Essays

The Chinese ‘alt-left’ who support Trump’s alt-right

How Trump still has fans among social conservatives in China – Alec Ash

“To change a president is common; to change an era is very rare.” So wrote Li Ziyang (李子暘), a 43-year old self-described Chinese nationalist and “self-media” opinion influencer, at 6:24pm on November 9, 2016, Beijing time, when Donald Trump’s electoral victory was secure but America was just waking up to discover it. Li was posting on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Sina Weibo, where he has almost 900,000 followers. And as a Chinese supporter of Trump, he was delighted.

“I like Trump because he’s a businessman, not a revolutionary,” Li told me after the election. We were in a Beijing Starbucks, and the Chinese patriot was wearing an Oakland Athletics baseball cap, slurping an Americano. There were three key areas where he was in agreement with Trump’s policy, he said. First: like Trump, Li is anti-immigration, in a Chinese context as much as an American one. Second: he hates social welfare policies, especially for ethnic minorities (“only Trump openly says that’s not all right”). And last: he enjoys giving the liberal Western mainstream a hard time, taking relish in the drumming that Trump doles out to what he, too, calls jia xinwen, “fake news.”

 

General

Three years of the China Channel

We celebrate our birthday, and ten best posts of the last year

Three years ago – on Lu Xun's birthday, in the spirit of his iconoclasm – we launched the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel to fill in the white space of China coverage. Three years later, we are still going strong, publishing reviews, essays, dispatches and podcasts, with a focus on culture and history rather than the news cycle. We want to take this moment to thank you, our readers, for following and supporting us, and making this possible. In these uncertain economic times nothing lasts forever, but we're proud of what we've accomplished over the last three years. Below are ten of our favorite posts from 2020, and do consider donating on Patreon to fund our new translations. Cheers! – The Editors

 

Essays

Mulan: More Hun than Han

James Millward reads the original Mulan poem that inspired Disney’s films

Mulan is not originally a story about a patriotic Chinese woman. It is not a story about self-sacrifice to defend one's country. It is not a thrilling tale of martial valor. It is, rather, a commentary on the fruitlessness of war against people who are more like oneself than different, delivered in the voice of a woman who does her familial duty out of necessity and then chucks her medals and goes home – a war-weary expression of truth to power.

Perhaps because of the barriers to actually seeing the new Mulan remake (thanks to the pandemic and Disney's steep charge of $30 plus a subscription fee to its streaming service), commentary about the new film has been trickling out over a few weeks. The most recent controversy is over the credits: Disney thanks security and political authorities in Turfan (Turpan), Xinjiang, for facilitating their filming in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Disney filmed part of Mulan amidst Turfan's desert scenery well after it was clear that just around the corner were multiple concentration camps inflicting "transformation through education" upon Uyghurs and other Xinjiang indigenous peoples. Hundreds of such camps have been built across the Uyghur region starting in 2017 and were well-reported by the time Disney started filming in 2018.

 

Translated Chinese Fiction

Mo Yan’s translator on his novella Radish

An episode of the Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast

“As the boy's thoughts wandered, the purple and green leaves turned into autumn well water, and then the jute became water, while sparrows skimming the tips of the jute plants were transformed into green kingfishers snapping up tiny shrimp from the water's surface.”

In this episode of the Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast, Angus Stewart is joined by translator Lehyla Heward to discuss Mo Yan's novella Radish (透明的红萝卜 Tòumíngde Hóngluóbo). Mo Yan is, of course, a Nobel-winning novelist, author of The Garlic Ballads and Red Sorghum. Read more about his background and career in the long translated essay we published at the China Channel last year. Radish, like much of Mo’s work, is set in Cultural Revolution-era rural China, where a countryside work team is joined by the strange, silent protagonist Hei-hai, who seems indifferent to pain and has an affinity for the titular root. 

 

Essays

Sherlock Holmes and the Curious Case of Several Million Chinese Fans

How Holmes came to China, and a run-in with the Beijing Sherlock Holmes Society – Paul French

China’s long love affair with England’s greatest consulting detective is a mystery worth solving. The BBC hit show Sherlock, which ran from 2010-17, proved a smash with Chinese viewers: 4.72 million viewers watched one episode, eager to find out how Holmes dodged death after plunging off the roof of London’s St. Bart’s Hospital at the end of the previous season. Weibo, China’s Twitter, was filled with chatter about the show by fans of “Curly Fu” and “Peanut” (the nicknames given by Chinese fans to Holmes and Watson, because they sound like the Chinese pronunciation of their names).

The often lumbering behemoth of the BBC indeed showed itself rather fleet of foot in China. Faced with The Case of the Pirate DVD Seller and the Mystery of the Illegal Download Site, Auntie Beeb performed a shrewd deduction of its own by licensing Sherlock (with official Chinese subtitles) to Youku, a Chinese video streaming site, which screened it just hours after its British air time. (Had they waited even a few hours more, they knew, the illegal downloads and bootleg DVDs would have hit the streets.) But why not make it available in China at the same time it airs in Britain? Unlike a good detective mystery, China’s TV bosses don’t like surprise endings: the censors have to check for any anti-China content. This was a big issue in the first episode of season three – Holmes’s return from the dead – and as any good Sherlockian knows he spent the years after his tumble over the Reichenbach Falls in the contentious region of Tibet.

Holmes mania is not new to China, however. Sherlock Holmes was first introduced to Chinese readers in 1896, with translations of four stories appearing in Current Affairs newspaper. So popular were they with readers that in 1916 the Zhonghua Book Company published The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, featuring 44 stories that rendered Conan Doyle’s prose into classical Chinese (文言文 wenyanwen).