How to Read Chinese Drama in Chinese


Patricia Sieber (The Ohio State University) is co-editor (together with Guo Yingde, Wenbo Chang, and Zhang Xiaohui) of a new book entitled How To Read Chinese Drama in Chinese: A Language Companion (Columbia University Press, 2023). Intended as a language textbook complementing How To Read Chinese Drama: A Guided Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2022), it is the first guided primer that focuses on traditional drama. Featuring excerpts from iconic traditional plays, individual chapters supply an English introduction, extensively annotated excerpts, a modern Chinese translation, bilingual cultural exercises, and a bilingual roster of dramatic conventions. The book is designed to be alternatively used as a textbook in the advanced modern Chinese or in the classical Chinee classroom, as a companion in a Chinese literature course for advanced learners and native speakers of Chinese, or as a springboard for deeper engagement with traditional Chinese theater for specialists and interested general readers alike.


Source: China Media Project (12/7/2022)


Once signifying graceful women of a distinguished background, the term “socialite,” or yuan (媛), has in recent years become a misogynistic umbrella term used on digital platforms in China to disparage women who advertise fancy lifestyles. The term has also been used by state-run media to roundly criticize perceived materialistic excesses, reinforcing their unfair association with femininity.

The Chinese word yuàn (媛) has traditionally referred to the “virtuous and comely woman” as mentioned in the Shuowen Jiezi (说文解字), a Chinese dictionary compiled in the Han dynasty. Since 2020, however, the word has rapidly evolved — or perhaps devolved — into a catchall word used on the Chinese internet, and also in state media, to denigrate modern-day beauties as disgraceful and degenerate.

In October 2020, a Wechat article profiled a group on the WeChat platform called “Shanghai Female Socialite” (上海名媛群) in which women discussed the art of living or pretending to have rich lifestyles. The members, for example, would split the costs of high tea at fancy hotels, or they would share Gucci pantyhose, in order to mutually cultivate high-society personas — sometimes with the goal of connecting with wealthy suitors. Continue reading

Five Firm Grasps

Source: China Media Project (10/23/22)
Five Firm Grasps for the World
In a new buzzword emerging from the 20th National Congress of the CCP, Xi Jinping is front and center, and the whole world is encompassed by his visionary ideas.
By CMP Staff

On the front page of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper yesterday, a new buzzword was born. Introducing the “Five Firm Grasps” (五个牢牢把握). Appearing in a prominent headline to the right of the masthead in the People’s Daily, the phrase was meant to condense the “spirit” of the 20th National Congress of the CCP, conveying to Party members the essentials they were meant to take away.

Those essentials are the need to:

Firmly grasp the major significance of the work of the past 5 years and the great transformation of the 10 years of the New Era (要牢牢把握过去5年工作和新时代10年伟大变革的重大意义)

Firmly grasp the world view and methodology of the Thought of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era (牢牢把握新时代中国特色社会主义思想的世界观和方法论)

Firmly grasp the mission and task of promoting the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people through Chinese-style modernization (牢牢把握以中国式现代化推进中华民族伟大复兴的使命任务)

Firmly grasp the important demand of leading a great social revolution through a great self-revolution (牢牢把握以伟大自我革命引领伟大社会革命的重要要求)

Firmly grasp unity and struggle as the requirements of the times (牢牢把握团结奋斗的时代要求) Continue reading

Puzzling through Xi’s Political Report

Source: China Media Project (10/18/22)
Puzzling Through Xi’s Political Report
In CMP’s latest 20th CCP Congress analysis, David Bandurski reviews some of the misunderstandings and pitfalls that arise from analyzing the keynote reports emerging every five years.
By David Bandurski

Image by Kevin Dooley, available at under CC license.

Xi Jinping’s political report, delivered at the opening of the 20th National Congress of the CCP last Sunday, is a monster of a text to grapple with. You might think of it as an edifice of little snap-together blocks, all specialized terms and slogans molded within a century-long history of CCP political discourse, much of it drawing also on Marxist, Leninist, and Stalinist prose.

Many, if not most, of these specialized formulations, or tifa (提法), come loaded with meanings and associations that demand historical as well as contextual readings to really understand what they are meant to signal. For example, to truly understand the notion of “common prosperity” (共同富裕), a phrase that Xi Jinping has made a centerpiece of his contemporary vision of promoting greater economic fairness and balanced development, you have to grapple with the term’s unique history under Mao Zedong as well as Deng Xiaoping, which CMP wrote about in-depth in 2021.

In a very real sense, the political report is the reconstruction every five years of a complex structure and tradition of political rhetoric to broadly define priorities within the CCP, condense power relations, and build the present as a historical moment that necessitates and legitimizes Party rule. Continue reading

No ‘Lying Down’ on Covid

Source: China Media Project (10/6/22)
No “Lying Down” on Covid
As China’s leadership persists in urging the necessity of rigid pandemic policies that have grown increasingly unpopular, it has borrowed a popular online meme and made it the object of righteous scorn.
By David Bandurski

Lying Flat

While much of the world is now living beyond Covid, dropping quarantine, testing, and even masking policies, China has become the exception, increasingly out of step with the world. Though some no doubt support the government’s rigid “people’s war” approach to Covid, resentment has been on the rise as Chinese struggle to live not so much with the virus as with the government’s inflexible and often arbitrary “zero Covid” measures.

As the policies go in China, so goes the propaganda. And on page two of the People’s Daily newspaper yesterday, readers can find the latest robust official defense of the Party’s handling of Covid-19, which speaks of continuing danger with familiar slogans like “persistence is victory” (坚持就是胜利) — a battle cry harking back to the Cultural Revolution.

But one phrase stands out from the official speak. Three times in yesterday’s article, the neologism “lying down,” or tangping (躺平), is used to describe a weak and contemptible attitude of complacency toward Covid. “In doing a proper job of normalizing epidemic prevention and control, ‘lying flat’ is no way out,” the newspaper says. Continue reading

Cantonese Popular Periodicals website

Dear all,

I would like to bring your attention to a website that we have just launched:

Bilingual Database and Annotated Bibliography of Cantonese Popular Periodicals of the Early Twentieth Century (Phase I):

The website is supported by Lord Wilson Heritage Trust. It covers a range of Cantonese periodicals from various databases, libraries and private collections in Hong Kong, Macau and the United Kingdom.

Kind regards,

Nga Li Lam <>

Biden’s opportunity to reverse course on China (1)

Yes. Spot on. America should bow down, and make sure to steer clinically clear of any hint of the genocide, oppression, and slavery going on in China, such as that which goes into solar panels. Because since when did Americans care about slavery or genocide?

ps. today the researchers at Sheffield Hallam U released their latest report on Chinese slavery on export to the US:

Built on Repression: The very floors we walk on could be made with forced labour. Sheffield Hallam University, Helena Kennedy Centre. [June 14, 2022].

And see their series, here’s the solar panels slavery report.

A nice writeup on today’s report:
TOXIC TILES: How Vinyl Flooring Made With Uyghur Forced Labor Ends Up at Big Box Stores. Mara Hvistendahl. The Intercept, June 14 2022, 9:00 a.m.

Magnus Fiskesjö <>

‘You can do it’–phrase of the week

Soruce: SupChina (6/10/22)
‘You can do it!’ — phrase of the week
What do purple buttocks have to do with China’s college entrance tests? For students who sat for gaokao exams this week, hard work was key, but so, too, were superstitions about what to eat or wear for good luck.
By Andrew Methven

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Our phrase of the week is: You can do it! (紫腚能行 zǐ dìng néng xíng!).


A record 11.93 million Chinese students sat for the grueling national college entrance exams, also known as the gāokǎo 高考, in schools across China on June 7 and 8 this week.

The gaokao tests are notoriously hard in normal times, but with the added stress of COVID and lockdowns, this year’s university hopefuls faced even greater challenges, and needed all the luck they could get.

Different regions in China have their own traditions for bringing good luck, or avoiding bad results on exams. Cooking certain meals the night before, or saying certain things on the day, are all important final superstitious touches to the months of preparations and hard work.

In northern China, one way to wish students good luck has become popular across the country in recent years, and especially in 2022:

Today is the gaokao, I’m sure you can do it!
jīn tiān gāokǎo le, wǒ juédé nǐ zǐ dìng néng xíng! Continue reading


The 6th Workshop on Innovations in Cantonese Linguistics (WICL-6) is an exciting conference hosted by faculty and grad students in the departments of East Asian Languages and Literatures and Linguistics at Ohio State University. Presenters are from four different regions of the world: North America, Europe, East Asia, and Australia!

WICL-6 will be held virtually via Zoom on May 27 and May 28, 2022. It is free and open to the public, although online registration is required. Details on the program schedule and online registration are available at the WICL-6 website:

See you there if you are planning to attend WICL-6!

WICL-6 Organizing Committee

WICL 6–cfp

Call for Papers: 6th Workshop on Innovations in Cantonese Linguistics (WICL-6)

The 6th Workshop on Innovations in Cantonese Linguistics (WICL-6) will take place as a virtual conference via Zoom on 27-28 May 2022 (EDT), to be hosted by The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. As in the case of WICL-5, which held virtually at OSU in April 2020 due to the pandemic, we will do our best to arrange the WICL-6 program schedule to accommodate presenters in North America and in East Asia.

The WICL conference — an event hosted every two years by different institutions in North America — focuses on new advances in Cantonese Linguistics, including innovations in methodologies, tools, and/or computing software. New approaches and research on language variation within the Cantonese (or “Yue”) subgroup of the Chinese language family, language contact phenomena, and new subfields and their interfaces are especially welcome.

The biennial WIL events, with presentations delivered in English, are free and open to the public, although pre-registration is needed.

Keynote Speakers

  • Professor Alan Yu (University of Chicago)
  • Professor Elaine Francis (Purdue University). Continue reading

When war isn’t war

Source: China Media Project (3/12/22)
When War Isn’t War
While for much of the world the conflict in Ukraine is “Russia’s war,” Chinese media have opted for other terms, including “special military operation.” In this closer look at Chinese media coverage, we document this official framing — but also find some surprising and encouraging exceptions.
By David Bandurski

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks under a camouflage net in a trench as he visits the war-hit Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Dec. 6, 2021. Image by manhhai available at under CC license.

Throughout most of the world, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is “Russia’s war.” But as international media have reported, China has refused to talk about an “invasion” or a “war” in the two weeks since Vladimir Putin launched his military attacks. In its first press conference on February 24, the day attacks began, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs set the tone by saying that China had noted Russia’s “special military operation in eastern Ukraine.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) seemed finally to break the pattern Thursday in a meeting with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in which he said that China supports “a ceasefire to stop the war.” Nevertheless, voices critical of Putin, or even calling for peace, continue to be systematically removed from Chinese social media platforms, and content critical of Ukraine and the West, particularly the United States, proliferates.

To examine China’s framing of “Russia’s war” more closely, the China Media Project studied a randomized sample of reports over the past seven days. From among 721 total reports returned in the Wisenews database including the term “Russia-Ukraine” (俄乌) in mainland China, we isolated a subset of these reports including the word “war” (战争), yielding a total of 114 articles (87 print and 27 online). Randomizing these results we focused on just 25 articles for analysis. Continue reading

UBC Cantonese lectureship

The Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, is inviting applications for a lecturer position in Cantonese language and culture, to commence on September 1, 2022. This is a full-time, non-tenure-track position for an initial term of up to three years. The position is renewable for successive terms, subject to availability of funds and demonstration of excellence in teaching and service.

The Lecturer in Cantonese Language and Culture will join a department ( with a stellar reputation for its teaching and research of Asia as well as a vibrant community of teacher-scholars associated with the UBC Cantonese Language Program ( and the UBC Hong Kong Studies Initiative (

Details for this position can be found on the Asian Studies website ( Deadline for applications is 18 April 2022.

Leo Shin
Chair, Cantonese Language and Culture Search
Associate Professor, History and Asian Studies
The University of British Columbia, Vancouver

“Colonized” (1)

I wonder if anyone has seen signs of awareness or discussion in China, of the fact that China is really a settler-colonialist empire with its own “colonizers” in Xinjiang, Tibet and beyond.

I don’t think its possible that thinking people in China don’t realise there are direct and striking parallels to other empires and settler-colonialist projects in history.

But this is of course difficult to talk about in China, which is described by the government only as a victim and not an aggressor, just like Putin’s aggressor Russia does. In fact the whole Chinese mythology of peacefulness, which dominates in schools and in media, is a monstruous denial of the truth of China’s bloody history of conquest, inculcated in everyone like a gigantic taboo — along the lines of what Margaret Hillenbrand talks about in her book Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China.

I wrote before about how Westerners have been duped by this — many are susceptible because of they suffer from a self-centered West-and-the-rest syndrome.

But the main target of the ruse and cover-up of China’s imperial legacy is the Chinese people. Yet we also know they can’t fool all Chinese people all the time. So I am wondering if others have seen signs of counter-awareness — even in the recent totalitarian decade?

Magnus Fiskesjö <>


Source: China Media Project (2/18/22)
The CMP Dictionary: Colonized 殖人
By Stella Chen

At left, the image from a Dior photoshoot that brought severe criticism of photographer Chen Man (at right) online.

The term “colonized,” or zhiren (殖人), is an epithet often applied by nationalists online in China to attack those who hold opposing views on political and human rights issues. Generally, the term describes individuals who are seen as having been seduced and colonized by Western culture and values, but the term can sometimes also serve as an adjective describing certain subjects as examined through a generalized Western gaze.

Over the past three years, beginning around 2019 and Hong Kong protests over a planned bill allowing extraditions to mainland China, the term “colonized” (殖人) arose as a way for Chinese internet users to criticize and belittle calls by Hong Kong protestors for greater democracy – this being seen as stemming from a lingering colonial mentality after more than a century of British rule in the territory.

By the summer and fall of 2019, protests in Hong Kong were growing increasingly tense and unruly, with protestors facing off against police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. On July 1, 2019, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the UK to China, protestors stormed the premises of the Legislative Council (LegCo), defacing the regional emblem of Hong Kong and spraying graffiti on the walls. Several weeks later, protestors defaced the entry to China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Though many of the protests were peaceful, these acts in particular angered many Chinese online, and they were reported in the state media (which played up the “chaos”) as “absolutely intolerable.” Continue reading

Save Cantonese at Stanford secures endowed gift

Save Cantonese at Stanford secures $1M endowed gift following a year-long campaign

I am writing as a member and co-organizer of Save Cantonese, a global community-driven movement to preserve Cantonese language and culture for future generations. Our campaign was launched in response to budget cuts that eliminated the only Cantonese lecturer position at Stanford University. Students, alumni, and concerned community members mobilized to Save Cantonese at Stanford: Our initial petition drew 4,000 supporters and global media attention.

After a year-long campaign, we now have the pleasure to announce that S.J. Distributors has made a $1,000,000 commitment to endow Cantonese language classes at Stanford University. This is a very important first step towards restoring and expanding the Cantonese program at Stanford.

I would like to thank everyone who signed our petition and supported us along the way (the link to the petition has been shared on the MCLC blog as well). We hope to build up on this success and continue to protect Cantonese language and culture in the United States and around the world. Everyone who shares our vision and would like to learn more about our efforts is welcome to contact us (savecantonese [at]

The full press release can be found here.


Maciej Kurzynski
Ph.D. Candidate, Stanford University