More Hun than Han

Source: AAS, Asia Now blog (9/17/20)
More Hun than Han: Reading the Tabghach “Ballad of Mulan” in 2020
By James Millward

“Lady (Mulan).” 18th century, British Museum. Public domain image via Wikimedia.

Mulan is not originally a story about a patriotic Chinese woman. It is not a story about self-sacrifice to defend one’s country. It is not a thrilling tale of martial valor. It is, rather, a commentary on the fruitlessness of war against people who are more like oneself than different, delivered in the voice of a woman who does her familial duty out of necessity and then chucks her medals and goes home—a war-weary expression of truth to power.

Perhaps because of the barriers to actually seeing the new Mulan remake (thanks to the pandemic and Disney’s steep charge of $30 plus a subscription fee to its streaming service), commentary about the new film has been trickling out over a few weeks. The most recent controversy, first on Twitter and then in the New York Times and other publications, is over the credits: Disney thanks security and political authorities in Turfan (Turpan), Xinjiang, for facilitating their filming in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Disney filmed part of Mulan amidst Turfan’s desert scenery well after it was clear that just around the corner were multiple concentration camps inflicting “transformation through education” upon Uyghurs and other Xinjiang indigenous peoples. Hundreds of such camps have been built across the Uyghur region starting in 2017 and were well-reported by the time Disney started filming in 2018. Had Disney staff consulted Baidu Maps while scouting film sites, they might have seen grey tiles blacking out certain places from view: blank spaces that we now know mark the sites of camps. Having now just seen the film, I’ve been thinking about the Mulan tradition in light of Xi Jinping’s assimilationist policies and trends in China today: the atrocities in Xinjiang; CCP efforts to limit Mongolian language in schools in the Mongolian Autonomous Region, just as it has restricted Uyghur in the Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibetan in the Tibetan Autonomous Region; pressure to reduce Cantonese use in Guangdong and denigrate it in Hong Kong; the further repression of Hong Kong democracy and near elimination of promised autonomy, accompanied by egregious police violence which the Disney Mulan actress Yifei Crystal Liu publicly supported on Weibo a year ago. Continue reading

Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Kristin Stapleton’s review of Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey, by Chunmei Du. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey

By Chunmei Du

Reviewed by Kristin Stapleton

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright October, 2020)

Chunmei Du, Gu Hongming’s Eccentric Chinese Odyssey Chunmei Du. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. 251 pgs. ISBN-9780812251203 (cloth).

Gu Hongming 辜鴻銘—the notorious Qing loyalist who spoke out for bound feet and against democracy in the midst of the May Fourth movement—was at the center of a set of cross-cultural conversations among Chinese, European, and American intellectuals during and after World War I, Chunmei Du shows in this engaging biography. She notes that he was “the first principal Chinese spokesman of Confucianism to the Western world” (p. 49), promoting it as a universal solution to the global problems of industrialization and endemic conflict. At the same time, though, Gu displayed a most un-Confucian love of shocking and provoking his fellow humans. Du’s goal is to help us understand the influences that produced such a paradoxical character. In the end, as Du acknowledges, Gu Hongming stubbornly defies analysis. Still, her account of his life is fascinating, particularly for what it reveals about global currents of thought in the early twentieth century. Continue reading

Jiefang ribao (1)

Jiefang Ribao is included in WiseSearch ( from Wisers in Hong Kong starting from the issues August 2000 onwards. Many libraries subscribe to this database.

You can also try the 全国报刊索引 ( They have indexed  解放日报(上海) 1955-2019 (but I am not sure how complete the index is). You can order individual articles for scanning. Some libraries offer to cover this for their readers.

Best wishes,

Joshua Seufert

Chinese Studies Librarian
East Asian Library
Princeton University

Socialist Hot Noise lecture

I am scheduled to give a talk “at NYU” this coming Friday, Oct 9, on “socialist hot noise” (loudspeakers and open air cinema in Maoist China). I hope some of you can attend. Find a link and info below. Many thanks.–Jie Li

Socialist Hot Noise
Jie Li–jie-li.html


Abstract: Excavating a media history of loudspeakers and open-air cinema in Maoist China, this talk proposes a new conceptual framework of “socialist hot noise” to describe a participatory sociothermic affect and a synergy between body and electricity that soldered scattered populations into the “revolutionary masses.” Drawing on archives, gazetteers, memoirs, and oral histories, the first half examines the state-sponsored development of loudspeaker networks as well as grassroots listening experiences and practices, from broadcast rallies to rooftop broadcasting, from labor competitions to quasi-karaoke, from enhancing the Mao cult to engendering violence and terror. The second half discusses open-air cinema as a “hot noise of attractions” that generated revolutionary energy through “cinematic liturgies” led by mobile projectionists before, during, and after screenings. I argue that Maoist cinema was a “physical and spirit medium,” whose improvised and impoverished infrastructure contributed to the Mao “cult,” converted skeptics of communist “miracles,” and “exorcized” class enemies. The conclusion addresses the revival of loudspeakers and open-air cinema in a postsocialist media ecology. Continue reading

Politburo takes charge of archaeology

Massimo Introvigne writes on the latest chapter in the political mobilization of Chinese archaeology, which follows on earlier instructions from Global Times to make the archaeology of Xinjiang serve the purpose of Chinese colonialism there, as I discussed in an earlier post about how the repurposed nationalistic Chinese archaeology is exported abroad. Now, the regime doubles down on this front, too, and Chinese archaeology is openly politicized throughout–and, anyone who believed studying ancient China could somehow remain a-political, will have to be re-thinking.

Magnus Fiskesjö,

Source: Bitter Winter (10/2/20)
While the World Confronts China, Xi Jinping Calls a Meeting of the Politburo—on Archeology
Faithful to Chairman Mao’s teaching “to use the past in service of the present,” the CCP hopes that archeologists, of all people, can solve some of its problems.
by Massimo Introvigne

The Terracotta Army of Shaanxi, China’s most famous archeological finding

The Terracotta Army of Shaanxi, China’s most famous archeological finding (credits)

These are difficult times for the CCP. Criticism of its human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and crackdown on all forms of dissent and all kinds of religion is growing. Even the usually cautious President Macron of France has decided to speak out, while economic and other retaliation against China is at the center of the electoral campaign in the United States.

It comes as no surprise that President Xi Jinping has called for a group study session, on September 28, of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee. The theme of the meeting? Not international criticism, foreign policy, or human rights. No, the subject discussed was—archeology. Continue reading

History repeats for HK freedom swimmers

Source: The Guardian (9/27/20)
‘Back where we were’: history repeats for Hong Kong’s freedom swimmers
They risked their lives in search of liberty in the British colony – now the system they were desperate to escape is at the door
By  in Hong Kong

Four ‘freedom swimmers' from China are led away by Hong Kong police for questioning at Tai Po Kau on May 31, 1971.

Four ‘freedom swimmers’ from China are led away by Hong Kong police for questioning at Tai Po Kau on May 31, 1971. Photograph: SCMP

They came one by one, dragging themselves from the sea on to the shores of Hong Kong over oyster beds, their bodies bleeding. Some had swum for miles, braving choppy, treacherous seas, tied together by ropes. Others made the desperate journey in makeshift boats.

They were known as freedom swimmers – hundreds of thousands of young men and women who fled mainland China and risked their lives in search of freedom in the British colony amid the oppressive political movements in China between 1950 and 1980, which targeted “class enemies”.

Those who survived to tell their tales were the lucky ones. Many more never made it. Some were shot dead by border guards, or arrested and sent to labour camps. Others drowned or were attacked by sharks. Some were executed – the act of defection was considered treason. Continue reading

Network of Concerned Historians 2020 report

Annual Report 2020 of the Network of Concerned Historians, contains a long section on incidents in China, HK, Xinjiang, etc. Link:

“This twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Network of Concerned Historians (NCH) contains news about the domain where history and human rights intersect, in particular about the censorship of history and the persecution of historians, archivists, and archaeologists around the globe, as reported by various human rights organizations and other sources. It mainly covers events and developments of 2019 and 2020.”

Magnus Fiskesjö,

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: 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

Palace Museum novel

Source: China Daily (7/21/20)
Revised novel on Palace Museum treasure published
By Xinhua |


A revised version of the novel “Shou Zang,” which means “treasure keeping” in English, has been published by the People’s Literature Publishing House to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Forbidden City, the now Palace Museum, in Central Beijing.

Written by woman novelist Xuan Se, the novel tells the story of a group of “treasure keepers” escorting a special train transferring treasure from the Palace Museum down south to avoid damage from the Japanese invasion in the 1930s.

From 1933 to 1947, a total of 13,427 boxes of relics from the museum were transported to Nanjing, now the capital of Jiangsu Province in east China, and then to the west of the country until the Chinese people won the victory against Japanese aggression.

The story is also expected to be put on the big screen.

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


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

Hu Jie, excavating Chinese history

Source: NYT (6/28/20)
Excavating Chinese History, One Harrowing Film at a Time
The work of Hu Jie, who has made more than 30 movies, is little known even in China. The release of “Spark” and “The Observer” should make him better known abroad.
By Ian Johnson

The filmmaker Hu Jie in “The Observer,” a documentary about Hu, directed by Rita Andreetti. Credit…Icarus Films

For more than 20 years, the filmmaker Hu Jie has been trawling the deep waters of Chinese history to create a series of harrowing documentaries about the early years of Communist Party rule.

Though Hu is largely unknown outside Chinese intellectual and foreign academic circles, two films, to be released on June 30, should increase the visibility of his work and help make it accessible to outsiders. “Spark” — a film that has undergone many iterations, alternations and expansions — reconstructs the fate of a group of young people who started an underground journal 60 years ago. And “The Observer,” a documentary about Hu by the Italian director Rita Andreetti, is at once a sympathetic portrait of the filmmaker and an introduction to his films.

Both are being distributed by Icarus Films as part of dGenerate Films’ collection of independent Chinese movies, curated by the American film producer Karin Chien. Their release — along with three other important Hu works that Icarus has released — makes it possible for audiences to see the sweep of his body of work. Continue reading

Li Zhensheng dies at 79

Source: NYT (6/25/20)
Li Zhensheng, Photographer of China’s Cultural Revolution, Dies at 79
With his camera and red arm band, Mr. Li captured the dark side of Mao’s revolution at great personal risk.
By Amy Qin

Li Zhensheng in a risky self portrait taken during China’s Cultural Revolution on July 17, 1967, when people were expected to put party before self. His photographs offer a rare visual testament to that tumultuous period in Chinese history.  Credit…Li Zhensheng/Contact Press Images

Li Zhensheng, a photographer who at great personal risk documented the dark side of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, producing powerful black-and-white images that remain a rare visual testament to the brutality of that tumultuous period, many of them not developed or seen for years, has died. He was 79.

His death was confirmed on Tuesday by Robert Pledge, a founder of Contact Press Images and editor of Mr. Li’s photo book “Red-Color News Soldier,” who said that Mr. Li had been hospitalized on Long Island. He lived in Queens. Further details, including the date of his death, were not released.

Mr. Li was a young photographer at a local newspaper in northeastern China when Mao started the Revolution in May 1966. Wearing a red arm band that said, “Red-Color News Soldier,” Mr. Li was given extraordinary access to official events. Continue reading