Sartorial Sycophancy

What Venezuelan President Maduro wore in China – Frank Beyer

As Venezuela has been the recipient of over half of China’s loans to South America, the ongoing crisis there is of concern to Beijing. China continues to support the embattled government of Nicolás Maduro and, like Russia and Turkey, doesn’t recognize the opposition’s Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president in January 2019. Given that Venezuela is a major source of oil for China, the Communist Party would prefer stability and a continuation of the status quo. If the socialist revolución bolivariana started by Hugo Chávez and continued by Maduro does fall, however, the pragmatic Xi will be ready to negotiate with a new government. Guaidó, for his part, has said he wants a productive relationship with China. In light of the developing crisis, a look at Maduro’s wardrobe and actions on a trip to Beijing in 2018 gives us some insight into the relationship between the two regimes.


Generation Gaps

From old-timers to fifty shades of youth – Alec Ash

For China’s ‘post-80s’ generation, there are various tribes to identify with. The ‘working grunt tribe’ (shangbanzu) or ‘urged tribe’ (beicuizu) are the nine-to-fivers pressured into conformity. The ‘strawberry tribe’ (caomeizu) are nice to look at but soft inside, flitting from job to job and avoiding responsibility. The ‘moonlight tribe’ (yueguangzu) spend their monthly wages shopping – a punning double meaning of ‘moonlight’ and ‘spend it all’ – while the ‘bite the old tribe’ (kenlaozu) still live off mum and dad. Almost everyone’s in the ‘rush-rush tribe’ (benbenzu) but those who can’t hack it might join the ‘crush-crush tribe’ (nieniezu), named for a brief craze where stressed young workers took out their frustrations by crushing packets of instant noodles in supermarket aisles.

China Conversation

Connecting Across Time and Culture

Historical mystery writer Elsa Hart in conversation with Jonathan Chatwin

Where did your interest in China – and the particular period of imperial Chinese history you deal with in your novels – come from?

My interest in 18th-century China developed during days spent on the scree slopes and alpine meadows of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Yunnan Province. I traveled to Kunming and Lijiang for the first time in 2010 when my husband, a biologist who studies mountain plants, was doing fieldwork for his dissertation. We returned to the area in 2011 and spent most of the following three years there. It was in Lijiang that I learned about the network of old trade routes between China and Tibet known as the Tea Horse Road. And a visit to the ancient observatory in Beijing inspired me to read about the Jesuits who oversaw the construction of its instruments in the 17th and early 18th centuries.


National Absurdity

Harvey Thomlinson reviews David Hull’s translation of Pidgin Warrior

Zhang Tianyi’s long-interred Pidgin Warrior, now resurrected in David Hull’s translation, marches us to 1930s Shanghai, where national identity is, as ever, an anxious question. This particular stage of China’s perennial crisis of the “Western challenge,” ongoing since the humiliation of the “unequal treaties” of the Opium Wars, has acquired existential urgency thanks to the Japanese military invasion. Bristling Confucians prescribe a restoration of tradition while liberal pragmatists call for Westernization to “save China,” and Marxists are on the rampage to destroy “feudal culture.”


Reformist Propaganda

Yifu Dong visits Beijing’s new exhibit celebrating economic reform

Forty years ago, China’s leadership decided that the Chinese people deserved better than having to suffer from mass hunger, abject poverty and periodical chaos. It rolled out a program called Reform and Opening, setting China on a path of capitalist normalcy, or as most pundits put it, “an economic miracle.”

This past November, the National Museum of China, a sullen monolith hunching over the east side of Tiananmen Square, put on a grand exhibit called ‘The Great Transformation,’ which celebrates China’s progress in the past four decades. Before it opened on November 13, when President Xi Jinping visited, the National Museum closed for 50 days in preparation. Seeking earth-shattering revelations about Chinese politics from such a well-orchestrated propaganda exhibit is the same as digging for gold in a coal mine, but the basics of China’s new narrative about Reform and Opening are worthy of a recap.