Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals review

MCLC is pleased to announce publication of Els van Dongen’s review of Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals (Columbia UP, 2019), by Sebastian Veg. The review appears below and at its online home: My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals

By Sebastian Veg

Reviewed by Els van Dongen
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright December, 2019)

Sebastian Veg. Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019. ix + 352 pgs. ISBN: 9780231191401 (hardcover); ISBN: 9780231549400 (e-book).

“Traditional Chinese scholar-officials are today known as intellectuals. This is however not merely a change in name—it is a change in essence. In fact, this change is the shift of intellectuals from the center to the margin.”[1] Thus stated the intellectual historian Yü Ying-shih in an article published in the Hong Kong-based journal Twenty-first Century (二十一世纪) in August 1991. According to Yü, along with the transformation of traditional scholars (士) into modern intellectuals (知识分子) following the abolition of the examination system in 1905 came a gradual political, social, and cultural “marginalization” (边缘化). Modern intellectuals became, echoing Karl Mannheim, “free-floating.” This marginalization continued unabated—even intensified—through the Mao era and beyond. With Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour, 1992’s Fourteenth Party Congress, the commercialization of Chinese society, and the emergence of a new media landscape, traditional notions of Chinese scholars as moral saviors and members of a select club of luminaries have been even further transformed and/or subverted. As the philosopher Chen Lai 陈来 observed, in reform-era China, the public appeared to be more captivated by pop idol TV shows such as Super Girl (超级女声) than by the musings of intellectuals.[2] Concurrently, the repression of the Tiananmen demonstrations effectively ended the already shaky alliance between intellectuals and the state, leaving the “Enlightenment” ideals of the 1980s in tatters. Echoing Yü, we might say the early 1990s marked the double marginalization of traditional Chinese academic intellectuals by the state and the market. Hence, what did it mean to be a Chinese intellectual from the 1990s onwards? How did Chinese intellectuals perceive themselves and their relationship with the state and society? How did they adjust their approaches to changing realities? Continue reading

Library officials are burning books

Source: Washington Post (12/9/19)
China’s library officials are burning books that diverge from Communist Party ideology
By Gerry Shih

A portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping passes by a screen showing video of him speaking during a parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing on Oct. 1. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

A portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping passes by a screen showing video of him speaking during a parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of Communist China in Beijing on Oct. 1. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

BEIJING — Library officials in northwest China recently hoped to demonstrate their ideological fervor and loyalty to the Communist Party by purging politically incorrect books and religious materials in emphatic fashion: They burned them.

The book-burning incident, with all its dark historical precedents from this country and Nazi-era Germany, has heightened alarm at a time when Chinese intellectuals see their society tipping further into authoritarianism.

The incident attracted widespread attention Sunday after Chinese social media users noticed a report on the Library Society of China’s website from a library in Zhenyuan county. The library declared it had removed “illegal publications, religious publications and deviant papers and books, picture books and photographs” in an effort to “fully exert the library’s role in broadcasting mainstream ideology.” Continue reading

HK poet Mary Jean Chan wows Britain

Source: SCMP (12/5/19)
How Hong Kong poet Mary Jean Chan is wowing Britain’s literary circles with first collection, Flèche
Since moving to London, Chan has been named among top 10 most influential BAME writers in Britain. In 2017, aged 27, she became youngest shortlisted nominee for Forward Prize for a single poem
By James Kidd

Hong Kong poet Mary Jean Chan at the Forward Arts Prizes 2017, in London, Britain. Photo: Adrian Pope

Hong Kong poet Mary Jean Chan at the Forward Arts Prizes 2017, in London, Britain. Photo: Adrian Pope

The business school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong has not perhaps inspired many poets. But when Mary Jean Chan describes her journey to becoming one of the world’s most promising and admired young writers, she names her decision to leave the business school as a pivotal moment.

“It was desperation really,” she says. “I was in a very bad place bordering on depression. My parents saw that and knew something had to change.”

Talking to 29-year-old Chan a decade later, in her adopted home city of London, it’s hard to believe she enrolled in the first place. Sensitive and thoughtful, she seems the antithesis of a hardbitten banker or financier. “I always knew I didn’t have a talent for numbers. Maths was my worst subject. My parents were taken aback [by her decision to leave]. My teachers wanted to talk about it.” Continue reading

Vol. 31, no. 2 of MCLC

MCLC is pleased to announce the imminent publication of vol. 31, no. 2 (Fall 2019), a special issue on “Reportage and Its Contemporary Variations,” guest edited by Charles Laughlin and Li Guo. Below, find the table of contents, with links to a pdf of the introduction and to abstracts of the esssays. Subscribers will be receiving their copies over the next couple of weeks. If you would like to purchase a copy of this issue, subscribe to the journal, or inquire about the status of an existing subscription, please contact Mario De Grandis (

Kirk Denton, editor

Volume 31, Number 2 (Fall 2019) 

Special Issue on Reportage and its Contemporary Variations
Guest Editors Charles Laughlin and Li Guo


China uses DNA to map faces

Source: NYT (12/4/19)
China Uses DNA to Map Faces, With Help From the West
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Beijing’s pursuit of control over a Muslim ethnic group pushes the rules of science and raises questions about consent.
By Sui-Lee Wee and 

Images from a study in 2013 on 3-D human facial images. Credit…BMC Bioinformatics

TUMXUK, China — In a dusty city in the Xinjiang region on China’s western frontier, the authorities are testing the rules of science.

With a million or more ethnic Uighurs and others from predominantly Muslim minority groups swept up in detentions across Xinjiang, officials in Tumxuk have gathered blood samples from hundreds of Uighurs — part of a mass DNA collection effort dogged by questions about consent and how the data will be used.

In Tumxuk, at least, there is a partial answer: Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to use a DNA sample to create an image of a person’s face. Continue reading

Tibet’s most popular song

Source: SupChina (12/9/19)
Tibet’s Most Popular Song


SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Not much has changed in the political situation of Tibet since the last peak of international attention in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But culturally, Tibet continues to evolve, and it’s worth taking note as Tibetan-influenced music has become more mainstream in China in recent years. Bill McGrath, a scholar of Tibet and Chinese religions, writes on SupChina about the most popular song in Tibet in recent years — “Fly,” by the hip-hop duo ANU:

ANU is a pair of young men from Nangchen County in Yushu Prefecture at the southern tip of Qinghai Province. Payag (巴雅 Bāyǎ) and Gönpa (宫巴 Gōngbā) moved to Beijing after studying art and music in western China and released their first EP, ANU, in 2016. ANU is an abbreviation for Anu Ringluk, which literally means “Youthism.” In the modern world of Tibet, already filled with established -isms such as Buddhism, socialism, and capitalism, ANU provides a fresh sound for a new generation…

“Fly” has already captured the hearts of ANU’s fans in their hometown of Yushu as well as the rest of China. Last year they won an “innovation award” at the Tibetan, Qiang, and Yi Original Music Award Show, and this year they entered the Chinese national stage by competing on the popular TV show Singer 2019. Where will “Fly” take them next?

Click through to SupChina to listen to the song, and other notable selections from ANU’s discography.

TAP Fall 2019

The fall 2019 issue of the Trans Asia Photography Review is now available online at (You may need to refresh your browser to view the new contents.) This issue, titled “Writing Photo Histories,” features the following articles and book reviews:

Writing Photo Histories

Picturing Meishu: Photomechanical Reproductions of Works of Art in Chinese Periodicals before WWII
Yanfei Zhu


The Shanghai Amateur Photographic Society: An Early Photographic Organization Established by Westerners in China
Che Liang Continue reading

Interview with Poet Ye Lijun

Source: Kenyon Review (12/3/19)
Living and Writing in Lishui: Interview with Contemporary Chinese Poet Ye Lijun
Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Cover of My Mountain CountryBorn in 1972 in Lishui, Zhejiang Province to an impoverished family, Ye Lijun [叶丽隽] worked as a junior high art teacher and arts administrator for intangible cultural heritage. The author of three poetry titles, she has received several literary honors in China. Currently, she resides in her native city Lishui where she works as an editor. Her first bilingual volume of poetry My Mountain Country, in Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s translation, is published by World Poetry Books.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain: My Mountain Country is a collection that believes in nature first and foremost. Do you consider yourself a nature poet, if not a contemporary Chinese pastoral poet?

Ye Lijun: I feel and think of myself as a nature poet, not a contemporary Chinese pastoral poet.

Sze-Lorrain: In several instances, your poems hint at our failure to honor nature, or give ourselves up (and in) to it, as we ought to. In “Chronicle of Mount White Cloud,” for example,

Two young clouds leaning close
stir a puddle with naked toes. A mountain breeze
Pine needles feel too soft under my feet
My heart throbs
I don’t know how to walk
to place myself safely in this mountain

Do you think poetry can function as an effective vehicle that raises awareness of our climate changes and problems? Continue reading

Inside the Solomon Islands switch

Source: The Guardian (12/7/19)
When China came calling: inside the Solomon Islands switch
The Pacific nation’s decision to sever ties with Taiwan reverberated around the world and has had far-reaching consequences inside the country
by  in Honiara

Children swim in the Nggela islands, part of the Solomon Islands, which in September made the decision to sever ties with Taiwan and recognise China. Photograph: Edward Cavanough/The Guardian

The market in Auki is a hive of activity. Fisherman offer fresh yellowfin tuna, mackerel and parrot fish, swatting away flies with banana leaves. Stalls are coloured by tropical fruits and the floral dresses of Solomon Islands women who have arrived from villages to sell their produce.

Some of the best produce found in the market, which is located in the capital of the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands, comes from Adaliua Taiwanese Farm, situated three kilometres away. There, plump pawpaw and watermelon grow, surrounded by coconut palms. When the Guardian visits, one man uses his machete to slice a pineapple, using banana leaves as a plate to share the fruit.

But the future of the farm and the jobs it creates was thrown into doubt overnight in September when Manasseh Sogavare, the prime minister of the Solomon Islands announced Honiara would end its 36-year relationship with Taiwan, and officially recognise Beijing. Continue reading

How to survive as a woman at a Chinese banquet

Source: NYT (11/30/19)
How to Survive as a Woman at a Chinese Banquet
Important: Always know when you’re “the girl.”
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
By Yan Ge

[Ms. Yan is the author of 13 books, including, most recently, “The Chilli Bean Paste Clan.”]

Credit…Lisk Feng

A Chinese banquet can be many things, but it is never a gastronomic occasion.

It is more like a sport, one in which the primary goal is to drink a toast with each individual sitting around the table, in a rigid successive order, starting with the most prominent and proceeding clockwise. If that sounds straightforward, it isn’t: Bear in mind that everyone at the table is playing the same game simultaneously, which means just as you’ve homed in on your target and are ready to make your move, he could be raising a toast to another guest, who could very well be looking to drink with someone else.

Other rules: Make sure to turn the shot of baijiu bottoms up with every encounter; say flattering words in your toast, but nothing too flowery; appear cordial and personable; smile, but avoid inappropriate body contact. Finally, while you’re busy circling the table, don’t forget to eat. Continue reading

Literary reference backfires

Source: China Media Project (12/5/19)
by  | Dec 5, 2019

A Literary Reference Backfires

Xianglin Sao in the 1956 film adaptation of Lu Xun’s story.

On December 3, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hu Chunying (华春莹) held a press conference at which a journalist asked about a recent op-ed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published through the US news site POLITICO, in which he said that in light of security concerns over 5G technology “it’s critical that European countries not give control of their critical infrastructure to Chinese tech giants like Huawei, or ZTE.”

Pompeo’s remarks included a range of accusations against Huawei in particular, noting its links to the Chinese military, charges that it engaged in espionage in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Poland, and allegations that it stole intellectual property from countries such as Germany and Israel. Pompeo also pointed to Chinese state subsidies for Huawei as evidence of unfair practices that “undercut prices offered by market-based rivals.” Continue reading

Claims of meddling roil Taiwan elections

Source: NYT (12/6/19)
Claims of China’s Meddling Roil Taiwan Ahead of Elections
A would-be Chinese defector named two Hong Kong executives as acting as a front for Chinese intelligence agencies. The authorities in Taiwan had started tracking them in 2016.
By Steven Lee Myers and Chris Horton

Soldiers at a flag-lowering ceremony at Liberty Square in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, last month. The self-governing island will vote for a new president in January. Credit…Henry Lin/EPA, via Shutterstock

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In December 2016, Xiang Xin, a businessman based in Hong Kong, and his wife asked the government in Taiwan for permission to invest in real estate, as foreigners must do. After a four-month investigation, officials rejected their application.

“Their relationship with China’s People’s Liberation Army was extraordinarily close,” Chang Ming-pin, executive secretary of the commission at Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs that reviews foreign investments, said in an interview. “That complicated things.”

Now Mr. Xiang’s name has surfaced again in a possibly related intrigue. Last month, he was identified at the center of an extraordinary — if still largely unverified — tale of covert operations by China’s military intelligence agencies to undermine democracy in Taiwan. Continue reading

SupChina Student Ambassador Program

SupChina Has Launched A Student Ambassador Program!
DECEMBER 5, 2019

We’ve recently launched a student ambassador program to give you the tools and resources to inform your campus about China-related issues. Help from the ground level of a fast-growing startup and inspire interesting conversation on your campus!


Gain valuable experience for a future career in doing business with China through our student ambassador program at SupChina. You will be the conduit on your campus to drive conversation with various groups and help your campus to become better informed on China from a cultural, political, and economic perspective. Beyond your efforts on campus, you will also have the opportunity to connect and network with fellow student ambassadors across the U.S. and the world. Also you’ll have direct access to our editorial team via slack; successful ambassadors will have the opportunity to pitch articles and be published through SupChina. Continue reading

HK Cinema through a Global Lens MOOC

Thinking about Hong Kong? So are we.

Registration is now open for the next offering of Hong Kong Cinema through a Global Lens, the first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Hong Kong cinema to be produced anywhere in the world. We are proud to remind you that our MOOC was recently named one of “the 10 smartest online courses you can sign up for” by Mental Floss. We invite you to join our educational journey exploring Hong Kong cinema through this award-winning online course. The action begins on February 4, 2020.

Enjoy and engage in conversation on Hong Kong cinema with internationally-recognized film studies scholars Professor Gina Marchetti and Dr. Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park from the HKU Department of Comparative Literature and Dr. Stacilee Ford from the Department of History, the American Studies Program, and the Gender Studies Program at HKU with the creative assistance of HKU TELI (Technology-Enriched Learning Initiative). Share insights with learners with a range of experiences and interests and find out what you have to learn and offer, regardless of how much or how little you know about Hong Kong and its cinematic scene. Continue reading