Whose New Year Is It Anyway? (1)

It’s actually not just about Chinese and Koreans! In Sydney, the city renamed the whole thing Lunar New Year. In Sweden, I contributed to getting the Asia-related museums in Stockholm change the name of the holiday the same way, to “lunar” — to block the Chinese embassy’s attempt to monopolize and politicize the holiday. Hopefully many other places are doing the same.

Are there other examples from around the world?

Magnus Fiskesjö < nf42@cornell.edu>

Whose New Year Is It Anyway?

Source: Language Log (1/23/23)
Whose New Year is it anyway?
From Alex Baumans

The struggle for cultural priority, supremacy, and naming between China and Korea is perennial:  fishing nets, printing with metal movable type, kimchi….  Now it’s over the lunar new year that is currently being celebrated.

NewJeans’ Danielle apologizes for calling the ‘Lunar New Year’ ‘Chinese New Year’
By Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/21/23)

Chinese netizens terrorize the Instagrams of Korean celebrities who gave lunar new year greetings, including IVE’s Wonyoung and CL
By Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/22/23)

Might be better to avoid the orthological controversy altogether and just refer to it as the Lunar New Year. Continue reading

Warning for the world (3)

Read in ebook this memory of an old lady worried about Hong Kong’s future after having lived a longtime in People’s China, until 1971. Perry Link’s criticism against self-fiction, writing that this is more a novel than an history book, has its points: but even in fake memories you find a lot of truth. Probably she reconstructs a lot, attributing to Zhou Enlai or Zhou Yang sentences that they never pronounced, but she was a good listener, as the title mentions, and she had to destroy previous manuscripts to avoid being purged.

So what?

Silvia Calamandrei < scalamandrei51@gmail.com>

Anger at failure to protect elderly

Happy new year. This sad news, fwd by Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

Source: Japan Times (1/21/23)
Chinese who lost relatives to COVID angry at failure to protect elderly

Beijing resident Zhang, 66, who has lost four people close to him since early December as COVID-19 cases spiked in China, at the Forbidden City in Beijing on Jan. 13. | REUTERS

Beijing resident Zhang, 66, who has lost four people close to him since early December as COVID-19 cases spiked in China, at the Forbidden City in Beijing on Jan. 13. | REUTERS

BEIJING – Former high school teacher Ailia was devastated when her 85-year-old father died after displaying COVID-like symptoms as the virus swept through their hometown in the southeastern province of Jiangxi.

While her father was never tested, Ailia and her mother were both confirmed positive around the same time and she believes that COVID-19 was a cause in his death.

As hundreds of millions of Chinese travel to reunite with families for the Lunar New Year holiday, many will do so after mourning relatives who died in the COVID-19 wave that has raged across the world’s most populous country.

For many, bereavement is mixed with anger over what they say was a lack of preparation to protect the elderly before China suddenly abandoned its “zero-COVID” policy in December after nearly three years of testing, travel restrictions and lockdowns. Continue reading

Xi Jinping invites you to a video call

Source: China Digital Times (1/19/23)
Xi Jinping Invites You to a Video Call
Posted by 

A screenshot of the video call shows a color photo of Xi Jinping against a red background, a green "incoming phone call" icon, and the Chinese message: "Xi Jinping Invites You To A Video Call."

A screenshot of the video call shows a color photo of Xi Jinping against a red background, a green “incoming phone call” icon, and the Chinese message: “Xi Jinping Invites You To A Video Call.”

A novel propaganda method—a “video call” from Xi Jinping delivering Lunar New Year’s well-wishes—inspired titters after China Central Television (CCTV) shared it on Weibo. The Weibo link sent users to a faux WeChat incoming call page notably lacking a “reject call” button. Clicking “answer” pulled up a short video of Xi’s recent livestream address to grassroots cadres, spliced with shots of rapt audiences around the country applauding his speech. Less a phone call than a directive from on high, the video was met with mockery online, forcing CCTV’s Weibo page to lock and censor the comment section. CDT captured and translated a selection of comments before they were erased:

ihc3sqw:Straight out of “Ring” [A Japanese horror film in which mysterious phone calls play an important role.]

whyworld:Just watched the video. What stylish packaging. They didn’t even pretend to have someone on the line with him. The point being that our only role is to listen.

华国锋 [The username is “Hua Guofeng,” Mao’s oft-forgotten successor who proclaimed a “Two Whatevers” policy, following whatever Mao did and whatever Mao said.]:Xi Jinping must seize control over the economy. We all believe in your ability—whatever you control will surely go up in smoke.

啪啪啪WN:Hello, Piggy. If Tencent could be bothered to reintroduce the “end call” button, that would be nice. I do not wish to speak with you, thanks. Scram.

YiiPerona:Who the fuck started this “Xi Jinping invites you to a video call” thing? My first belly laugh of 2023. [Chinese] Continue reading

The year 2022 in censorship

Source: China Digital Times (1/12/23)
The Year 2022 in Censorship: A Selection from the ‘404 Archive’
Posted by 

The ten censored essays collected below are a first draft of an unauthorized history of the extraordinary year 2022, compiled by CDT Chinese editors. Toward the end of the year, discontent over the zero-COVID policy burgeoned into contention over the Party’s right to rule. In 2015, the journalist Jiang Xue, whose essay “Ten Days in Chang’an” heads the list below, told an interviewer, “I’m not a particularly brave person, but I can weigh my choices and decide what cost I’m willing to bear for the sake of freedom and independent expression.” This past year, tens of thousands across China joined Jiang Xue in “weighing their choices” and decided to risk grave danger to voice their opinions. Censorship was but the first punishment many of the authors below were willing to endure as the price of speaking up. Arranged together, the essays are modest rather than incendiary, still less revolutionary: a pandemic diary, a compilation of visual art, a list of those who died during Shanghai’s lockdown, an archive of 33 attempts to disguise a censored video, a report on a bank depositor, a poem about cicadas, a policy proposal, a cri de coeur, a list of 10 questions, and a photo essay of a vigil. None passed censors’ muster. These essays are not the “most censored” essays of the year, but rather a selection of notable pieces that were scrubbed from the web. A selection of each has been excerpted and translated into English below. Continue reading

Demographic crisis

Source: NYT (1/16/23)
China’s Population Falls, Heralding a Demographic Crisis
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Deaths outnumbered births last year for the first time in six decades. Experts see major implications for China, its economy and the world.
By Alexandra Stevenson and Zixu Wang

Children playing in the village square after school in Xiasha Village in Shenzhen, China, in November.

Children playing in the village square after school in Xiasha Village in Shenzhen, China, in November. Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times

HONG KONG — The world’s most populous country has reached a pivotal moment: China’s population has begun to shrink, after a steady, yearslong decline in its birthrate that experts say is irreversible.

The government said on Tuesday that 9.56 million people were born in China last year, while 10.41 million people died. It was the first time deaths had outnumbered births in China since the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s failed economic experiment that led to widespread famine and death in the 1960s.

Chinese officials have tried for years to slow down the arrival of this moment, loosening a one-child policy and offering incentives to encourage families to have children. None of those policies worked. Now, facing a population decline, coupled with a long-running rise in life expectancy, the country is being thrust into a demographic crisis that will have consequences not just for China and its economy but for the world.

Over the last four decades, China emerged as an economic powerhouse and the world’s factory floor. The country’s evolution from widespread poverty to the world’s second-largest economy led to an increase in life expectancy that contributed to the current population decline — more people were living longer while fewer babies were being born. Continue reading

Unpaid ‘Zero Covid’ workers

Source: NYT (1/16/23)
China’s Latest Source of Unrest: Unpaid ‘Zero Covid’ Workers
Companies that reaped windfalls helping the government implement strict ‘zero Covid’ controls are now struggling to pay and keep workers.
By David PiersonKeith Bradsher and 


Videos verified by The Times showed tense standoffs between workers and the police at Covid test kit factories this month.

After China’s abrupt reversal of “zero Covid” restrictions, the nation’s vast machinery of virus surveillance and testing collapsed, even as infections and deaths surged. Now, the authorities face another problem: Angry pandemic-control workers demanding wages and jobs.

In the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, hundreds of workers locked in a pay dispute with a Covid test kit manufacturer hurled objects at police officers in riot gear, who held up shields as they retreated. Standing on stocks of inventory, protesters kicked and tossed boxes of rapid antigen tests on to the ground, sending thousands of tests spilling.

In the eastern city of Hangzhou, witnesses said several workers climbed on the roof of a test kit factory and threatened to jump to protest unpaid furloughs. And at a separate test manufacturing plant in the city, workers protested for days over a wage dispute.

The unrest this month highlights a little-noticed aspect of the social and economic fallout from China’s “zero Covid” policy U-turn. Mass testing was a cornerstone of China’s strategy of isolating the virus before it could spread. But Covid testing of any sort is no longer in high demand. Companies that manufactured test kits and analyzed results in a lab are seeing their revenues plummet, leading to layoffs and pay cuts for their workers. One report suggested that mass testing in large cities accounted for about 1.3 percent of China’s economic output. Continue reading

Warning for the World (1)

Dear MCLC:

Any book that, in the face of the CCP’s current campaign to erase memory of the horrors of late Maoism, should be championed. So good for Alexandra Stevenson in drawing attention to Yuan-tsung Chen’s new book.

But as history the book is seriously flawed.  When the publishers at Oxford wrote me many months ago for a blurb, I read the manuscript and advised that they publish it as fiction. Yuan-tsung Chen had already published good historical fiction (The Dragon’s Village), and this could be presented that way. But I could not blurb for it as history, I wrote.

I was surprised to receive the finished book and to see that an acknowledgment had been added: “Thanks also go to Andrew Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and Perry Link, Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University and Chancellorial Chair Professor for Teaching Across Disciplines at the University of California, Riverside, for their encouragement.” Simply not true.  I had not encouraged.

In the book, Ms. Chen writes about how she met Zhou Enlai by chance, when she was just a teenager, and how that was enough for him to remember her many years later, and to have had a secret crush on her.  She writes also how Zhou Yang confided his worries about persecuting Hu Feng with her, a twenty-something-year-old outsider in Beijing, while Zhou remained reluctant to confide in others. How much more credible are these recollections, I have to wonder, than her quite false “acknowledgement” that I encouraged her? Continue reading

Warning for the world

Source: NYT (1/13/23)
She Witnessed Mao’s Worst Excesses. Now She Has a Warning for the World.
At 93, the memoirist Yuan-tsung Chen hopes that her recollections of China’s tumultuous past will help the country confront its historical wrongs — and avoid repeating them.
By Alexandra Stevenson

The author Yuan-tsung Chen at her home in Hong Kong in July. Her latest book is “The Secret Listener: An Ingenue in Mao’s Court.”

The author Yuan-tsung Chen at her home in Hong Kong in July. Her latest book is “The Secret Listener: An Ingenue in Mao’s Court.” Credit…Anthony Kwan for The New York Times

HONG KONG — Yuan-tsung Chen, an author, leaned forward in an oversize velvet chair to tell the story of the man so hungry that he ate himself.

Once, that tale had seemed unbelievable to her. “I thought that was an exaggeration,” she said. But living in a village during the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s calamitous attempt to catapult China into communist plenty in the late 1950s, changed her view on what extreme hunger could drive people to actually do.

“It wasn’t anyone’s exaggeration, it was as true as real life, but nobody would say it,” Ms. Chen said, recalling the desperation and starvation caused by Mao’s experiment. Historians estimate that up to 45 million people died over the course of five years.

Now, sitting at a restaurant in one of Hong Kong’s most opulent hotels, Ms. Chen, 93, says she has a warning for the world.

Having lived through one of the most tumultuous periods in China’s recent history, Ms. Chen disputes the Communist Party’s sanitized version of its past and worries it has allowed it to continue making mistakes with global consequences. Continue reading

Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall

Source: China Digital Times (1/6/23)
Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall, November-December 2022: “Zero-Covid is Over, But I’m Afraid to Go Out”

Nearly three years after whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang’s death from COVID-19, the “Wailing Wall” that emerged in the comments section under his last Weibo post continues to serve as a repository for the hopes, dreams, worries, and opinions of countless Chinese citizens. CDT editors regularly collect and archive Wailing Wall content, including the selection of comments translated below.

In November, visitors to the Wailing Wall talked about long lockdowns in Xinjiang and elsewhere, a fatal fire in Urumqi (in which COVID barriers prevented firefighters from quickly extinguishing the blaze and rescuing residents), gatherings to mourn the victims of the fire, and nationwide protests that broke out soon afterward and morphed into a referendum on political repression.

After police cracked down and arrested many of the protesters, many Wailing Wall visitors implored Dr. Li to “protect the children,” referring to the young people demonstrating by chanting slogans and holding up blank white pieces of A4 paper. Others referenced the death of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin and the attendant mourning period that followed the protests.

On December 7, the National Health Commission released ten new COVID guidelines, effectively putting an end to China’s long-running “zero-COVID” policy. The announcement inspired a flood of comments on Dr. Li’s Wailing Wall, and CDT ran a special feature: Wailing Wall Special Edition: The Turning Point.

Throughout December, large numbers of Wailing Wall commenters discussed the wave of Omicron infections sweeping the nation, fretted about the government’s lack of preparation, and shared personal stories about illness, overwhelmed hospitals, backed-up morgues and crematoriums, and shortages of medicines and home test kits. Many commenters seemed eager to leave the past three years behind, and embark on a better year in 2023. Continue reading


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

Clambering for government jobs

Source: NYT (1/2/23)
China’s Young Elite Clamber for Government Jobs. Some Come to Regret It.
With youth unemployment high, millions will take this month’s Civil Service exam. But for those who get jobs, the reality can be monotonous work that blurs the line with personal lives.
By Claire Fu

Several long lines of people outside, most wearing medical masks.

Applicants lining up to take the national Civil Service exam in Wuhan, China, in November 2021. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Beijing and cities across China, as many as 2.6 million job applicants, including graduates from the country’s top universities, will report to testing centers in early January to face exceedingly long odds and compete for 37,100 entry-level government jobs.

The national exam is an annual rite for young Chinese, some of whom spend thousands of dollars for prep classes and many hours cramming for it. It comes at a fraught time. It was supposed to be given in early December, then was canceled at the last minute. The government cited Covid-19 lockdowns, but the exam was postponed days after protests in more than a dozen cities against China’s severe pandemic restrictions.

Jobs in China’s vast Civil Service have long been considered prestigious launching pads for a career. They include entry-level roles typical in any economy, like clerks in municipal government, and some that are unique to China, such as assisting in the country’s extensive censorship bureaucracy.

But these days the jobs are also coveted out of necessity, because it’s especially hard for new graduates to find employment at private companies. Continue reading

Tragic Battle

Source: NYT (12/27/22)
‘Tragic Battle’: On the Front Lines of China’s Covid Crisis
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Medical staff are outnumbered and working sick as the nation’s health care system buckles under the strain of a spiraling crisis.
By Isabelle Qian and 


Overwhelmed and understaffed, hospitals in China are struggling with a crush of Covid patients whose numbers are growing since Beijing dropped pandemic restrictions. CreditCredit…Associated Press

Slumped in wheelchairs and lying on gurneys, the sickened patients crowd every nook and cranny of the emergency department at the hospital in northern China. They cram into the narrow spaces between elevator doors. They surround an idle walk-through metal detector. And they line the walls of a corridor ringing with the sounds of coughing.

China’s hospitals were already overcrowded, underfunded and inadequately staffed in the best of times. But now with Covid spreading freely for the first time in China, the medical system is being pushed to its limits.

The scenes of desperation and misery at the Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, captured on one of several videos examined by The New York Times, reflects the growing crisis. Even as Covid cases rise, health workers on the front lines are also battling rampant infections within their own ranks. So many have tested positive for the virus in some hospitals that the remaining few say they are forced to do the job of five or more co-workers.

To ensure enough staff members are on the floor, some facilities have given up requiring doctors and nurses to test themselves before work. One doctor in the central city of Wuhan said her hospital’s staff had been so depleted that a neurosurgeon in her department recently had to perform two operations in one day while fighting symptoms of Covid. Continue reading