Blood Letters of a Martyr

Source: LARB, China Channel (5/19/19)
Blood Letters of a Martyr
By Ting Guo
Ting Guo talks to Lian Xi about his new biography of Lin Zhao

On May 31, 1965, 33-year-old Lin Zhao was tried in Shanghai and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. She was charged as the lead member of a counter-revolutionary clique that had published an underground journal decrying communist misrule and Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a collectivization campaign that caused an unprecedented famine and claimed at least 36 million lives between 1959 and 1961.

“This is a shameful ruling!” Lin Zhao wrote on the back of the verdict the next day, in her own blood. Three years later, she was executed by firing squad under specific instructions from Chairman Mao himself.

Lin Zhao’s father committed suicide a month after Lin’s arrest, and her mother died a while  after her execution. In Shanghai, where I grew up and where Lin was tried, imprisoned and killed, the story (the sort told only in private) goes that Lin’s mother was asked to pay for the bullets that killed her daughter. It is also said (in private) that in the years that followed, at the Bund, the former International Settlement on the Huangpu River, one could see Lin’s mother crying and asking for Lin’s return. Continue reading

Burying ‘Mr. Democracy’

Source: China Media Project (5/3/19)
By David Bandurski

Burying “Mr. Democracy”

Today, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, the political movement that arose out of student protests in Beijing in response to the Treaty of Versailles, “the youth” figure strongly in official propaganda. But as China’s leadership walks a tightrope, acknowledging this crucial anniversary while seeking to drain it of all hints of sanguine insurgence and youthful opposition (we are just weeks away from the anniversary of June Fourth), the story’s real protagonist is not China’s youth, but rather President Xi Jinping and the Party he leads.

The two most famous figures at the core of the “spirit” of the May Fourth Movement, Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science, are conspicuously absent. Continue reading

Tiananmen anniversary picket

Tiananmen Square Massacre
30th Anniversary Picket
London, June 1

On 15th April 1989 Hu Yaobang, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China died from a heart attack. Students, who had been preparing to commemorate the ‘May 4th Movement’ of 1919 brought forward their demonstrations in response. By 17th April students marched from their universities into Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, chanting pro-democracy slogans as they went. An indefinite student strike was started in Beijing and the protest spread to over 100 cities across China. At its peak over one million people were occupying the square.

With conflicting demands and with individual students bickering for leadership roles, the students attempted to negotiate with different factions within the Party leadership. In response to the failure of these talks, some students declared a hunger strike and this action galvanised support from other sections of the population. Continue reading

Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, no. 103

The latest issue of Bulletin of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Vol. 103 is now available online at:


Mysteries over the “Famous Thirteenth Article”: Controversies Arising from the Supplementary Treaty Signed by China and Britain in 1843
By Lawrence Wang-chi Wong

Gentry Power and Trust Crisis in Late Qing Jiangnan: A Case Study of Changshu
By Xiaoxiang Luo

Qian Mu’s Road to Academia Sinica Academician
By Chi-shing Chak

[Book Reviews]

Yu Miin-ling, Shaping the New Man: Chinese Communist Party Propaganda and the Soviet Experience, Reviewed by Mao Sheng

Posted by: Jhih-hong Jheng <>

May 4, the day that changed China

Source: NYT (5/3/19)
May Fourth, the Day That Changed China
Protests in 1919 propelled the country toward modernity. One hundred years later, the warlord spirit is back in Beijing.
By Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom
Mr. Wasserstrom is a history professor specializing in China.

A sculpture dedicated to the May Fourth Movement, in Beijing, in 2005.CreditCreditFrederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

IRVINE, Calif. — In Chinese, mentioning just two or three numbers can be enough to bring to mind a major historical event. Say “Jiuyiba” (nine-one-eight), and your listeners will know you have in mind not just any Sept. 18, but the one in 1931, when Japanese military officers in Mukden, northeastern China, faked the sabotage of a Japanese-owned railway to give Japan a pretext to invade the whole region. Or say “Wusi,” five-four, and any teenager will understand that you are talking about what happened exactly one hundred years ago this Saturday.

That day in 1919, a student protest took place in Beijing that set off what came to be known as the May Fourth Movement. Soon, similar marches were held in other Chinese cities, joined by members of other groups. The upheaval reached its apogee with a general strike in June that paralyzed Shanghai, then China’s leading industrial center and the world’s sixth-busiest harbor — and also partly under foreign control.

Most extant photographs of May 4, 1919, show several thousand students, men and women, in front of Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace), a massive entryway to the Forbidden City, which had been the home of China’s imperial rulers until the 1911 Revolution toppled the Qing dynasty and the Republic of China was established. The demonstrators gathered in outrage over reports about negotiations underway in Versailles, just outside of Paris, over the terms ending World War I. Word was that the Allies planned to give former German territories in Shandong, eastern China, to Japan instead of returning them to China. Continue reading

Party take on May 4

Source: Xinhua (3/30/19)
Xi urges patriotism among youth, striving for brighter China
Editor: Xiang Bo


Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, addresses a gathering marking the centenary of the May Fourth Movement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, April 30, 2019. Xi Jinping called on the country’s young people to be patriotic and strive for the bright prospect of national rejuvenation. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)

BEIJING, April 30 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called on the country’s young people to be patriotic and strive for the bright prospect of national rejuvenation.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks at a gathering held at the Great Hall of the People to mark the centenary of the May Fourth Movement. Continue reading

Tiananmen 30 years later

Source: The Globe and Mail (4/19/19)
Never forget. Never give up: The Tiananmen Movement, 30 years later
Rowena Xiaoqing He

Rowena He is author of Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China. She is currently a member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, working on her next book on history, memory and nationalism in the post-Tiananmen China.

On April 15, 1989, 30 years ago this week, the sudden death of reform-minded former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary-general Hu Yaobang sparked the Tiananmen Movement. Chinese citizens across the country took to the streets calling for political reforms. The peaceful movement, highlighted by college students’ hunger strike on Tiananmen Square, ended on June 4 when the Chinese government deployed more than 200,000 troops, equipped with tanks and machine guns to suppress what the regime called a “counterrevolutionary riot.” Continue reading

Matteo Ricci The Musical

Source: SCMP (4/26/19)
Matteo Ricci: 16th-century Italian priest who tried, and failed, to convert Chinese to Catholicism is resurrected on stage
Matteo Ricci The Musical might not be the show Hong Kong wanted, but, according to those who brought it to the stage, it’s the one we needed. The priest was the first European to enter the Forbidden Palace in Beijing and is buried in the Chinese capital
By Fionnuala McHugh

Jonathan Wong performs in Matteo Ricci The Musical, on April 19. Photo: Matteo Ricci The Musical / Cheung Chi-wai

Jonathan Wong performs in Matteo Ricci The Musical, on April 19. Photo: Matteo Ricci The Musical / Cheung Chi-wai

On Palm Sunday, which this year fell on April 14, the first run-through of Matteo Ricci The Musical was held at Clarence Film Studio, in the depths of Shek Kong, in the New Territories. The follow­ing day, everything would shift to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, in Tsim Sha Tsui, in preparation for open­ing night on Holy Saturday. As every Christian knows, Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, after 40 days in the desert, to cheering crowds. By Good Friday, these fans are enthusiastically calling for his crucifixion. Three days later, he’s risen from the dead. It’s the scene-setter for a week of dramatic reversals. Continue reading

Science and the May Fourth

Source: Sup China (4/24/19)
Protesting In The Name Of Science: The Legacy Of China’s May Fourth Movement

A hundred years after the rally for “Mr. Science” and “Mr. Democracy,” can the pursuit of scientific truth bring political freedom?

When I bade goodbye to my family in China in the summer of 2009, I proudly declared that I was going to America to study science — and be free. Always hesitant about her daughter’s choice of science over a more “feminine” discipline, my mother was nevertheless more concerned about my second objective. “What do you mean by ‘being free’? What will you do when you are ‘free’?”

“Focus on your profession,” my mother warned. “Don’t talk about politics. Don’t participate in politics. Don’t ever join street demonstrations, not even for the spectacle.” Continue reading

Thirty Years since Tiananmen conference

The conference “Thirty Years since Tiananmen Square Massacre: Struggle for Democracy in China” will be held at the University of Westminster in London on 18 April, which will mark the day when students gathered in Tiananmen Square and delivered their Seven Demands to the National People’s Congress thirty years ago.

This event will bring together academics and activists researching on China to explore topics including the struggle for democracy in China as a rising global power, the significance of 1989 pro-democracy protests and the state crackdown against it, the legacy of 1989 for contemporary democratic (im)possibilities in China, the struggle between demands for rights and state focus on order and stability, and contemporary challenges in mainland China as well as contested lands that are homeland of Uyghurs and Tibetans.

The details of the event can be found here:

Shao Jiang <>

Republican China’s most mysterious man

Source: China Channel, LARB (3/22/19)
Republican China’s Most Mysterious Man
By Kevn McGeary

Dai Li, the most formidable assassin of his day.

Dai Li, assassin for Republic era China (Wikicommons)

The first half of the 20th century had many characters – T.E. Lawrence springs to mind – who excelled as both men of thought and men of action, living lives that dwarf any author’s imagination. As Orson Welles ad-libbed in The Third Man, there is something about living through the kind of times nobody wants to live through that brings out greatness.

Another such man was Dai Li 戴笠. A genius of military intelligence, Dai (also known as Dai Yunong 戴雨農) was China’s most accomplished assassin during the War of Resistance against Japan. As well as helping Chiang Kai-shek claim the scalps of high-profile enemies and defectors, he also bedded some of the most glamorous women of his day.

After Dai’s death in a plane crash on March 17, 1946, Chiang Kai-shek is known to have rallied his troops by insisting, “Dai Li never died.” His death was indeed mysterious and conveniently timed for those who might have wanted him dead. Several years ago, on the anniversary of his “disappearance,” Xinhua went over the whole story and the various conspiracy theories around the plane crash. However, none are as bizarre as the official history. Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (5)

Thanks to Sarah Allen for her comments. I disagree, but let me also repeat that I do think Li Xueqin accomplished many feats of scholarship for which he should be credited and commended.

But not without discussion of questionable sides of his scholarship, which I wrote about, as mentioned. And yes I was there when he told us “I believe the old books,” that is: We should not be skeptical. And I’ll certainly side with those of his colleagues who argued, against Li, that no discovery of excavated texts or the like since the time of the original critical ‘doubts’ of Gu Jiegang and his colleagues, suggest that the time has come for such skepticism to be ‘left behind’ or ‘transcended.’ Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (4)

I have been trying to think of how to respond to Magnus Fiskesjö’s remarks, which astonished me because they seemed so totally off the mark and indicated that he was not really acquainted with Li Xueqin’s publications. Thus, his response to Ian’s Johnson’s clarification is useful in at least giving me some idea of where he is coming from. I do not know the context of the statement Li made to this group of Western scholars about believing the ancient texts, but it does show that he was never a sycophant whatever his audience.

Li was not a deeply conservative scholar. He was, in fact, steeped in the Gushibian. He once told me that he had read every word of it as a teenager and it was surely one of his inspirations for entering the field. He was also acquainted with Western scholarship and made a point of introducing it to his students and encouraging them to read broadly. However, he did not see Doubt Antiquity as standing for healthy skepticism, as Western scholars tend to, but as a specific set of arguments about the ancient texts. With the discovery of excavated texts, beginning with Mawangdui, he increasingly began to doubt the validity of those arguments. Nevertheless, Li did not, simply revert to accepting the tradition uncritically. Leaving Behind the Era of Doubting the Ancients (Zouchu yigu shidai 走出疑古时代) is not, as Fiskesjö stated, a book that Li wrote, but a collection of his essays on various topics. In the eponymous article (originally a talk), Li did not call for giving up skepticism and believing the ancient texts (xin gu 信古). He advocated using two-pronged evidence of archaeology and transmitted texts, which he called, shi gu 释古, “explaining the ancients,” after Wang Guowei. He did think that the Xia Dynasty was historical. I am well-known for having written about the Xia as a myth, but there are legitimate scholarly reasons for identifying Erlitou culture with a Xia Dynasty, even if I don’t think they are correct. Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (3)

I want to thank Ian Johnson for the clarification. Glad to be corrected on that score (#1). I should not have lumped both obituaries together like I did there. I guess I got hung up on the end where he comes across as a critically thinking scholar, “But now we can see that the past is always changing.” It might be that those things could go together, and perhaps could go together in him.

I feel a bit awkward to bring up criticism so soon after his passing, and so I tried to acknowledge he was indeed a great scholar — but also, deeply conservative, in a truly harmful way. — I’m grateful for the impetus from your obituary — in contrast to the other one, which is also valuable, but does not mention these issues — to look again at the whole idea of “Believing the Ancients,” that Li pushed: One worthwhile piece is Lin Yun’s article 真该走出疑古时代吗?——对当前中国古典学取向的看法 [Should the Era of Historical Skepticism be Transcended?] in Shixue jikan No. 3, 2007, in which Lin argues forcefully and explicitly against Li Xueqin, that no good reason has emerged in the various new discoveries of recent decades (bamboo strip versions of books, etc.) for scholars to abandon their skepticism of the ‘old books’, and the general critical spirit inherited from Gu Jiegang and others. On the contrary, such a stance should to be a permanent stance going into the future.

Yet at the conference on ancient China where I once met and heard Li Xueqin, outside Chicago in about 1992, Li’s chief mantra was ‘wo xiangxin gushu,’ “I believe the old books,” spoken to a roomful of Western scholars as if to correct us foreigners in what he suspected was our wrongheaded stance of looking critically at everything, no matter how revered.

–Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (2)

Two small clarifications about Magnus Fiskesjö’s post (“Li Xueqin dies at 85 [1]”):

  1. My piece in the New York Times did not fail to mention how Li “actively helped build up and promote the currently dominant reactionary view of culture and heritage.” In fact, I wrote in the 1st paragraph of my New York Times obituary that  Li helped change the focus of Chinese historiography “toward emphasizing the wonders of the country’s past, a traditionalist approach in line with the Communist government’s efforts to identify itself with ancient China.” 

I also devoted a large chunk of the obituary to his work in pushing 信古, including his work on the Xia-Shang-Zhou project and how it was criticized by many scholars.

  1. Professor Fiskesjö’ perceptively asked about the Guardian’s statement that Mr. Li was 86 years old. I wondered about this myself. This was the age given by the official obituary in China, which adopts a way of dating people that I’ve found common in China. It isn’t quite the traditional way, as the person doesn’t gain a year right after 過年, but instead the age is simply calculated based on the birth and death years (in this case, 1933 and 2019). And so the obituary might have simply adopted that. However, Mr. Li was born on 28 March 1933, and as a western publication the Times used the western way of only adding a year to someone’s age after they’ve passed their birthday. Hence, to us, he was 85 years old when he died. 

best regards,

Ian Johnson <>