Barbarians at the Gate

China’s Education Ambitions

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this new episode of the Barbarians at the Gate podcast, Jeremiah Jenne and David Moser delve into the Chinese education system, focusing on the evolution of China’s universities. Starting with Trump’s recent ill-advised (and quickly rescinded) executive order to cancel the F-1 visas of a substantial number of 370,000 Chinese students studying in the US, the discussion moves to China’s multi-billion-dollar effort to enhance the soft power attraction of its universities by building world-class research institutes and recruiting top foreign academic talent. Jeremiah and David explore China’s experimentation with new education formats, the ongoing revisions to the gaokao college entrance examination, and the so-called “creativity problem” of the Chinese educational tradition:

Chinese Corner

Learning Chinese

FAQ and tips for those seeking to study Mandarin

We're back from summer break, and in anticipation of the new academic year to come (albeit a socially-distanced one for much of the world) we're giving some tips on Chinese learning. Whether you're looking to pick up Chinese, or brush it up, here are some pointers. – Alec Ash

First things first. How long will it take me to learn Chinese?

If you are living in China, two years full-time study is enough to get good conversational Chinese from scratch, as well as basic reading and writing. That is, you will be able to hold a conversation about pretty much any non-specialist topic, as well as write and read texts and emails – i.e. you can operate in Chinese, albeit awkwardly. Even part-time study for a couple of years in China will give you a good enough foundation to build on with self-study after. If you’re learning outside of China, double that time to get the same results. Being immersed in the language environment is a huge boon.


2020 China Books

2020 China Books (Part 4): History, Art, Literature

A fourth list of new China books – compiled by Brian Spivey

We have arrived at the fourth and final part of our 2020 China Books series (also read parts one, two, and three), showcasing books about China’s past that came out, or are coming out, in 2020 – and giving their authors, who wrote the blurbs below, an opportunity to suggest why readers might be interested in their book in this current historic moment. Art and culture in various forms features prominently in this list: from the literature of Yan Lianke to the global spread of Chinese antiquities; Chinese cinema to Maoism’s influence on modern and contemporary art; before ending with historical fiction on Ming courtesans, and literary nonfiction on China’s youth.  – Brian Spivey

Barbarians at the Gate

Yaqub Beg’s Western Uprising

The rebel general whose demise led to the provincializing of Xinjiang

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

Muhammad Yaqub Beg (1820-1877) was an adventurer and soldier of fortune who led a massive rebellion against the Qing Empire in what is today Western China. From his humble origins as a petty mercenary, he exploited a weakened Qing, carved out a kingdom in the desert and drew the attention of the world's great powers. Ultimately, his rebellion was crushed by Qing forces led by General Zuo Zongtang (of the eponymous chicken dish), and his demise paved the way for the provincializing of Xinjiang by the Qing. In this old episode of Barbarians at the Gate, Jeremiah Jenne and James Palmer look at the life and times of this daring general and what his legacy means for Western China today:


A Song for Hong Kong

A brief history of Hong Kong's protest music – Alec Ash

Hong Kong has long been a city of song. In the 60s and 70s it was the music bars of Wan Chai and the neon-lit karaoke joints of Kowloon. In the 80s and 90s, Cantopop became central to the city’s cultural identity (as well being go-to KTV picks in mainland China, an important form of soft power). After the handover to China in 1997 Cantopop lost its mojo – supplanted by K-Pop – but over the last ten years a new musical form has come to Hong Kong: the protest song.

Song is often married to dissent, from Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939, with its haunting arboreal imagery of lynching, to Bob Dylan’s 1963 ‘Masters of War’ at the height of US-Soviet tensions. In Hong Kong, musicians took up the mantle in response to Beijing’s slow encroachments on their freedoms, from the protest pop of Denise Ho (subject of a New Yorker profile just last year) to the crowd-sourced anthem of last year’s protests (see my LARB piece following a frontline fighter). Now a new security law muscled in by Beijing has muzzled them. To mark the city’s silencing – and in hope that its voice will still be heard – here are personal vignettes of four periods of the city’s recent history, through the prism of three songs and a silent coda.