Hidden History

The Peking Aesthetes

An alienated community of foreigners in interwar Peking – Jeremiah Jenne

In 1935, American scholar George N. Kates settled into a courtyard home in a Peking hutong just north of the Forbidden City.  “No electric light, no wooden floors, no heating apparatus except several cast iron stoves, and no plumbing did I ever install,” he wrote in his memoir The Years That Were Fat: Peking, 1933-1940, which Kates published in 1952 (and which later inspired the title of Chan Koonchung’s sci-fi novel The Fat Years). Long before anyone had coined the term “Hutong Hipster,” Kates and a group of like-minded cultural enthusiasts – dubbed the Peking Aesthetes – were learning Chinese, raising crickets, studying painting from elderly neighbors, and shunning the distractions of the city’s international community. Interwar Peking was a city divided along lines that would not be unfamiliar to foreign residents of Peking almost a century later.

Translation

Searching for Bodies

New reportage by Ma Jinyu, translated by Kate Costello

This is a translation of an article from One-Way Street magazine, with their support, translated by and published in collaboration with Paper Republic; it was made possible by Sinocism and individual supporters of China Channel on Patreon.

On October 11th, the village hosted a big show. This was always the most lively time of year in the village. Stalls selling mutton soup, beef meatballs, oil-cakes and hand-shaved noodles crowded around the stage. The steam swirled and the oil-cakes bubbled in their pot, the mutton soup at a rolling boil. The drums of the opening scene pulled at the villagers’ heartstrings, as the soulful arias of ‘Orphan Zhao’ resounded in the heavens. But Old Man Liang shut himself indoors.

For many years Old Man Liang had held back from the village festivities, even though he lived only a dozen meters from the stage. Occasionally, if he walked past the road in front of the stage, the villagers would turn to look back at him, shouting their hellos. He said that he wasn’t willing to participate, but judging by his expression I guessed that it was more likely that he thought that a man of his profession might dampen the mood.

Little Red Podcast

Power Shifts in Xi Jinping’s China

New balances of power, leveraged to the limit

AN EPISODE OF THE LITTLE RED PODCAST

The Chairman of Everything Xi Jinping has emerged from the annual parliamentary meetings facing a rough year ahead.  China's economy is growing at its slowest in nearly three decades, amid a massive trade war and spiralling local debt, with rumblings of discontent from delegates about everything from the Belt and Road Initiative to Made in China 2025.  Louisa and Graeme are joined by Andrew Collier of Orient Capital Research and Ryan Manuel of Hong Kong University, who argue that both political and economic decentralisation is underway, laying Xi vulnerable to forces beyond his control.

Review

China in Africa; Africa in China

Ilaria Maria Sala reviews two books on China’s global reach and appeal

Nearly two decades after the first Forum in China-African Cooperation (FOCAC) took place in Beijing in 2000 – and many years into China’s renewed commitment to expanding abroad both economically and politically – Sino-African relations has become one of the hottest topics in Chinese studies. Initially, the bulk of studies were general overviews, often trying to analyze the relationship China had with the whole continent in one fell swoop. Now, increasingly fascinating case studies are coming to press, providing sharper analytical tools and making a larger body of knowledge available to scholars.

Two new books from University of Chicago Press offer an in-depth look at two highly relevant aspects of this political and economic relationship: The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China’s Global Marketplace by Hong Kong anthropologist Gordon Mathews, and The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa by labor scholar Ching Kwan Lee. 

Dispatch

China’s Anime and Cosplay Obsession

How the rise of “2D culture” helps Chinese teenagers escape pressure and find purpose – Tanner Greer

“Most people have no idea I do this,” said Wu Na, beaming, as costumed conference-goers stopped to take her picture. The 14-year-old was wearing a thin cotton cloak over a knee-length tunic. As I talked to her, a boy walked into the convention hall sporting spiked hair, a neon-purple trench coat, and a bare chest. Like the hundreds of other cosplaying teenagers in the convention hall, he was not going to allow Beijing’s frigid January temperatures to cramp his style. “I have trouble connecting with most other people at school,” Wu reflected. “But in the two-dimensional world there is a sense of community I can’t find anywhere else. My second-dimension friends mean so much more to me than my third-dimension friends do.”

Wu is just one of the hundreds of millions wrapped up in what young Chinese call the “second dimension” (二次元). The closest English parallel is the ACG, or animation-comic-gaming sector, the market’s favorite acronym for a certain class of Japanese pop culture exports: anime, manga, and the merchandise inspired by them. The two-dimensional world Chinese teenagers such as Wu Na live in includes all of these elements, but their self-styled “second dimension” extends further – and is not limited to Japanese ACG, also factoring in anime-styled cartoons drawn in Korea, China and the United States.