My Life of Running Away

The doctor who exposed an HIV scandal in China reflects on a life of exile – Gao Yaojie, trans. Mengyu Dong

Translator’s note: In the mid 1990s, while in her eighties, Dr Gao Yaojie uncovered a network of unsanitary blood collection and sales that eventually led to a devastating HIV outbreak in central China. As she gained international influence, the Chinese authorities briefly recognized her work before harassing her and putting her under house arrest. In 2009, Gao Yaojie left China and settled in New York with help from friends and volunteers. She has since published three books detailing her research on the AIDS epidemic. Gao wrote this short memoir about these experiences in the spring of 2020, just as the outbreak of the coronavirus hit the US. It was published on September 5 by Initium Media (paywall) and is translated here for the first time in English. – Mengyu Dong

I am 93 years old. I’ve had to run away from many things throughout my life. I ran from Shandong to Henan. I ran from one part of Henan to the next, where I lived through the tough times of my prime years. It didn’t stop in Henan. When I was an 82-year-old fighting against the AIDS epidemic, I had to run away from my country. For more than a decade, I’ve lived in New York in exile, by myself. Now with America as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, there’s nowhere left for me to run. I am old and sick. What can I do?



Sin in Old Shanghai

Into the Shanghai trenches, with Paul French

Shanghai’s sin districts, catering to foreigners, were many and varied. They appeared moments after the city became a treaty port in the 1840s and survived through to the 1950s. Whoring at the brothel shacks in Hongkew (Hongkou), gambling at the first race course on Honan Road, illicit betting at the adjacent Fives courts and knock-down-and-drag-out shamshu bars in Pootung (Pudong), were all popular pursuits for sailors. Sin existed across the city – in the French Concession and the International Settlement, around the edgelands of the foreign concessions in the Western External Roads (Huxi), as well as the Northern External Roads that ran across the Settlement’s borders from Hongkew into Chapei (Zhabei).

All of these districts shifted, morphed, rose and fell over the decades thanks to a variety of factors: from suppression by the Chinese and/or foreign authorities; as a consequence of the Second Sino-Japanese War after 1937, and the liberation of Shanghai from the Japanese in 1945; and ending after the arrival of the communists in 1949. All these places were the subject of legend and anecdote, exaggeration, and not a little official embarrassment. The sin districts fill the pages of the files of the Shanghai Municipal Police and the jotter books of the Garde Municipal in Frenchtown. They were patrolled by the Japanese Gendarmerie that, in the late 1930s, controlled the Western and Northern External Roads, and by the Chinese police that governed the fringes of the settlements beyond foreign control. All saw prostitution, drug abuse and gambling alongside murder, mayhem and bloodletting. The stories are legion, such as the unsolved murder of Eliza Shapera in 1907 – one of the many crimes among Shanghai’s multinational underclass, once called ‘Shanghailanders’.



Political Love in the CCP’s China

How nationalistic ‘fan circles’ are redefining love of country – Ting Guo

Ed: This post was written as the third in a series of three posts about different conceptions of love in China through the ages; the first two were published at Sixth Tone. The first post draws out ancient and Confucian notions of ai 爱 as “benevolence,” as well as the coining of aiqing 爱情 as “romantic love” in the late Qing and aiguo 爱国 or “love of country” in the early Republic. The second post focuses on Christian and revolutionary notions of love, including a reprising of the ancient notion of bo’ai 博爱 or “universal love.” The third post, published below and not at Sixth Tone, continues the story after 1949...

The Italian historian Emilio Gentile observed that in modern politics, it’s possible for secular political entities to become objects of faith, love and loyalty. Love is an emotion in which bottom-up agency and top-down power can converge, even as political players seek to manipulate and monopolize its expression. The result is what a different scholar, William Reddy, calls an “emotional regime,” in which the state dominates the discourse of love.


Barbarians at the Gate

China’s New Youth

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this episode, hosts Jeremiah Jenne and David Moser catch up with writer and editor Alec Ash, to discuss the new US edition of his book Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China. Alec’s book is an intimate portrait of six diverse members of China’s “post-80s” generation, tracing their lives’ trajectory in the context of China’s turbulent and unpredictable economic modernization process. Orville Schell called the book “a fascinating mosaic that gives us a wonderfully vivid sense of what it’s like to grow up today in the People’s Republic of China.” With the themes of the book as a jumping-off point, the topic broadens in historical scope, exploring communalities and contrasts in earlier youth movements such as the May 4th movement, the Tiananmen Square movement, the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution, and the current resurgence of nationalism among the “post-2000s” generation. Alec is China correspondent for the Los Angeles Review of Books, and his articles have appeared elsewhere including The New York Review of Books, The Economist, the Guardian, and The Sunday Times.



How Will Chinese Americans Vote In 2020?

Mengyu Dong talks to Yi Chen about her documentary film First Vote

Yi Chen is an independent filmmaker who tells stories about Chinese American communities. In her most recent documentary, First Vote, she follows the journey of four Chinese Americans from the 2016 presidential election to the 2018 midterms. I spoke with Chen about the film’s behind-the-scenes stories as well as her own experience being a Chinese American filmmaker. She hopes her film can showcase political engagement in the Chinese American community and inspire people to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The film will be broadcast as part of the America ReFramed series on October 20, 2020. – Mengyu Dong

Mengyu Dong: Let's start with the name of the film, First Vote. How did you come up with the title? What do you think it represents?

Yi Chen: It actually took me a while to come up with the title. There are several layers of meanings. I was interested in first-time voters. In 2016, it was the first time to vote for Sue Googe (former Republican candidate for the US Congress in North Carolina) and Lance (Lijian) Chen’s (Assistant Professor in the School of Business Administration at the University of Dayton). That was partly where the title came from. And, as I was becoming an American citizen, this is also my journey before I cast my first vote.