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Finished films we might never see

Source: The Chna Project (1/20/23)
Finished Chinese films that we might never get to see
From Cultural Revolution dramas to China’s answer to ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ censors have stopped these movies from being screened in China, and many are not available elsewhere either.
By Amarsanaa Battulga

Illustration for the China Project by Derek Zheng

Last week, we introduced The China Project’s ten most anticipated Chinese movies of 2023. With sweeping lockdowns gone and people gradually learning to coexist with COVID-19, the country’s film sector is ready to throw away its crutches and run again.

But not all films — albeit completed — get to participate in this race. For Chinese films aiming for domestic distributions, one of the most crucial qualifying conditions is a greenlight from the China Film Administration(CFA), which oversees all aspects of filmmaking in the country. Far more long-term and harmful — both creatively and financially — than the COVID-zero policy, the Chinese film censorship is among the strictest in the world and has only gotten more rigid, extensive, and unpredictable in recent years.

It should also be noted that some films are not approved for public screening not necessarily because of their content but because they were at the “wrong” festival or had the “wrong” actor or for other reasons, as you will find out below.

Here are ten recent Chinese films — out of many more — that might never see the light of the day. Continue reading

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
By MARTIN QUIN POLLARD 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 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

A tragedy pushed to the shadows (1)

Very interesting book excerpt by Tani Branigan.

I think it is important to distinguish between the sent down youth, many of whom believed in Mao or tried to believe and often want credit for it, and, on the other hand, the victims persecuted, hurt and killed by Mao’s forces, including by the youth who followed Mao’s commands during the CR.

In my article on the museums and memorials created by former sent-down youth, I noted how in contrast, every attempt to create a museum for the victims has been blocked or quashed:

Bury Me With My Comrades: Memorializing Mao’s Sent-Down Youth.” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Volume 16, Issue 14, Number 4 (July 15, 2018).

I was just in Cambodia. With the decisive break they have made with Pol Pot — in contrast to China’s holding on to Mao — they do have memorials to the victims of Pol Pot and his Mao-inspired Cambodian Communism. One can only hope that China too will be able to face its own modern history.

Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

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

A tragedy pushed to the shadows

Source: The Guardian (1/19/23)
A tragedy pushed to the shadows: the truth about China’s Cultural Revolution
It is impossible to understand China without understanding this decade of horror, and the ways in which it scarred the entire nation. So why do some of that era’s children still look back on it with fondness?
By

University teachers from Tsinghua and Beijing working to reinforce a dyke during the Cultural Revolution.

University teachers from Tsinghua and Beijing working to reinforce a dyke during the Cultural Revolution. Photograph: Chronicle/Alamy

From a distance, you might have mistaken them for teenagers, though they were in late middle age. It wasn’t just the miniskirts and heels on their slim frames, or the ponytails and flaming lipstick, but the girlish way the women held hands, stroked arms, massaged shoulders, smoothed sleeves and straightened bag straps, giddy with affection. Their makeup was heavy, with boldly pencilled brows, and their long hair tinted black or dyed brassy blond – recreating a youth that had never been theirs to enjoy.

Auntie Huang was wistful as we watched a couple of students stroll past in the grounds of Chongqing University, green with palms and willows and great thickets of bamboo. We had made ourselves at home in a little pavilion set upon the lake.

“Just like today’s young people, I wanted to do many things, like go to university, but I couldn’t,” she told me. “I was 18. I felt there was no hope. We had no hope at all. One person would cry and then everyone would start. It was dejection. Despair.”

In late 1968, the train and bus stations of Chinese cities filled with sobbing adolescents and frightened parents. The authorities had decreed that teenagers – deployed by Mao Zedong as the shock troops of the Cultural Revolution – were to begin new lives in the countryside. A tide of youth swept towards impoverished villages. Auntie Huang and her friends were among them. Seventeen million teenagers, enough to populate a nation of their own, were sent hundreds of miles away, to places with no electricity or running water, some unreachable by road. The party called it “going up to the mountains and down to the countryside”, indicating its lofty justification and the humble soil in which these students were to set down roots. Some were as young as 14. Many had never spent a night away from home. Continue reading

New year censorship crackdown

Source: The Guardian (1/19/23)
China announces lunar new year censorship crackdown to silence Covid ‘rumours’first”
Plan to target ‘gloomy sentiments’ across festival period comes as independent health forecasters estimate over 600,000 deaths from Covid
By  in Taipei

Chinese paramilitary police wear face masks outside the entrance to the Beijing Railway Station

Police wear face masks outside the entrance to the Beijing Railway Station. Chinese authorities have announced an online crack down on Covid “rumours” across lunar new year Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Chinese cyber authorities have announced an internet censorship crackdown to ensure there are no “gloomy sentiments” caused by pandemic “rumours” during the lunar new year festival.

It comes as health forecasting firm Airfinity estimated more than 600,000 people have likely died since zero-Covid restrictions were lifted in December – 10 times more than Chinese authorities have officially declared.

The month-long “Spring Festival online improvement” program will target those spreading what authorities deem to be “rumours” about the spread of Covid and patient experiences.

The national cyber administration specified “in-depth rectification of false information and other issues to prevent gloomy sentiments”. 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

Bird Talk review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Chris Song’s review of Bird Talk and Other Stories by Xu Xu, translated with commentary by Frederik H. Green. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/chris-song/. My thanks to Michael Hill, MCLC translation/translation studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

Bird Talk and Other Stories by Xu Xu:
Modern Tales of a Chinese Romantic

By Xu Xu
Translated with commentary by Frederik H. Green


Reviewed by Chris Song
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January, 2023)


Bird Talk and Other Stories by Xu Xu. Translated with commentary by Frederik H. Green. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2020. 256 pp. ISBN: 9781611720556 (paper).

Despite immense popularity in Republican Shanghai and postwar Hong Kong, Xu Xu 徐訏 (1908–1980) remains an under-studied modern Chinese writer. Frederik H. Green’s research endeavor over the past two decades, however, has reminded the field of Xu Xu’s fiction, poetry, essays, and other literary activities. Green’s unrelenting efforts have been brought to fruition with the publication of Bird Talk and Other Stories. The book opens with Green’s introduction, which details Xu Xu’s life and works; collects five stories that Green selected and translated into English; and concludes with Green’s commentary on Xu Xu’s postwar fiction. The selection of stories reflects Green’s emphasis on the transformative (neo-)romantic sensibility that spanned Xu Xu’s entire literary career. The book not only reintroduces an ingenious author to the forgetful readership of modern Chinese literature but also makes an insightful contribution to the study of Hong Kong literature and other cultural productions during the Cold War. I shall refrain here from translation criticism and from reiterating Green’s able summary of each story. Instead, I discuss Green’s study of Xu Xu’s stories in the context of what he calls “transnational romanticism” (200), a concept that drove his selection and translation, and consider how Green’s illustration of this idea with Xu Xu’s stories might inspire new understandings of postwar Hong Kong literature. 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 

Cinemagraph

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

10 most anticipated Chinese movies of 2023

Source: The China Project (1/13/23)
10 most anticipated Chinese movies of 2023
With the COVID-zero policy out of the picture, 2023 promises to be a busy year for Chinese cinema.
By Amarsanaa Battulga

Full River Red

2022 was not a great year for Chinese cinema — nor were 2021 and 2020: Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, China’s zero-tolerance approach to the virus kept cinemas closed, with frequent lockdowns confining filmgoers to their homes for extended periods of time.

Fearing low audience turnout and subsequent revenue loss, distributors repeatedly postponed film releases in the past three years. The result was a lack of new titles in general, particularly good ones. In 2022, China relinquished its box office crown to North America, raking in $4.35 billion, a drop of 36% from 2021, according to industry data tracker Maoyan Entertainment.

Although the pandemic-related restrictions have been largely lifted since December, moviegoers have remained reluctant to visit cinemas as infections surged across the country. But as the first wave of infections subside, studios are now rushing to meet the pent-up demand for new big-screen releases.

Below, The China Project has rounded up 10 Chinese movies we’re most looking forward to in 2023. 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

Whitewashing China’s record on Covid

Source: China Media Project (1/9/23)
Whitewashing China’s Record on Covid
An official commentary published yesterday in the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper is one of the more egregious efforts to date to present China’s handling of the pandemic over the past three years as evidence of strong global leadership.
By David Bandurski

Images by Gauthier Delacroix available at Flickr.com under CC license.

China’s leaders have been at pains in recent days to defend their handling of Covid-19 in the face of tough criticism both at home and abroad, with cases soaring and concerns rising among international experts and foreign governments that China is under-reporting cases and fiddling with the facts — the type of obfuscation, it could be said, that got the world into this mess in the first place.

Published yesterday in the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, the latest official commentary from “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view, is one of the more egregious examples of how determined CCP leaders are to present their handling of the pandemic over three years as evidence of strong global leadership. Continue reading