Interview with Cai Xiang

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Yu Zhang’s and Calvin Hui’s interview with Cai Xiang, professor of modern Chinese literature at Shanghai University. Too long to publish in full here, you can find the entire interview, along with the original Chinese version, at


Kirk Denton, editor

Postsocialism and Its Narratives:
An Interview with Cai Xiang

Interviewed and Translated by Yu Zhang and Calvin Hui

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June 2018)

Cai Xiang

Time: July 3, 2016
Location: Bodao Café, 1420 Meichuan Road, Putuo District, Shanghai, P. R. China

Notes from the Interviewers and Translators: Cai Xiang is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature in the Department of Chinese at Shanghai University and the director of its Research Center for Contemporary Literature. His book Revolution and Its Narratives: China’s Socialist Literary and Cultural Imaginaries, 1949-1966 was translated into English by Rebecca E. Karl and Xueping Zhong and published by Duke University Press in 2016. In this interview, Cai Xiang shares his thoughts about the contemporary Chinese writer Lu Yao (1949-1992) and China in the 1980s, the revival of realism, pure literature, the relationship between the subaltern and the middle class, literary and cultural studies in China, and finally his research on socialist literature and culture. Cai Xiang stresses the importance of rebuilding an ideal mainstream society and looking for a new kind of certainty in this fragmented world. He also introduces illuminating new concepts such as “intellectual laborer,” “cultural proletariat,” and “petty bourgeois-socialism” to understand the cultural politics of postsocialist China. For the Chinese version, see below. The interviewers would like to express our gratitude to Kirk Denton and Xueping Zhong for their support and to Gao Ming for his assistance.

Ordinary World, by Lu Yao

Interviewer: In the past few years, the Chinese writer Lu Yao (1949-1992), the author of the novel Ordinary World, has regained broad attention and huge popularity in China.[1] The airing of the TV serial Ordinary World (2015) made his work even more appealing to contemporary Chinese readers. I heard it has become one of the most widely read novels among college students in China. Your career as a literary critic started with the publication of an essay about Lu Yao’s well-known novella “Life” (1982). Could you tell us about the writing of this essay?

Cai: That was about thirty years ago. Now, looking back, I think what motivated me to write about Lu Yao’s “Life” was several factors: first, “Life” suggests the possibility of changing one’s destiny, even though the male protagonist’s effort fails in this tragic story. This was probably one of the key issues in the 1980s. It was precisely in the 1980s when everyone felt there was a possibility to change their fate. China’s “planned economic system” had lasted for thirty years, but then the system started to be shaken up. The reason I used quotation marks for “planned economic system” is that the concept permeated the entire society, including every aspect of individual life. Therefore, it is not merely an economic concept; an individual’s destiny was determined by the society within the planned economic system. Of course, the planned economy also brought with it a sense of security and even warmth from inside the community. Published precisely at this historical juncture, “Life” implied that the nature of human fate is changing, which actually refers to what is commonly called social mobility (such as the migration from the countryside to the city that takes place in the novella). Moreover, this change can be determined by the individual, yet it comes with high risk and a strong sense of insecurity, and even causes an inner fear. In Lu Yao’s novella, the fear is manifested in the realm of morality. . . [Read the rest of the interview here]

Women, Gender and Research

Women, Gender and Research – Chinese-Nordic Perspectives. New release!
English edition:
Chinese edition: Shanghai Publishing  Company 女性、性别与研究:中国与北欧视角, 上海三联书店 2018.


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Proper nouns must be proper Chinese

Source: Sixth Tone (5/30/18)
Proper Nouns Must Be Proper Chinese, Say Authorities
Ministry mandates that housing developments with names like ‘California Town’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ must find Mandarin monikers.
By Liang Chenyu

More than 75,000 place names around China have been changed because they were too exotic, strange, or hyperbolic, the Ministry of Education announced Monday.

Tian Lixin, head of the ministry’s department for standardizing Chinese language usage, told The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, that it is inappropriate to see names like “Venice” and “Rome” in Chinese cities.

On social platform Weibo, some users approved of the sweep. “There are so many beautiful words in [Chinese classics], why do you have to choose strange transliterated words?” But others disagreed: “Why does this bother you enough to police it?” Continue reading

Patriotic writer draws ire

Source: Sup China (5/29/18)
Patriotic Chinese Writer Draws Ire After Trying To Enroll Her Kid At An American School

Yuan Xiaoliang, from her Weibo account

Yuan Xiaoliang 袁小靓 made a name for herself by bashing democracy. In 2013, she called India a nation “raped” by democracy, and said Chinese fans of Apple products were American “slaves.” A year later, she wrote, “Despite how good America is, it is someone else’s motherland. No matter how bad a mother China is, it is my home. I don’t need a reason to love her and protect her, yet there are reasons aplenty.”

Her pro-China stances on social media have been widely cited by Chinese state media. In an article published on in 2012, Yuan called herself the “chairwoman” of the 50-Cent Party — a moniker given to those who voice online support for the Chinese Communist Party and China in general. (For what it’s worth, Yuan also claimed to have not made a cent from the Chinese government.) Continue reading

Divorce quiz

Source: NYT (5/30/18)
Want a Divorce in China? You Might Have to Fail a Quiz First
By Tiffany May

Some local authorities in China have tried to reduce the divorce rate by asking couples to take a quiz. Know too much about your spouse and you might have to stay married, at least for a while.CreditJohannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — It’s like the Newlywed Game, but for divorce.

In some parts of China, married couples seeking to split up have been asked to take a quiz issued by the local authorities. The more they knew about each other — including a spouse’s birthday or favorite food — the less likely they were to have the divorce immediately approved.

The quizzes, issued in at least two provinces since last year, follow the format of a typical three-part school exam: fill-in-the-blank, short answer and an essay. Questions include the mundane — “When is your anniversary?” — and the philosophical: “Have you fulfilled your responsibility to your family?” Continue reading

China’s gulag for Muslims

Source: Sup China (5/17/18)
China’s gulag for Muslims
The evidence of a campaign to “re-educate” tens, or even hundreds of thousands, of Muslims in western China is building.
By Lucas Niewenhuis

Xinjiang Province has come to be known as one of the most heavily policed regions of the world, especially since Chen Quanguo 陈全国 was transferred from Tibet in 2016 to apply his hardline securitization strategy to the restive Muslim-majority region. Increasingly, it was suspected based on anecdotal reports that massive detention facilities were being used to hold Muslims targeted for their religious practices — but the government has repeatedly denied the existence of reeducation camps.

This week, a few more rare eyewitness reports have been published on the situation:

  • Five sources, including two who were willing to use their full real names, told the Associated Press’s Gerry Shih that the indoctrination camps are real, and they aim for nothing less than the near-complete replacement of detainees’ Muslim beliefs with full devotion to the Communist Party.
  • Crimes that could land you in detention, Shih reports, include “viewing a foreign website, taking phone calls from relatives abroad, praying regularly or growing a beard.”
  • Punishment for these crimes included solitary confinement, food deprivation, being chained up by wrists and ankles, and — especially — forced self-criticism and repetition of slogans.
  • “You have to criticize yourself, denounce your thinking — your own ethnic group,” said Omir Bekali, a Kazakhstan citizen who had lived in China previously, then visited Xinjiang and was “detained for eight months last year without recourse.”
  • “In four-hour sessions, instructors lectured about the dangers of Islam and drilled internees with quizzes that they had to answer correctly or be sent to stand near a wall for hours on end,” Bekali and other detainees reported.
  • The camps require chanting of “Thank the Party! Thank the Motherland! Thank President Xi!” before meals, and repeated chanting of “We will oppose extremism, we will oppose separatism, we will oppose terrorism” during study sessions.
  • Imagine this kind of required Party slogan repetition and self-criticism sessions applied to all of China, not just Muslims in Xinjiang, and you have a core part of theCultural Revolution.
  • This corroborates earlier reporting done by Shih; check out this Sinica Podcast episode for a discussion of his time in Xinjiang and links to his previous reports.
  • Omir Bekali and Kayrat Samarkand, both Kazakh Muslims detained and released in the last year, gave their accounts to both Gerry Shih and Simon Denyer at the Washington Post.

Continue reading

LGBT community treads cautiously

Source: Reuters (5/17/18)
China’s LGBT community treads cautiously amid intolerance
By Christian Shepherd

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s LGBT advocates cautiously organized awareness-raising events across the country to celebrate International Anti-Homophobia Day on Thursday amid concern of growing intolerance towards LGBT causes.

One of the events was a 5.17 km run to raise awareness and celebrate the May 17 anniversary of the day in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from a list of diseases.

But organizers told participants to run on their own and not en masse.

An organizer of the runs held in Beijing, Liu Yifu, told Reuters that they did not dare to stage any mass events in the capital this year for fear that proceedings might be interrupted by the authorities. Continue reading

Women’s favorite Internet works

Source:Global Times (4/23/18)
Women’s favorite Internet works

Gu Jianyu Photo: Courtesy of China Literature

What books she likes to read, what TV dramas she likes to watch, what movies she likes to talk about on her WeChat Moments page or on Sina Weibo… Women are not just initiators of hot social topics, but also the driving force behind a plethora of IPs ranging from TV series and movies to books. Their hobbies also have a major impact on what IPs are adapted to other mediums.

Considering this massive influence, China Literature, one of the biggest Internet publishers in China, released a list of the 10 most popular Internet literature works among women in China at an IP salon on Wednesday. Continue reading

China blocks earthquake memorial service (1)

One can compare what Charlene Makley wrote about the statist ‘spectacle of compassion’ and how Tibetan buddhists’ contributions were curtailed and obscured after the earthquake:

Charlene Makley (2014). “Spectacular Compassion: ‘Natural’ Disasters And National Mourning In China’s Tibet.” Critical Asian Studies, 46:3, 371-404, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2014.935132

Magnus Fiskesjö <>

China blocks earthquake memorial service

Source: NYT (5/12/18)
China Blocks a Memorial Service to Sichuan Earthquake Victims
查看简体中文版 | 查看繁體中文版
By Chris Buckley

Attendees on Saturday marked a minute of silence in front of the former Xuankou Middle School, destroyed in the 2008 earthquake.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIJING — On the 10th anniversary of China’s deadliest earthquake in decades, the police on Saturday detained an outspoken pastor and blocked a planned service to mourn the 70,000 or more people killed when whole towns and villagers were crushed.

The anniversary of the earthquake, which rippled across Sichuan Province in southwest China on May 12, 2008, has been a time of renewed mourning for survivors, while the ruling Communist Party has used the date to praise China’s reconstruction of devastated areas. Continue reading

After-shocks of the 2008 earthquake

Source: NY Review of Books (May 9, 2018)
After-Shocks of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake
By Ian Johnson

Ruins from one of the most significant earthquakes in Chinese history, pictured a month before the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, Beichuan county, Mianyang, Sichuan, China, April 5, 2018. VCG/VCG via Getty Images

The province of Sichuan is a microcosm of China. Its east is flat, prosperous, and densely settled by ethnic Chinese. Its mountainous west is populated by poorer minorities, but possesses resources that help make the east rich.

In Sichuan, the highlands’ bounty is water and silt, which rush down from the Tibetan Plateau to the plains below through an ingenious set of irrigation waterworks at the town of Dujiangyan. Soon after this system was built, some 2,300 years ago, the intensive agriculture that it made possible turned the region into one of China’s economic dynamos, producing so much wealth that it helped the first emperor of China consolidate numerous fragmented states into one powerful realm. Continue reading

Anger over earthquake-themed model photo shoot

Source: SCMP (5/9/18)
Anger over Sichuan earthquake-themed model photo shoot
Organisers cancel event after criticism of plans to take pictures of models amid rubble to mark the 10th anniversary of the disaster that killed 69,000 in southwest China
By Keegan Elmer

A file picture of a memorial to the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Photo: Simon Song

A social media channel in China has been strongly criticised online for promoting a photo shoot with attractive models on the theme of the Sichuan earthquake, a newspaper reported.

The channel on the messaging app WeChat invited photographers to pay 999 yuan (US$157) to take pictures during the shoot called “Blooms in the Rubble”, marking the 10th anniversary of the disaster, Beijing Morning Post reported. Continue reading

Brain-reading technology

Source: SCMP (4/29/18)
‘Forget the Facebook leak’: China is mining data directly from workers’ brains on an industrial scale
Government-backed surveillance projects are deploying brain-reading technology to detect changes in emotional states in employees on the production line, the military and at the helm of high-speed trains
By Stephen Chen

Deayea, a technology company in Shanghai, says its brain monitoring devices are worn regularly by train drivers working on the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line. Photo: Deayea Technology

On the surface, the production lines at Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric look like any other.

Workers outfitted in uniforms staff lines producing sophisticated equipment for telecommunication and other industrial sectors.

But there’s one big difference – the workers wear caps to monitor their brainwaves, data that management then uses to adjust the pace of production and redesign workflows, according to the company. Continue reading

Queer Comrades

Bao, Hongwei. Queer Comrades: Gay Identity and Tongzhi Activism in Postsocialist China. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2018.

• First book on gay identity and queer activism in the PRC examined from a cultural studies perspective.
• An interdisciplinary project that combines historical and critical analysis of queer cultural texts and ethnographic studies of queer public culture in urban China.
• Offers keen insights on identity, power and governmentality in China. Continue reading