Pushing the Boundaries lecture

The University of Sydney China Studies Centre
Pushing the Boundaries: Assessing the Potential of Intersections between China’s Current National Self-image, Tianxia (‘all under heaven’) and the Traces of Confucian Morality and Aesthetics
Date: Wednesday, 8 September 2021
Time: 1:00PM-2:00PM AEST
Location: Online
This seminar is free and open to the public!


In recent years, the People’s Republic of China has become increasingly assertive in the upholding of its national territorial limits. The reasons for this assertiveness are not far to seek. Exponential domestic economic growth over the last four decades has greatly enhanced the PRC’s confidence on the world stage in addition to strengthening the country’s military reach, regionally and internationally. Alongside a desire to re-establish Greater China’s former geographical integrity following the divisions wrought by civil conflict as well as Euro-American and Japanese colonialism/imperialism there is also a necessity to secure vital trading routes and access to resources. Less materially to the fore, but also important, are intersections between the PRC’s current national territorial assertiveness and the recent revisiting by Chinese academics of an uncertainly bounded governmental authority signified by the term tianxia (‘all under heaven’)—and by association cognate Confucian conceptions of morality and aesthetics—during China’s dynastic-imperial past as the basis for a new harmonious, non-interfering “post-West” world order. It will be argued that while those intersections are open to interpretation as tracing a durable Chinese civilization-specific cultural habitus in support of the PRC’s contemporary national self-image they have by turns a potential to shape China as a renascent world power deconstructively/reciprocally—as a matter of parallaxic discursive positioning—somewhere (and nowhere) between the dual imaginaries of empire and the nation-state. Continue reading

Bulldozing Uyghur culture (1)

I’d like to thank Magnus Fiskesjö for continuing to write about the extermination of Uyghur culture. He mentioned that a Hilton hotel was built where a mosque had been razed.  I had missed that report.  It made me wish for an accessible and regularly updated website naming Western companies that are complicit.  This would facilitate small but meaningful acts such as sharing information with the manager of one’s local store, for example, and politely asking if he is aware of what his company is doing. Writing to the public-relations teams at such companies, or to major stockholders, is surely useless, but making lower-level employees aware of what they are being associated with— even if there is nothing they can do about it — may prepare the ground for future change.

The excellent work of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute provides much material, Another organization, Save Uighur, proposed action-items in the wake of that report, with a terse update here.

But the problem goes beyond retail products made with forced labor: incidents such as the Hilton in Hotan or Disney’s expression of thanks to the Public Security bureau after filming Mulan in Xinjiang should be included in any compilation.  Regular updates would be important, as well as acknowledging the companies that have terminated such relationships.

Maybe someone is already doing this?

A. E. Clark <aec@raggedbanner.com>

What is South China Sea Buddhism

Lecture: What is South China Sea Buddhism?

Organised by the Department of Chinese Studies in collaboration with the China Studies Centre ‘Language, Literature, Culture and Education’ cluster and The Australian Society for Asian Humanities (formerly OSA).

Chinese Buddhists have never remained stationary. They have always been on the move. Why did Buddhist monks migrate from China to Southeast Asia? How did they participate in transregional Buddhist networks across the South China Sea? In this talk, I will tell the story of “South China Sea Buddhism,” referring to a Buddhism that emerged from a swirl of correspondence networks, forced exiles, voluntary visits, evangelizing missions, institution-building campaigns, and organizational efforts of countless Chinese and Chinese diasporic Buddhist monks. Drawing on multilingual research conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, I challenge the conventional categories of “Chinese Buddhism” and “Southeast Asian Buddhism” by focusing on the lesser-known—yet no less significant—Chinese Buddhist communities of maritime Southeast Asia. By crossing the artificial spatial frontier between China and Southeast Asia, this talk brings Southeast Asia into the study of Chinese Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism into the study of Southeast Asian Buddhism. Continue reading

Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape

Source: BBC News (2/2/21)
‘Their goal is to destroy everyone’: Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape
By Matthew Hill, David Campanale and Joel Gunter, BBC News

Women in China’s “re-education” camps for Uighurs have been systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured, according to detailed new accounts obtained by the BBC. You may find some of the details in this story distressing.

Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China's network of internment camps

Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China’s network of internment campsBBC

The men always wore masks, Tursunay Ziawudun said, even though there was no pandemic then.

They wore suits, she said, not police uniforms.

Sometime after midnight, they came to the cells to select the women they wanted and took them down the corridor to a “black room”, where there were no surveillance cameras.

Several nights, Ziawudun said, they took her.

“Perhaps this is the most unforgettable scar on me forever,” she said.

“I don’t even want these words to spill from my mouth.”

Tursunay Ziawudun spent nine months inside China’s vast and secretive system of internment camps in the Xinjiang region. According to independent estimates, more than a million men and women have been detained in the sprawling network of camps, which China says exist for the “re-education” of the Uighurs and other minorities. Continue reading

Chinese intellectuals and Carl Schmitt

Two notes on Chinese establishment intellectuals’ ever tighter embrace of the theories of the key supporter of the Nazis, the law professor Carl Schmitt, infamous for enthusiastically making up legal arguments to defend Hitler’s extra-judicial killings of political opponents.

  1. Jackson T. Reinhardt writes about “Totalitarian Friendship: Carl Schmitt in Contemporary China,” Inquiries, 2020, Vol. 12 No. 07.

Reinhardt highlights the literary scholar Zhang Xudong as one of the leading Chinese proponents of Schmitt, the authoritarian theorist of state power — and of the people as unanimously submitting to its self-appointed “Leadership,” the Communist Party:

” … literary theorist Zhang Xudong […] believes that it is impossible for China to construct an organic and particular cultural politics for China in “a [political] space delimited by Western universal values such as science, democracy, and liberty,” because Chinese cultural identity “often appears as an inferior mode [in Western discourse].” Zhang’s Chinese cultural politics is the reaffirmation of “Chinese subjectivity” which is “self-sufficient and not delimited by Western modernity.” The main content of this cultural politic is Schmittian homogeneity. To Zhang, Western values of market and political liberalism make “the genuine ideal of social equality in China… [impossible to] be realized.” This social equality occurs by aligning establishing and aligning a homogeneous character of the citizens in relation towards the state. Zhang concludes that only with the governing leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is China able to foster this egalitarian vision.” (Zhang is a Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies at NYU. His involvement in a censorship incident in a journal he edited, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, was discussed on MCLC in late April 2019, in a thread on “Censorship in Chinese Studies.” The censorship, and Zhang’s defense of it, later led to Brill’s termination of publishing the journal). Continue reading

Lhasa in the Cultural Revolution

Source: China Channel, LARB (11/13/20)
Lhasa in the Cultural Revolution: A Photo Essay
By  and 

Header: Crowd accusing Samding Dorje Phagmo in the courtyard of her house in Lhasa, 1966 (Tsering Dorje, courtesy of Tsering Woeser)

Tsering Woeser presents her father’s photographs of Tibetan struggle sessions

In her new book Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution, the Tibetan essayist and poet Tsering Woeser dissects the impact of China’s Cultural Revolution on Lhasa, her birthplace, five decades ago. This photo essay features 18 of the more than 300 photos in the book, accompanied by Woeser’s comments (translated by Susan Chen); these are based on her interviews with Tibetans and Chinese in Lhasa who lived through the events shown in the photos. All of the photos were taken by Woeser’s father, Tsering Dorje (1937-91), who was a PLA officer and photographer serving in Lhasa in the early 1960s. His photos, which came to light only after his death, are the only known visual records of the struggle sessions, humiliation parades, and mass rallies staged during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. For our previously published interview with Tsering Woeser about her book and her father’s photographs, please read here. – Robbie Barnett

[see also Red Guards in Tibet] Continue reading

China ravages Xinjiang cultural heritage

Rian Thum, well-known scholar of Uyghur history, just published dreadful satellite imagery showing that a major sacred site in the famous Xinjiang city of Khotan has been bulldozed — and turned into a parking lot. See this Twitter thread starting April 28.

The Australia-based forensic analyst Nathan Ruser (who has previously analyzed satellite imagery from Xinjiang, including the notorious leaked video of a concentration camp detainee mass transport), adds new photos and discussion.

Meanwhile, another sacred site, the gravesite of the modern Uyghur national literary hero Lutpulla Mutellip, had already been turned into an ugly kitschy park. Continue reading

Tang Junyi novella

Source: China Channel, LARB (2/14/20)
Love Tips from a Himalayan Forest
Excerpts from a forgotten Chinese love tract, translated by Jonathan Keir
By Jonathan Keir

In his 1940 novella Aiqing zhi Fuyin, Tang Junyi’s lapsed Zoroastrian protagonist, the deracinated “world philosopher” Delas, embodies the author’s disgust for both communism and capitalism, and his search instead for wartime refuge in a “spiritual philosophy.” Instead of explaining love away in Freudian, Darwinian or other ideological terms, Tang sought to persuade readers that “what we need to do is the opposite, namely to explain the lower spheres of human movement in terms of the higher ones.” Love, for Delas, is best understood as a transcendental source of mystery and wonder – not a predictable, Tinderesque outcome, but a triumph of human free will over such bleak determinism. – Jonathan Keir

The Morality in Love

At this point one of the youths stood up and asked: “Master, allow me to ask a random question. Love should have a single focus; I have seen examples of it in others and experienced it for myself: a concentrated love is the most precious. But I do sometimes wonder why this must be so. I mean, every young person, before she settles on a partner for marriage, considers an enormous field of options; she might at different moments turn her amorous needs and energies on any number of targets. We might even say that she loves all these possibilities. But from the moment she has chosen a long-term partner, her love is suddenly concentrated on one person. Isn’t it a major loss to move from a plethora of potential targets of love down to just one? Why can’t we just live pan-amorously and enrich our love lives accordingly? I don’t need a moral lesson; I need a real reason.” Continue reading

Pastor sentenced to 9 years

Source: NYT (12/30/19)
China Sentences Wang Yi, Christian Pastor, to 9 Years in Prison
The founder of one of China’s largest unregistered churches was given a lengthy sentence for what the government called subversion of state power.
By Paul Mozur and Ian Johnson

HONG KONG — A secretive Chinese court sentenced one of the country’s best-known Christian voices and founder of one of its largest underground churches to nine years in prison for subversion of state power and illegal business operations, according to a government statement released on Monday.

Wang Yi, the pastor who founded Early Rain Covenant Church, was detained last December with more than 100 members of his congregation as part of a crackdown on churches, mosques and temples not registered with the state.

While most of Mr. Wang’s parishioners, including his wife, Jiang Rong, were eventually released, Mr. Wang never re-emerged from detention. Continue reading

Children not spared (1)

This is a great article which contributes a lot to the description of the ongoing assault on the indigenous peoples of Xinjiang.

But the NYT framing also continues a weird trend with headlines telling us this is about “Muslims” and “religion” even though this is only one part of it, and the primary goal clearly is the destruction of the cultures and peoples of the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and the other minority peoples, as such.

Why this framing? One possible explanation could be that the editors think that Uyghur, Kazakh, and the other targeted peoples have “too difficult names” for their readers to handle. Or, that the NYT willy-nilly is aligning itself with the current administration officials who have often spoken up, admirably so, for the people of Xinjiang, but often in terms of the freedom of religion (Note: I do think it is indeed very admirable that conservative evangelical Republicans do speak up for oppressed Muslims, and it is of course true, to say that this is an assault on the freedom of religion). Continue reading

Children not spared

Source: NYT (12/28/19)
In China’s Crackdown on Muslims, Children Have Not Been Spared
In Xinjiang the authorities have separated nearly half a million children from their families, aiming to instill loyalty to China and the Communist Party.
By Amy Qin

HOTAN, China — The first grader was a good student and beloved by her classmates, but she was inconsolable, and it was no mystery to her teacher why.

“The most heartbreaking thing is that the girl is often slumped over on the table alone and crying,” he wrote on his blog. “When I asked around, I learned that it was because she missed her mother.”

The mother, he noted, had been sent to a detention camp for Muslim ethnic minorities. The girl’s father had passed away, he added. But instead of letting other relatives raise her, the authorities put her in a state-run boarding school — one of hundreds of such facilities that have opened in China’s far western Xinjiang region.

As many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others have been sent to internment camps and prisons in Xinjiang over the past three years, an indiscriminate clampdown aimed at weakening the population’s devotion to Islam. Even as these mass detentions have provoked global outrage, though, the Chinese government is pressing ahead with a parallel effort targeting the region’s children. Continue reading

China’s new civil religion

Source: NYT (12/21/19)
China’s New Civil Religion
The Communist Party is reviving traditional beliefs for political gain — while cracking down on some faiths.
By Ian Johnson [Mr. Johnson’s most recent book is “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.”]

A woman offers joss sticks and prayers at the Lama Temple in central Beijing, a place of worship very popular with locals praying for wealth and good health.Credit…Sim Chi Yin/Magnum Photos

BEIJING — In the northern suburbs of this city is a small temple to a Chinese folk deity, Lord Guan, a famous warrior deified more than a millennium ago. Renovated five years ago at the government’s expense, the temple is used by a group of retirees who run pilgrimages to a holy mountain, schoolchildren who come to learn traditional culture and a Taoist priest who preaches to wealthy urbanites about the traditional values of ancient China.

Perched atop a hillock overlooking the sprawling capital, the temple is a microcosm of a new civil religion taking shape in China — an effort by the Chinese Communist Party to satisfy Chinese people’s search for moral guidelines by supplementing the largely irrelevant ideology of communism with a curated version of the past.

This new state-guided religiosity is the flip side of the government’s harsh policies toward Islam and Christianity. Officials believe these two global faiths are hard to control because of their foreign ties, and they have used negotiation or force — diplomacy with the Vatican, arrests of prominent Protestants, internment camps for Muslims — to try to bring these religions to heel. Continue reading

The Xinjiang Papers

Source: NYT (11/16/19)
THE XINJIANG PAPERS: ‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims
More than 400 pages of internal Chinese documents provide an unprecedented inside look at the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

HONG KONG — The students booked their tickets home at the end of the semester, hoping for a relaxing break after exams and a summer of happy reunions with family in China’s far west.

Instead, they would soon be told that their parents were gone, relatives had vanished and neighbors were missing — all of them locked up in an expanding network of detention camps built to hold Muslim ethnic minorities.
The authorities in the Xinjiang region worried the situation was a powder keg. And so they prepared.

The leadership distributed a classified directive advising local officials to corner returning students as soon as they arrived and keep them quiet. It included a chillingly bureaucratic guide for how to handle their anguished questions, beginning with the most obvious: Where is my family?

They’re in a training school set up by the government,” the prescribed answer began. If pressed, officials were to tell students that their relatives were not criminals — yet could not leave these “schools.” Continue reading

Potemkin Xinjiang

Source: Globe and Mail (11/4/19)
‘Like a movie’: In Xinjiang, new evidence that China stages prayers, street scenes for visiting delegations

People walking past a mosque in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, on Sept. 11, 2019. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

One day last October, eight local officials entered Zumuret Dawut’s home in Urumqi, the regional capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang region. They came to ask her elderly father to pray – and they promised to pay.

They said, “We will give you 20 renminbi for each time you pray,” Ms. Dawut recalled in an interview. “You will need to pray five times tomorrow. So we will give you 100 renminbi” – about $18.50.

Her 79-year-old father was puzzled. He had long since stopped attending the local mosque out of fear the authorities would see his religious observance as a sign of radicalization and place him in an indoctrination centre, as the government has done with hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the region. The mosque was considered closed. Continue reading

Testimony from a Xinjiang reeducation camp

Ha-Aretz has published a remarkable testimony from an ethnic-Kazakh woman who claims to have escaped from a re-education camp and has found asylum in Sweden.


The article, by David Stavrou, includes extended quotations from Professor Fiskesjö, and alludes to accounts published elsewhere that paint a consistent picture.

Some nuances may have been obscured by serial translation.For example, she says that inmates were frequently required to write out confessions of their “sins.” The word “sins” suggests that standard CCP self-criticism was given a religious tinge — but by whom? The guards (adapting their message to the culture of their victims) or the prisoners (interpreting the requirement in terms of their religious experience)?

Concerning the atrocities (especially the widespread rapes), I have to wonder where the dividing line runs between high-level policies of cultural extermination and a low-level lack of discipline among the police.

The article also describes an employment contract with Chinese characteristics:

She was told she had been brought there in order to teach Chinese and was immediately made to sign a document that set forth her duties and the camp’s rules.  “I was very much afraid to sign,” Sauytbay recalls. “It said there that if I did not fulfill my task, or if I did not obey the rules, I would get the death penalty. The document stated that it was forbidden to speak with the prisoners, forbidden to laugh, forbidden to cry and forbidden to answer questions from anyone.

A. E. Clark <aec@raggedbanner.com>