Journalist who gave #MeToo victims a voice is on trial

Source: NYT (9/22/23)
A Chinese Journalist Gave #MeToo Victims a Voice. Now She’s on Trial.
Huang Xueqin, the journalist, and Wang Jianbing, a labor activist, have been accused of inciting subversion as the authorities expand a campaign to quash dissent.
By Alexandra Stevenson and Reporting from Hong Kong)

A casually dressed woman in a broad-brimmed black hat stands against a green wall, holding a sign that reads “Me Too.”

The Chinese journalist Huang Xueqin in Singapore in 2017. She has been in detention in China for two years.Credit…#FreeXueBing, via Associated Press

After two years in detention, a Chinese journalist who spoke up against sexual harassment stood trial on subversion charges on Friday along with a labor rights activist, the latest example of Beijing’s intensified crackdown on civil society.

Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist who was once a prominent voice in China’s #MeToo movement, and her friend Wang Jianbing, the activist, were taken away by the police in September 2021 and later charged with inciting subversion of state power. Their trial was held at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in southern China.

Little is known about the government’s case, but the vaguely worded offense with which the two were charged has long been seen as a tool for muzzling dissent. Since China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, came to power in 2012, the ruling Communist Party has sought to essentially silence people who have fought for free speech and political rights. A steady stream of activists, lawyers, tycoons and intellectuals have been put on trial and sentenced.

In Ms. Huang and Mr. Wang’s cases, the authorities questioned dozens of their friends in the months after their detentions and pressured them to sign testimonies against the two, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group that is in close contact with many activists. Continue reading

The Chinese People Have Stand-Up

Source: China Media Project (8/30/23)
The Chinese People Have Stand-Up
China’s crackdown on stand-up comedy in May this year was swift and decisive — as was the medium’s rise during the pandemic years. Taiwanese comedian Vickie Wang offers her inside perspective on why the format has struck such a chord with young Chinese audiences.
By Vickie Wang

When I first saw Ali Wong’s Netflix special Baby Cobra, I thought to myself, “I didn’t know Asian women were allowed to talk like this in public!” It was raunchy, frank, and hilarious — and it inspired me to go to comedy shows. In 2017, I began doing open mics at Shanghai’s Kung Fu Komedy club.

When I started out, the performers and clientele in Shanghai both skewed heavily expatriate. Most of the jokes hinged on how overwhelming it was to live in China as a foreigner, or even more cringe-worthy material about intercultural dating. Still, I was drawn to the bare-bones nature of the performance format. A dedicated venue with a dark room, good soundproofing, a spotlight, and a good sound system all go a long way. It also helps if the venue sells alcohol. But stand-up comedy doesn’t require a theater: it’s just a comedian with a microphone and an audience.

Kung Fu Komedy was one of the most prominent stand-up comedy venues in Asia at the time, and the only club in mainland China dedicated to stand-up, putting on English-language shows like mine most nights of the week. But by October of 2018, in the lead-up to the first China International Import Expo, the club was shuttered amid a wave of crackdowns on performers’ visas and liquor licenses. The secret to why this happened goes to the heart of what makes stand-up so engaging for performers like me as an art form — even without the glitz and glamor — and why it attracts so much attention from the public. Continue reading

On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China

On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China
By Margaret Hillenbrand
Columbia University Press, 2023
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Charismatic artists recruit desperate migrants for site-specific performance art pieces, often without compensation. Construction workers threaten on camera to jump from the top of a high-rise building if their back wages are not paid. Users of a video and livestreaming app hustle for views by eating excrement or setting off firecrackers on their genitals. In these and many other recent cultural moments, China’s suppressed social strife simmers—or threatens to boil over.

On the Edge probes precarity in contemporary China through the lens of the dark and angry cultural forms that chronic uncertainty has generated. Margaret Hillenbrand argues that a vast underclass of Chinese workers exist in “zombie citizenship,” a state of dehumanizing exile from the law and its safeguards. Many others also feel precarious—sensing that they live on a precipice, with the constant fear of falling into this abyss of dispossession, disenfranchisement, and dislocation. Examining the volatile aesthetic forms that embody stifled social tensions and surging anxiety over zombie citizenship, Hillenbrand traces how people use culture to vent taboo feelings of rage, resentment, distrust, and disdain in scenarios rife with cross-class antagonism. Continue reading

China may ban clothes that hurt people’s feelings

Source: NYT (9/11/23)
China May Ban Clothes That Hurt People’s Feelings. People Are Outraged.
A proposal evokes memories of 1980s China, when opening up to the world set off a debate over flared pants and men with long hair, what the party called “weird attire.”
By Li Yuan

An illustration with people dressed in colorful clothes and costumes standing before a man dressed in a security uniform with a pair of red scissors behind his back.

Credit…Xinmei Liu

In the 1980s, people in China could land themselves in trouble with the government for their fashion choices.
Flared pants and bluejeans were considered “weird attire.” Some government buildings barred men with long hair and women wearing makeup and jewelry. Patrols organized by factories and schools cut flared pants and long hair with scissors.

It was the early days of China’s era of reform and opening up. The Communist Party was loosening its tight control over society little by little, and the public was pushing the limits of self-expression and individualism. The battle over the height of women’s heels and the length of men’s hair embodied the struggle.

Now the government is proposing amendments to a law that could result in detention and fines for “wearing clothing or bearing symbols in public that are detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurt the feelings of Chinese people.” What could be construed as an offense wasn’t specified.

The plan has been widely criticized, with Chinese legal scholars, journalists and businesspeople voicing their concerns over the past week. If it goes into effect, they argue, it could give the authorities the power to police anything they dislike. It would also be a big step backward in the public’s relationship with the government. Continue reading

Spies Are Everywhere

Source: NYT (9/2/23)
China to Its People: Spies Are Everywhere, Help Us Catch Them
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As Beijing tries to enlist the “whole of society” to guard against foreign enemies, the line between vigilance and paranoia fades.
By Vivian Wang (reporting from Beijing)

A woman talks on a phone against a backdrop of skyscrapers in the distance and surveillance cameras just behind her.

Surveillance cameras in Shanghai in March. Credit…Aly Song/Reuters

Beijing sees forces bent on weakening it everywhere: embedded in multinational companies, infiltrating social media, circling naïve students. And it wants its people to see them, too.

Chinese universities require faculty to take courses on protecting state secrets, even in departments like veterinary medicine. A kindergarten in the eastern city of Tianjin organized a meeting to teach staffers how to “understand and use” China’s anti-espionage law.

China’s Ministry of State Security, a usually covert department that oversees the secret police and intelligence services, has even opened its first social media account, as part of what official news media described as an effort at increasing public engagement. Its first post: a call for a “whole of society mobilization” against espionage.

“The participation of the masses,” the post said, should be “normalized.”

China’s ruling Communist Party is enlisting ordinary people to guard against perceived threats to the country, in a campaign that blurs the line between vigilance and paranoia. The country’s economy is facing its worst slowdown in years, but China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, appears more fixated on national security and preventing threats to the party’s control. Continue reading

Recreating a bygone China

Source: NYT (8/19/23)
Recreating a Bygone China, One Miniature Home at a Time
China’s rapid economic growth has meant the demolition of countless rural homes, and a burgeoning nostalgia. That’s where the miniaturists come in.
By  (Reporting from the studios of several miniaturists in Hebei and Shandong Provinces)

A wheelbarrow and icebox sit in front of a one-story house with peeling paint on the windows.

Shen Peng painstakingly crafted a miniature replica of his childhood home near Baoding, China. A hairstylist by trade, Mr. Shen taught himself to make the models as a surprise for his grandmother.

Not long after Shen Peng’s grandfather died, his grandmother visited the site of the house where she and her husband once lived. The government had demolished the house, in northern China, nearly 15 years before as part of a redevelopment project. The site still hadn’t been developed, and she could barely walk around the family’s old plot because the grass was so overgrown.

Mr. Shen wondered: Could he help her relive her memories another way?

For more than six months, he labored in secret after his day job as a hairdresser. Finally, Mr. Shen, now 31, presented his grandmother with a surprise — a handcrafted 1:20 scale replica of her old home.

There was the wire clothesline in the courtyard, draped with a blue blanket cut into the size of a postage stamp. There was the rickety bicycle, outside a shed constructed with foam boards and plaster. Mr. Shen had even traveled to the site of the old house to better recreate the fragment of brick wall that still remained.

The project led him into a small but growing community of artists in China filling an increasingly urgent demand: miniature replicas of homes that have been demolished, remodeled or otherwise swept away by China’s modernization. Continue reading

Weibo censors genie joke

Source: China Digital Times (8/10/23)
Weibo Censors Genie Joke for Wishing You-Know-What on You-Know-Who

Sometimes, it’s the censors who imbue a joke with political power. Earlier this week, Weibo user @怪以德服人猫’s account was deleted for violating Weibo policy. Their likely violation? A joke, described by some netizens as “very Soviet,” that could mean whatever the reader or listener wants it to mean—thus implicitly implicating the censors who read something nefarious into it, and decided to take it down. Here is CDT’s translation of the joke:

While out and about on vacation, I stubbed my toe on something. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was a bronze lamp. It was smudged, so I picked it up and gave it a good wipe—and out popped a genie!

The genie said it could grant me any wish.

“Is that so?” I said. “Well then, could you make you-know-who you-know-what?”

No sooner had the words escaped my lips than the genie rushed over, clamped my mouth shut, and asked: “Are we even allowed to say that?” [Chinese]

In the original Chinese, the “you-know-who you-know-what” line is even vaguer. A more literal translation would be “what-what-what what-what-what,” or “blah-blah-blah blah-blah-blah.” The exact punchline is beside the point—the joke’s obscurity invites the reader to insert their own taboo political commentary—but the distribution of characters could easily be read to mean “Xi Jinping hurry up and die,” or “CCP, step down from power soon,” or some similar politically explosive line. Continue reading

Don’t be so picky about a job

Source: NYT (8/8/23)
Don’t Be So Picky About a Job, China’s College Graduates Are Told
Under pressure from Beijing, Chinese schools have been told to do more to secure jobs for students, who are facing bleak prospects.
By Claire Fu and 

A large crowd of students, some walking down steps, walk on a building’s plaza after taking a college-entrance exam.

Students in eastern China after the first day of the national college entrance exams in June. The country’s youth unemployment rate has doubled in the last four years. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At this year’s commencement ceremony for the Chongqing Metropolitan College of Science and Technology in southwestern China, the graduating class did not receive the usual lofty message to pursue their dreams. Instead, they were dealt a harsh dose of reality.

“You must not aim too high or be picky about work,” said Huang Zongming, the college’s president, to more than 9,000 graduates in June. “The opportunities are fleeting.”

A record number of Chinese college graduates are entering the job market, exacerbating an already bleak employment outlook for the country’s young people. The confluence is deepening one of the most intractable issues keeping the world’s second-largest economy from regaining its vibrancy.

China’s unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds in urban areas hit a record 21.3 percent in June. The numbers for July are expected to be even higher as the next wave of graduates officially transitions from students to job seekers. Continue reading

Li Ziqi’s online pastoral poetics

Source: The New Yorker (8/4/23)
Li Ziqi’s Online Pastoral Poetics
Millions of people subscribed to her vision of an idyllic rural existence. Who was she, and why did she disappear?
By Oscar Schwartz

An illustration of Li Ziqi.

Illustration by Lea Woo

Somewhere in the mountainous region of northern Sichuan, a young woman harvests soybeans alone in a field. She cuts through the beanstalks with a sickle and stuffs them into a wicker basket. Once the basket is full, she makes her way to a courtyard garden, where she shells the beans by hand and grinds them in a stone mill. Working industriously yet serenely, she boils the resulting pulp in a wood-fired wok, drains it in a cloth, curdles it with salt, and finally presses it into a large block of tofu.

The scene I am describing might seem like an outtake from some period drama. She is, say, a farmer living during the Six Dynasties period, forced to cultivate soybeans alone after her husband has gone to the northern frontier. Or she is a diligent worker manufacturing tofu for the People’s Republic. Instead, this is the opening scene of a five-and-a-half-minute-long online video on how to make mapo tofu from scratch. And the young woman is Li Ziqi, a thirty-three-year-old Sichuanese influencer and the proprietor of what Guinness World Records has dubbed the most popular Chinese-language channel on YouTube.

The mapo-tofu video is typical of Li’s œuvre. In her hundred and twenty-eight YouTube posts, she uses traditional methods to farm, cook, craft, or build. The depth of her skill and ingenuity is almost beyond belief. She can make anything from anything, like some sort of rural MacGyver. Li sews a dress from a fabric of subtle lilac, which she dyed with the skins from purple grapes. She constructs a brick oven to grill a rare fungus foraged from the forest. She fells bamboo trees and fashions a daybed with a machete and a handsaw.

All her videos are thoroughgoing demonstrations, but Li should not be categorized alongside other instructional YouTubers. To do what she does would be, for most of us, entirely impossible. (Who has a spare half acre to plant a soybean crop for a single mapo-tofu dinner?) Her videos, rather, offer the viewer an opportunity to reside, if only for a moment, in an idyllic otherworld. Spliced between her labor are highly stylized shots of rural life. Goats, kittens, and puppies frolic around Li’s feet as she works. She shares a meal by the fireside with her ever-smiling, wizened grandmother. The sunflowers turn to face the eastern sun. Purple clouds gather over the mountains. A full moon rises over a field of lotus pads. . . [Read the rest on The New Yorker site]

What cuisine means to Taiwan identity

Source: NYT (8/8/23)
What Cuisine Means to Taiwan’s Identity and Its Clash With China
Chefs and restaurant owners are using a multiplicity of ingredients and tastes to reflect Taiwan’s roots, shaping a distinct culinary culture.
By Li Yuan (Reporting from Taipei, Taiwan)

A man in a black chef jacket sitting at a table in front of a steaming pot.

Ian Lee at his restaurant in Taipei called HoSu, which means “good island” in the Taiwanese dialect. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Taiwan is a self-ruling island of 24 million people that is officially known as the Republic of China. Only about a dozen countries recognize it as a nation because China claims it as one of its provinces. Taiwan is called “Chinese Taipei” by international organizations and at the Olympic Games.

The ambiguity of Taiwan’s nationhood contrasts with a growing Taiwanese claim of identity. More than 60 percent of the people living on the island identify as Taiwanese, and roughly 30 percent identify as both Chinese and Taiwanese, according to the latest results of an annual survey conducted by National Chengchi University in Taipei. Only 2.5 percent consider themselves Chinese exclusively.

But what makes them Taiwanese, not Chinese? How will they create a cohesive narrative about their identity? And how do they reconcile with their Chinese heritage?

For many people, it’s through food, one of the things the island is known for, aside from its semiconductor industry. In the past decade or so, restaurateurs, writers and scholars have started to promote the concept of Taiwanese cuisine, reviving traditional fine dining and incorporating local, especially Indigenous, produce and ingredients into cooking. Continue reading

Dao Lang’s hit satirical song goes viral

Source: SCMP (8/5/23)
‘Curse people without dirty words’: China singer lauded for satirical song packed with coded lyrics mocking corruption in showbiz and wider society
Hashtag for song by singer-songwriter Dao Lang, which refers to ‘horses’ and ‘pigs’ gets 6.4 billion views on social media platform Douyin. Online observers say lyrics take aim at influential figures in China’s entertainment industry, problems in wider mainland society
By  in Beijing

Billions of people online have viewed a video of a new song by mainland musician Dao Lang, the lyrics of which are being interpreted as a coded attack on sleaze and corruption in the mainland entertainment industry and wider society. Photo: SCMP composite

Billions of people online have viewed a video of a new song by mainland musician Dao Lang, the lyrics of which are being interpreted as a coded attack on sleaze and corruption in the mainland entertainment industry and wider society. Photo: SCMP composite

A new song by mainland pop musician Dao Lang has become a viral phenomenon on social media because its lyrics have been interpreted as being a biting satire on the corrupt nature of show business in China.

Few expected that a new album by the 52-year-old – a singer and songwriter who is widely considered to be past his best – would achieve the level of success that it has, becoming the biggest musical hit of 2023 by far.

Luocha Haishi, one of 11 original songs from the album Folk Song Liaozai, which was released on July 19, has topped the hot list of Chinese music apps, with the song’s hashtag attracting a whopping 6.4 billion views on Douyin.

The song is billed as a combination of Chinese folk songs and stories from the classic satirical fantasy, Liaozhai Zhiyi, or Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, by Qing dynasty (1644-1912) novelist Pu Songling.

It is adapted from a Liaozhai Zhiyi tale of the same title, which tells the story of a businessman’s adventure in a distant kingdom called Luocha, where people regard ugliness as beauty. Continue reading

Four Won’t Youth

Source: China Digital Times (7/20/23)
Word(s) of the Week: Four Won’t Youth (四不青年, SÌ BÙ QĪNGNIÁN)
Posted by 

A screenshot of the black-and-white chart described above features an X-axis, a Y-axis, and four quadrants, each containing a single Chinese character representing a mode of political behavior. There is also a Z-axis with the character “Xian,” representing the most extreme mode of behavior.

A screenshot of the black-and-white chart described below features an X-axis, a Y-axis, and four quadrants, each containing a single Chinese character representing a mode of political behavior. There is also a Z-axis with the character “Xian,” representing the most extreme mode of behavior.

Four Won’t Youth” (四不青年, sì bù qīngnián) is the latest appellation for discontented youth, who in this case “won’t date, won’t marry, won’t buy a home, and won’t have kids.”

Four Won’t Youth, like other similar terms (lying flatinvolutionKong Yiji), make the Party-state nervous. A document floating around the internet and purported to be from the Guangzhou branch of the Communist Youth League claims that of 15,501 surveyed youth, 1,215 could be classified as Four Won’t Youth. The document calls for an effort to transform these young people into “Four Will Youth,” who are willing to go out on dates, get hitched, purchase real estate, and procreate. Screenshots of the alleged document have been censored on Weibo. Continue reading

Why China’s young people are not getting married

Source: NYT (7/10/23)
Why China’s Young People Are Not Getting Married
Marriages in China are at a record low. Recent political and economic turmoil have added another reason to postpone tying the knot.
By Nicole Hong and 

A view from above of a couple in a white gown and black suit standing by a railing in an open urban area with trees.

A couple having wedding photos taken near the Bund in Shanghai on Wednesday. Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times

It has been a brutal three years for China’s young adults. Their unemployment rate is soaring amid a wave of corporate layoffs. Draconian coronavirus restrictions are over, but not the sense of uncertainty about the future they created.

For many people, the recent turmoil is another reason to postpone major life decisions — contributing to a record-low marriage rate and complicating the government’s efforts to stave off a demographic crisis.

Grace Zhang, a tech worker who had long been ambivalent about marriage, spent two months barricaded in the government lockdown of Shanghai last year. Robbed of the ability to move freely, she spiraled over the loss of control. As she saw the lockdowns spread to other cities, her sense of optimism faded.

When China reopened in December, Ms. Zhang, 31, left Shanghai to work remotely, traveling from city to city in hopes that a change of scene would restore her positive outlook.

Now, as she sees rising layoffs around her in a troubled economy, she wonders if her job is secure enough to sustain a future family. She has a boyfriend but no immediate plans to marry, despite frequent admonishments from her father that it’s time to settle down. Continue reading

Liang Hong’s ‘The Sacred Clan’

Source: The China Project (6/30/23)
‘The Sacred Clan’: Liang Hong turns to fiction to explore rural China
Realism and the supernatural mix in Liang Hong’s “The Sacred Clan,” a collection of short stories that continues the author’s lifelong work of capturing rural China.
By Jonathan Chatwin

Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

“Without some exposure to the Chinese countryside, nobody should say that they really understand China,” the translator Esther Tyldesley observes when asked about the significance of the work of writer Liáng Hóng 梁鸿.

Over the last 13 years, Liang has established herself as the pre-eminent chronicler of contemporary Chinese rural life. Her 2010 book, published in English as China in One Village, sold hundreds of thousands of copies in China and garnered a medley of literary prizes. It recounted Liang’s experiences as she returned from Beijing to her childhood village in landlocked and traditionally agricultural Henan Province; it was a bleak portrayal of an already traumatized countryside that was now suffering the indignity of being forgotten in China’s pursuit of urban-oriented development. “We have forgotten what a scholar once said,” she wrote in that book. “‘Modernization is a classic tragedy. For every benefit it brings, it asks the people to pay with all they hold of value.’”

Liang continued to write about her home village in two subsequent nonfiction books, to similar acclaim, but the professor of Chinese literature at Renmin University in Beijing has more recently turned to fiction to tell the story of rural China, publishing the novels The Light of Liang Guangzheng (2017) and Four Forms (2021). This summer, a translation of her collection of short stories, The Sacred Clan, is to be published, a book which, as Tyldesley says, “displays life in the rural areas of her province in all its messy, unvarnished, fascinating complexity.” (Tyldesley won a PEN Translates award for her translation of The Sacred Clan.) Continue reading

China’s workers and the curse of 35

Source: NYT (6/28/23)
No Job, No Marriage, No Kid: China’s Workers and the Curse of 35
It’s widely discussed in China: Employers don’t want you after 35. Some job listings say it plainly, leaving a generation of prime-age workers feeling defeated.
By Li Yuan

An illustration of the backs of people ascending a staircase that says “35” on the left wall at the top of the stairs. The people are met with crashing waves at the top of the stairs.

Credit…Xinmei Liu

When Sean Liang turned 30, he started thinking of the Curse of 35 — the widespread belief in China that white-collar workers like him confront unavoidable job insecurity after they hit that age. In the eyes of employers, the Curse goes, they’re more expensive than new graduates and not as willing to work overtime.

Mr. Liang, now 38, is a technology support professional turned personal trainer. He has been unemployed for much of the past three years, partly because of the pandemic and China’s sagging economy. But he believes the main reason is his age. He’s too old for many employers, including the Chinese government, which caps the hiring age for most civil servant positions at 35. If the Curse of 35 is a legend, it’s one supported by some facts.

“I work out, so I look pretty young for my age,” he said in an interview. “But in the eyes of society, people like me are obsolete.”

China’s postpandemic economic rebound has hit a wall, and the Curse of 35 has become the talk of the Chinese internet. It’s not clear how the phenomenon started, and it’s hard to know how much truth there is to it. But there’s no doubt that the job market is weak and that age discrimination, which is not against the law in China, is prevalent. That is a double whammy for workers in their mid-30s who are making big decisions about career, marriage and children. Continue reading