Jiang Zemin dies at 96

Source: NYT (11/30/22)
Jiang Zemin, Leader Who Guided China Into Global Market, Dies at 96
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Mr. Jiang, a wily and garrulous politician, presided over a decade of meteoric economic growth in the post-Tiananmen era.
By Chris Buckley and Michael Wines

Jiang Zemin in Hong Kong in 1998. As China’s leader, Mr. Jiang amassed influence that endured long past his formal retirement, giving him a major say in picking the current leader, Xi Jinping.

Jiang Zemin in Hong Kong in 1998. As China’s leader, Mr. Jiang amassed influence that endured long past his formal retirement, giving him a major say in picking the current leader, Xi Jinping. Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jiang Zemin, the Shanghai Communist kingpin who was handpicked to lead China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and presided over a decade of meteoric economic growth, died on Wednesday in Shangau. He was 96.

A Communist Party announcement issued by Chinese state media said the cause was leukemia and multiple organ failure.

His death and the memorial ceremonies to follow come at a delicate moment in China, where the ruling party is confronting a wave of widespread protests against its pandemic controls, a nationwide surge of political opposition unseen since the Tiananmen movement of Mr. Jiang’s time.

Mr. Jiang was president of China for a decade from 1993. In the eyes of many foreign politicians, Mr. Jiang was the garrulous, disarming exception to the mold of stiff, unsmiling Chinese leaders. He was the Communist who would quote Lincoln, proclaim his love for Hollywood films and burst into songs like “Love Me Tender.”

Less enthralled Chinese called him a “flowerpot,” likening him to a frivolous ornament, and mocking his quirky vanities. In his later years young fans celebrated him, tongue-in-cheek, with the nickname “toad.” But Mr. Jiang’s unexpected rise and quirks led others to underestimate him, and over 13 years as Communist Party general secretary he matured into a wily politician who vanquished a succession of rivals. Continue reading

Censors delete article on Hu Jintao

Source: China Digital Times (10/25/22)
Censors Delete History Journal Article on Hu Jintao after Exit from Party Congress
By Alexander Boyd

On Saturday, October 22, Xi Jinping’s predecessor Hu Jintao was unceremoniously escorted out of the closing of the 20th Party Congress in front of the domestic and international press. Hu’s highly unusual exit, a major departure from the strict political choreography characteristic of Party Congresses past, left observers across the world questioning what, exactly, had happened. In an English-language tweet, official state news agency Xinhua claimed: “When he [Hu Jintao] was not feeling well during the session, his staff, for his health, accompanied him to a room next to the meeting venue for a rest. Now, he is much better.” There was no accompanying Chinese-language report and no other Chinese outlets ran pieces on Hu’s removal. China Central Television, the state-run broadcaster, included a clip of Hu attending the Party Congress in an evening broadcast but did not mention his exit. CDT has re-published a video, in Chinese, from Singapore’s CNA (Channel NewsAsia) showing the circumstances of his exit:

Continue reading

Taiwan’s Bomb Shelters

Source: NYT (11/6/22)
Taiwan’s Bomb Shelters: ‘A Space for Life. And a Space for Death.’
Preparing for war over hundreds of years has left a mark on the island, with its hundreds of bomb shelters. Some are being turned into cultural oases.
By Damien Cave and Amy Chang Chien

A bunker that has been converted into a temple in Keelung, Taiwan.

A bunker that has been converted into a temple in Keelung, Taiwan. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

KEELUNG, Taiwan — Visitors to Keelung, a mountainous port city on Taiwan’s northern coast, might reasonably think that the white wall at the back of Shi Hui-hua’s breakfast shop is, well, a wall. Only a few air vents suggest that there might be something on the other side.

“It’s a bomb shelter,” said Ms. Shi, 53, as she waited for the morning rush. “Because we’re Keelung people, we know these kinds of places.”

“It’s a space for life,” she added. “And a space for death.”

All over her street and many more in Keelung — which suffered its first foreign attack, by the Dutch, in 1642 — the landscape has been carved up for protection. Kitchens connect to underground passageways that tunnel into the sandstone. Rusty gates at the ends of alleys lead to dark maws that are filled with memories of war, and sometimes trash or bats — or an altar or restaurant annex.

There are nearly 700 bomb shelters in this city of 360,000 people, leading officials to declare that Keelung has a higher density of places to hide than anywhere else in heavily fortified Taiwan. And for a loosely organized band of urban planners, artists and history lovers, Keelung’s bomb shelters have become a canvas — for creative urban renewal and civil defense.

Some of these havens have been recast as cultural spaces. But these subterranean spaces are not just cool relics; on a self-governed island that China considers lost property it plans to reclaim, they are also vital infrastructure. Continue reading

Chairman Mao’s Good Reader

We are happy to share with you our most recent online publication in which Lena Henningsen dives into the Lei Feng cult from a history of reading perspective:

READCHINA Intervention 03:
Chairman Mao’s Good Reader: Mise en abyme in The Diary of Lei Feng

Lei Feng is commonly known in China as a model soldier. To “learn from Lei Feng” meant to mold one’s own behavior on that of the model, to embody his spirit and do good oneself to the point of self-abandonment and self-sacrifice. Oftentimes, in visual media Lei Feng carries a rifle over his shoulder—and holds a copy of Mao Zedong’s Selected Works in his arm as his ideological weapon of sorts. This Intervention shows that reading figures prominently in the Lei Feng cult. The trope of reading is particularly powerful, as it creates a mise en abyme effect: The reading act represented in the narrative finds a mirror in the reading act of the diary reader; the narrative depicts a text which mirrors itself in the text that the reader of the diary holds in his or her hands.

Read it here (PDF to download): https://readchina.github.io/interventions/LeiFeng.html

Xi takes core team to visit Yanan

Source: SCMP (10/27/22)
Chinese President Xi Jinping takes core team on visit to Communist Party revolutionary base
Xi pledges to carry forward the fighting spirit of former revolutionaries during visit to Yanan with Politburo Standing Committee members. Group trips by top party leaders, while rare, have become more common under Xi
By Echo Xie and Jun Mai in Beijing

President Xi Jinping with members of China’s new Politburo Standing Committee in Yanan, in northwestern Shaanxi province. Photo: CCTV

President Xi Jinping with members of China’s new Politburo Standing Committee in Yanan, in northwestern Shaanxi province. Photo: CCTV

President Xi Jinping on Thursday led his core team to a site in northwestern China highly symbolic of the Communist Party’s revolutionary past, where he pledged to inherit and carry forward the revolutionary tradition and spirit.

The visit came just days after Xi secured a norm-breaking third term as party general secretary at a landmark national congress, where he also revealed the line-up for the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in China.

“After the closing of the 20th party congress, members of the Politburo Standing Committee came to Yanan with great admiration,” Xi was quoted by state broadcaster CCTV as saying, as he led committee members on a visit to the old revolutionary base in Shaanxi province.

“The purpose [of the visit] is for us to review the glorious years of the party in Yanan, in memory of the great achievements of our revolutionaries, promote the Yanan spirit, and carry forward the fighting spirit [of our revolutionaries] as we strive to achieve goals set out in the 20th party congress,” Xi said.

Senior Chinese leaders rarely travel in a group to any location outside Beijing, but such trips have grown more common under Xi, in a show of unity and determination. Continue reading

Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park

Source: NYT (10/25/22)
Why People Are Flocking to a Symbol of Taiwan’s Authoritarian Past
At a museum dedicated to Taiwan’s not-so-distant authoritarian past, Taiwanese see China’s present, and a dark vision of one possible future under autocratic rule.
By Amy Chang ChienJohn Liu and Chris Horton

The Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park in Taiwan has seen a surge of visitors since Speaker Nancy Pelosi toured the site in August.

The Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park in Taiwan has seen a surge of visitors since Speaker Nancy Pelosi toured the site in August. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Ringed by barbed wire and high gray walls, and once the site of a secretive military detention center, the museum just south of Taipei makes for a surprising tourist hot spot.

The Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park, housed on the campus of a former military school, is a chilling reminder of the excesses of Taiwan’s not-so-distant authoritarian past when its rulers imposed martial law for four decades. The moldering concrete buildings with fading paint were once the site of secret tribunals where political dissidents were tried and the detention center where at one point several hundred people were held in crowded quarters.

Once known as the Jing-Mei Detention Center, the site has found new appeal in Taiwan after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and pro-democracy activists who have criticized China met there in August, with visitor numbers rising in the weeks since. Its relevance was also underscored at the Chinese Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress that took place last week, during which Beijing’s determination to absorb its democratic neighbor was a major talking point.

On a recent afternoon, groups of local visitors explored dimly lit cells and small courtrooms where political dissidents were prosecuted during the four decades until 1992 known in Taiwan as the White Terror. Some stopped at a fountain with the statue of Xie Zhi, a mythical, single-horned Chinese beast said to represent justice, as a guide described the irony of its presence in a place where more than 1,100 were handed the death penalty, many for their political beliefs. Continue reading

‘China after Mao’ review

Source: The China Project (10/21/22)
‘China After Mao’: Frank Dikötter plays the old hits in new book
Frank Dikötter has made a career out of castigating the Chinese Communist Party and its leadership, starting from Mao Zedong. He remains unrelenting in his new book, “China After Mao,” which covers the period of China’s recovery and rise.
By Mike Cormack

Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

The People’s Trilogy, a set of three books by Dutch historian Frank Dikötter — on the 1949 revolution and initial years of Communist rule, the Great Famine of 1959-1962, and the Cultural Revolution — achieved considerable commercial success. There is no doubt that the books are great works of archival exploration and explication, shining a light on some of the darkest periods in Chinese history; at several points during Mao’s Great Famine, I literally had to put the book down, overwhelmed by the human suffering he documents. They are essential reading for anyone interested in understanding contemporary Chinese society, and help you understand the deep scars and fierce passions which make China what it is today.

Yet historians were rather more skeptical. There have long been suggestions that Dikötter’s scholarly rigor is lacking, and that his books have a discernible political agenda. So it is that his latest volume — China After Mao — this time concerning more recent Chinese history from Huá Guófēng 华国锋 to the ascent of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, has been met with mixed reactions.

Nonetheless, I was excited by this new Dikötter work. What would he say about China’s economic take-off, and what dark secrets might he have uncovered? Continue reading

Beyond the Skies

Source: SupChina (8/12/22)
‘Beyond the Skies’: An award-winning art house war film set during the Chinese civil war
“Beyond the Skies,” whose executive producer is the noted Tibetan auteur Pema Tseden (万玛才旦 Wànmǎ Cáidàn), won three laurels at the Beijing International Film Festival last year, including Best Feature Film and Best Cinematography.
By Amarsanaa Battulga

Beyond the Skies, the directorial debut of Chinese Academy of Art professor Liú Zhìhǎi 刘智海, is a black-and-white arthouse war film that is evocative of Chinese ink wash painting. It premiered a year ago at the Shanghai International Film Festival, then nabbed three Tiantan awards in Beijing before moving on to other festivals in Kyoto and Okinawa. But at home, few have heard about and ever fewer have watched this film.

Set in 1935 during the Chinese Civil War, the film follows the young Communist soldier Hong Qichen on a mission to destroy the Kuomintang (KMT) ammunition depot within 48 hours; at stake are the lives of 350 of his fellow soldiers. On the way, Hong enlists the help of other Red Army recruits. Their high-risk trek across the treacherous, dreadful mountains exacts a heavy toll, and the situation is further complicated when it seems that no one else has received the order that Hong did. Against the backdrop of palpable tension filling the heavy air, Beyond the Skies explores the conflict between individuals’ survival instinct and their sense of duty to their nation.

Probably one of the lowest-budget war films in history, Beyond the Skies is decidedly different from other war films. “It’s actually a commissioned work,” says the director Liu, “but the government wanted a biographical war film in the traditional sense. However, I’m relatively averse to such orthodox, ‘main melody’ (主旋律 zhǔ xuánlǜ) war films with grand narratives.” His feeling is understandable, especially when the current domestic film industry has been oversaturated with blockbuster war epics such as The Battle at Lake Changjin and Snipers. Continue reading

Network of Concerned Historians 2022 report

Source: Network of Concerned Historians (8/8/22)

The Annual Report 2022 of the Network of Concerned Historians (NCH) is now available (pdf; 165 pages) at http://www.concernedhistorians.org/ar/22.pdf

This is the 28th NCH Annual Report. It contains news about the domain where history and human rights intersect in 100 countries, especially 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 2021 and 2022. The fact that NCH presents this news does not imply that it shares the views and beliefs of the historians and others mentioned in it.

[The China section of the report is from pages 27-41.–KD]

Unending Capitalism review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Ruksana Kibria’s review of Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China’s Communist Revolution, by Karl Gerth. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/kibria/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, MCLC

Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism
Negated China’s Communist Revolution

By Karl Gerth

Reviewed by Ruksana Kibria

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright August, 2022)

Karl Gerth, Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China’s Communist Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020, xi + 384 pp. ISBN: 9780521688468 (Paperback).

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s victory in 1949 under Mao Zedong’s leadership was commonly regarded as the beacon of international proletarian salvation, epitomizing the triumph of socialist egalitarianism and liberty over the inequities of capitalism. The discursive construction of Maoist China as building socialism obfuscated the fact that what had occurred was essentially a nationalist revolution whose goal was to develop a self-reliant, independent, and powerful national economy—a coveted goal among the Chinese intelligentsia since the nineteenth century, long before the revolution or the advent of Mao. However, due to a convergence of ideological and geo-political factors, the perception was created that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had not only embarked on a communist journey following an untrodden radical path, but was also a progressive and emancipatory paradigm to be emulated by other postcolonial developing countries. Reality, however, was quite different because, rather than liberation, the revolution essentially replaced one form of oppression with another.[1]

Karl Gerth’s Unending Capitalism: How Consumerism Negated China’s Communist Revolution is a thought-provoking contribution to the study of the expansion of consumerism in the Maoist era, a meticulously researched, clearly argued, and highly readable interpretation of this period. Although Unending Capitalism is Gerth’s most recent book, it is in fact the middle volume of a trilogy, bookended by the author’s China Made (2003), which deals with the emergence of nationalism and consumer culture in China in early twentieth century, and As China Goes, So Goes the World (2010), an exploration of the history of post-Mao consumerism. Continue reading

Archaeologist Fan Jinshi’s memoir

Source: Bruce-Humes.com (7/6/22)
Archaeologist Fan Jinshi’s Memoir: Ancient Buddhist Cave-temples in the Desert, Red Guards & the Spirit of Peking U
By Bruce Humes

Cultural Revolution: The Mogao Grottoes Miraculously Emerge Unscathed
(Excerpted from 我心归处是敦煌 by Fan Jinshi as told to Gu Chunfang)
Translated by Bruce Humes

Many people have asked me if thMogao Caves in Dunhuang were damaged during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

At the time, the Destroy the Four Olds, Cultivate the Four News campaign was sweeping the country, resulting in severe damage to many ancient sites and cultural artifacts. Everyone at the Dunhuang Academy was wondering: Would our cave-temples be spared?

My colleagues were indeed very concerned about the Red Guards wreaking havoc in the grottoes, because they were chock-full of fragile clay sculptures and murals. However, during the Cultural Revolution, not a single scroll, mural or sculpture in the academy’s care suffered damage — which can only be described as miraculous.

Many people can’t get their heads around this, and I have often been grilled about it by foreign journalists. “You can go and see with your own eyes that there was no damage at all,” I assure them. Continue reading

HK Palace Museum’s controversial beginnings

Source: SCMP (7/1/22)
Hong Kong Palace Museum: highlights to see among the national treasures on loan from Beijing, and its controversial beginnings
When the Hong Kong museum opens on July 2, there are some stunning national treasures to see among more than 900 loaned by the Beijing Palace Museum. Its opening is the culmination of a project criticised for the lack of public consultation when Hong Kong’s then No 2 leader Carrie Lam announced it in 2016

A festive robe made for a Chinese emperor on display at the Hong Kong Palace Museum. First announced in 2016, the museum is finally opening on July 2, 2022. Photo: Sam Tsang

A festive robe made for a Chinese emperor on display at the Hong Kong Palace Museum. First announced in 2016, the museum is finally opening on July 2, 2022. Photo: Sam Tsang

The Hong Kong Palace Museum, in the West Kowloon Cultural District, officially opens to the public on July 2 and features a range of Chinese artworks and relics.

The grand opening of the Hong Kong counterpart to Beijing’s Palace Museum coincides with the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China. Nine galleries fill the 13,000-square-metre (140,000 sq ft) space, spread across five floors, exhibiting ink paintings, calligraphy, ceramics and other artefacts dating from as early as the 10th century.

Most of the pieces on loan are appearing in Hong Kong for the first time. Continue reading

HK’s road to reinvention

Source: NYT (6/30/22)
‘Everything in Hong Kong Has Changed’: A Road to Reinvention
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版 | Leer en español
In the 25 years since the handover to China, life on Queen’s Road, the first thoroughfare built by the British after they seized the territory, has been transformed.
By Hannah Beech. Photographs and Video by Sergey Ponomarev


HONG KONG — On the day that Hong Kong was returned to China a quarter century ago, the noodle maker of Queen’s Road worked as he had done for days and decades before, mixing flour and water into sustenance for a city filled with refugees from the mainland. To satisfy the diverse tastes, he made tender Shanghai noodles and Cantonese egg pasta, slippery wonton wrappers from China’s south and thick dumpling skins beloved in Beijing.

When the five-starred flag of the People’s Republic of China replaced the Union Jack on July 1, 1997, it rained and rained, the water rising fast along Queen’s Road and its tributaries. Some people took the deluge as an omen of Communist control, others as a purifying ritual to cleanse Hong Kong of Western imperialism.

The storm held no greater meaning for To Wo, who ran the noodle shop with his family. Mr. To still had to work every day of every year, feeding dough into clanging machines and emptying so many bags of flour that everything was dusted white, even the shrine to the kitchen god.

“I was busy,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of time for fear.”

In the 25 years since the handover, the only constant has been change, both defined and defied by the people of Queen’s Road, Hong Kong’s most storied avenue. All around them, a city has been transformed: by the dizzying economic expansion of mainland China threatening to make this international entrepôt unnecessary, but also by the crushing of freedoms by Hong Kong’s current rulers, who have filled jails with young political prisoners. Continue reading

HK in Transition

An open access photographic archive for anyone interested in Hong Kong and its history

Welcome to the Hong Kong in Transition website, a resource for formal or informal study of Hong Kong’s history during the period leading up to decolonization and during the early part of its existence as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. This is a not-for-profit and free to access website which presents an archive of photographs of Hong Kong taken between 1 January 1995 and 1 January 2020. Photos may be in either black and white or colour, and all have been taken by the same photographer, David Clarke. Continue reading

So Long, My Son review

Source: Scroll.in (6/27/22)
‘So Long, My Son’ and China’s warped development
Wang Xiaoshuai’s acclaimed family drama is available on MUBI.
By Scroll Staff

Start the week with a film: ‘So Long, My Son’ and China’s warped development

Yong Mei and Wang Jingchun in So Long, My Son (2019) | Dongchun Films/WXS Production

There’s no better way to start the week than with a 185-minute tour of China’s recent history. Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son folds into its leisurely pace a piercing examination of China’s aggressive shift from a socialist economy to a globalised one.

The film is available on MUBI. Beginning in the 1980s and running into the present, So Long, My Son follows the ripple effects of a mishap that kills the only son of factory workers Yaojun and Liyun. They move away to another city and adopt a boy. But he rebels against them as a teenager and runs away.

In their later years, the couple return to the housing project that they were forced to abandon after they were laid off. They can scarcely recognise the city where they spent their youth. Transformed by global capital and a new breed of local entrepreneurs, this is the city of brochures and PowerPoint presentations, which has ruthlessly erased the past but not the memory of some of its residents. Continue reading