China Conversation

Zhou Xun: Historian and Academic

In conversation with Jonathan Chatwin

Did you always have an interest in Chinese history?

My first degree was actually nothing to do with history; it was in librarianship, which has been hugely useful in preparing me to do archival research – I walk straight into the archives and know where to start! When I came to the UK, my academic interest was more around the history of religion, in particular Judaism. Through that I met a group of Jewish people who were born in Manchuria and became interested in their story. I initially wanted to pursue a PhD on the subject, but as I started, I changed my mind as I came across a vast amount of material on Chinese perception of the Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries; it was this that really began my interest in modern Chinese history.

Q&A

Gods of China Past and Present

Kevin McGeary talks to Xueting Christine Ni about Chinese deities

What drew you to the topic of Chinese deities? How are they unique compared to other cultures?

There are very few books in English on the subject that are accessible and at the same time provide sufficient depth. It tends to be either academic research or glib guides that merely skim the surface. Chinese spirituality is one of the best facets through which Western readers can understand China’s society. Its observation and practice have completely integrated with China’s social customs and everyday life, and are also very much linked to broader economic and political developments in history.  Chinese gods have evolved through centuries, from multiple belief systems, some indigenous like Confucian philosophy and Daoism, others foreign, such as Buddhism and even Persian religions. Not to mention the 56 officially-recognized ethnic groups in this vast country, each with their own languages, cultures and beliefs. This process is only really possible in a climate unique to China, and is one of the reasons why Chinese spirituality is so diverse. Whilst there are many unique elements, it’s by no means alien to anyone on the outside, and I do think that letting people in on this subject is a key for better understanding.

Essay

Bill Clinton Never Said “Butchers of Beijing”

How an iconic phrase was misattributed for thirty years – Zachary Haver

Then-candidate Bill Clinton criticizing President George H.W. Bush for coddling the “butchers of Beijing” remains one of the most striking moments of the 1992 US election. This denunciation was so biting it continues to receive media attention today. You can find the quote in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and just about any other news organization ranging from the mainstream to Breitbart. It appears in the writings of former secretaries of State, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, influential scholars and conservative firebrands. The phrase even materializes in foreign media on occasion, including in Chinese state-run papers. There is just one problem.

Bill Clinton never said “butchers of Beijing.”

Little Red Podcast

#XiToo

Chinese Feminism and The Party’s Hyper-Masculine Reboot

China is becoming a more unequal place for women, in 2018 slipping for a fifth consecutive year in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap index.  Chairman Mao may have proclaimed that women can hold up half the sky, but the Communist party under Xi Jinping holds a far narrower view of female roles, cracking down on feminist activists and backing traditional values.  The impact is economic too, with research showing that being born female in China has a bigger impact on your earnings than any other variable, including family wealth. This month, Louisa and Graeme are joined by two experts on the origins of China's gender divide, Leta Hong Fincher, who's just published a book called Betraying Big Brother and economist Jane Golley from the Australian National University.

Interview

Jenny Zhang’s Female Gaze

Sour Heart author talks to Karen Cheung about epic domesticity and the politics of taste

Days before Jenny Zhang’s scheduled readings in Hong Kong, I stumbled upon a list she had curated of her favorite things on the internet: it was, I’m sure, the only time I’ll ever see our homegirl Faye Wong on a list with Frank O’Hara. I find out from the same article that Zhang has a habit of texting her friends during poetry readings: “HELP SOS CALL 911 ALERT THE COAST GUARDS GET ME OUTTA HERE.” Sometimes she does this at her own readings. Zhang’s poems struck me as best experienced not live but on the page: there are short forms, lowercases, punctuation marks gone awry, poetic misspellings, as if you were reading the intimate diary of an unsettlingly wise and eloquent teenager. With her sweet, gooey voice and once-pastel colored hair, you’re almost tempted to think of her as a manic pixie dream girl. Except you don’t.