national boundaries, the project seeks to generate new insight on the research and practice of diasporic museum and heritage in the diasporic Chinese context and beyond. Continue reading

New patriotic education law (1)

China’s new patriotic education law will try to enforce patriotic education in institutions, schools, religious communities, businesses, and homes, and to extend patriotic education to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, overseas Chinese, and the internet. The history of the PRC has included many ideological indoctrination campaigns. They are symptoms of the Party-State’s preoccupation with the decay of socialist and/or nationalist values. They emerge when officialist values have faded away.

This is not a new phenomenon. Chapter 18 of the DAODEJING seems to suggest that official attempts to promote official values has been a constant in Chinese political philosophy. Daoist texts often parody or satirise official Confucian texts and mores. Chapter 18 seems to say that such attempts arrive when it’s already too late, preaching moral virtues after they’ve decayed away:

大道廢,有仁義;智慧出,有大偽;六親不和,有孝慈;國家昏亂,有忠臣—道德經, 十八

When the great dao (大道 dàdào) falls out of use, humanitarianism (仁 rén) and moral obligation (義 ) are preached. When knowledge (智慧 zhìhuì) spreads, (偽 wěi) artifice (falsity, hypocrisy) appears. When the harmony in family relationships (六親 liùqīn, the 6 relationships) falls asunder, the obligations between parents and children (孝慈 xiàocí) are preached. When the country falls into disorder (亂 luàn), ministers are told to be loyal (忠臣 zhōngchén).

Daodejing, 18

Closing the stable after the horse has bolted?

Sean Golden

The Longest Transitional Justice

Source: Arcade: The Humantities in the World (6/29/23)
The Longest Transitional Justice: An Immigrant Scholar Defends Affirmative Action
By Haiyan Lee

Untitled by Jack Gould depicts basketball players fighting for the ball.

Untitled by Jack Gould; Graphic by Sheena Lai

Let me begin with a bald statement: Race-conscious affirmative action is not about diversity. Rather, it is about justice. And it is about the kind of justice that the American legal system is ill-equipped to deliver: transitional justice.[1]

You might ask, who am I and what standing do I have in making such an assertation? My response is simple: I’m a naturalized citizen and the experience of writing a book on China’s political-legal culture has made me take a keen interest in the debate on affirmative action and the recent SCOTUS ruling on the unconstitutionality of race-conscious college admissions. Still, you ask, what does the rule of law or the lack thereof in China have to do with America’s fight over affirmative action? A quick answer is: a lot, in the sense that the US and China have chosen radically different paths in redressing historical wrongs. And the reflecting on the difference may help us process the adverse ruling.

When Americans think of transitional justice, they think of countries like South Africa, Cambodia, and Argentina, countries that bid painful farewell to oppressive regimes and birthed new democratic governance through a wrenching process of truth and reconciliation. Yet insofar as transitional justice is about coming to terms with historical injustices in collective, organized, and bracing fashion, it is a far more common experience than legal theorists have generally recognized. In my view, the entire post-Civil War US history can be viewed as one of the longest episodes of transitional justice in world history. Continue reading

‘Eliminating the emperor’s cronies’

Source: China Digital Times (6/28/23)
Weibo Users Dub Wagner Group Rebellion a “Real-life Version of ‘Eliminating the Emperor’s Cronies'”
By Cindy Carter

An antiquated Chinese political phrase enjoyed a brief revival when it was dusted off and used by some online commentators to describe the series of events known variously as the “Wagner Group Revolt/Rebellion/Insurrection/Mutiny/etc.”

The phrase “eliminating the Emperor’s cronies” (清君侧, qīng jūn cè) refers to the removal of powerful but treacherous courtiers and officials from the ambit of a reigning emperor by another group claiming fealty to the emperor. For millennia, it has been used to justify all manner of palace coups, usurpations, and uprisings, including the Rebellion of the Seven States (154 B.C.E.) against the Han Dynasty Emperor Jing; the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763 C.E) that sought to topple the Tang Dynasty; and the Jingnan Campaign (1399-1402 C.E.), a three-year civil war between supporters of two rival Ming Dynasty claimants.

The phrase began popping up on Weibo over the weekend, following reports that troops from the Wagner Group, a private Russian paramilitary organization led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, were marching toward Moscow to challenge attempts by the Russian Ministry of Defense to subsume Wagner troops into its own command structure. Aware of Prigozhin’s close ties with Putin—and of Prigozhin’s long-running rivalry with top military brass, mainly Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Armed Forces Chief Valery Gerasimov—some Chinese netizens described the incident as “a real-life version of ‘eliminating the Emperor’s cronies.’” Continue reading