Learning to Belong

Practicing hospitality in rural China – Matthew Chitwood

BANGDONG, Yunnan – The first phrase I learned in the local dialect here was “you lai!” (又来) “Come again!” My teacher was Sister Two, the three-year-old daughter of the village’s best chef. There is no restaurant in Bangdong, so when the mayor hosts dinners for government officials or businessmen, Sister Two’s mother cooks up a feast while her daughter charms the guests. As they depart, Sister Two’s consummate hospitality rings out behind them: You lai! Come again!

Rural hospitality is a way of life in China. It weaves generosity and reciprocity into the fabric of the community, even from a young age. 


Images of a Vanishing Culture

A photo essay from western Xinjiang – Naomi Goddard

Editor’s note: Shaped by their historical position along the ancient silk road, the Uyghurs of Xinjiang have developed a unique culture and identity. While the news is dominated by the re-education camps that attempt to instill in them a standardized identity in line with the PRC, we want to remind readers of their original culture that is under threat, and that Xinjiang is more than its politics. Islam plays a crucial role in Uyghur society, as do values of hospitality to strangers and local community alike. Photographer Naomi Goddard was interested in Uyghur traditions of community and its importance in their everyday work and social life. During her visits to Xinjiang in 2016 and 2017, she witnessed locals carrying out their daily tasks as a collective, from trading livestock to getting their hair cut, and has collected some of her images below. – Alec Ash


Who Wrote China’s Most Notorious Erotic Novel?

Tristan Shaw unpicks the controversial authorship of Jin Ping Mei

For over 400 years, the Ming-era novel Jin Ping Mei – known in English as The Golden Lotus – has been celebrated by some readers as a literary masterpiece, while others condemn it as a salacious influence. Chronicling the life of a decadent merchant named Ximen Qing in the Song dynasty, the book’s notoriety comes from its graphic descriptions of sex, covering everything from adultery to sado-masochism. As Ximen rises up the social hierarchy, his lust for power and sex becomes increasingly depraved. Over the course of the story, he takes six wives and numerous concubines and servants, before eventually dying during the passionate raptures of sex from an overdose of aphrodisiacs.

Oolong Podcast

Leta Hong Fincher on Feminism in China

An Episode of the Oolong Podcast

Hosted by Lev Nachman, we return for a second season of the Oolong podcast. Our first guest, Leta Hong Fincher, is one of the foremost experts on feminism in contemporary China. She discusses her latest book Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, delves into some of the challenges she faced during her writing process, and touches on other details about what feminism looks like in a Chinese context. Listen to the podcast here.


The “Ultra-unreal” in Chinese Literature

Three novels that exemplify a genre, dissected – Robert Foyle Hunwick

Truth is stranger than fiction, Mark Twain observed, because it’s not obliged to probability: a novel has to make sense. Twain’s axiom, though, depends on a fragile bargain. When life takes on the appearance of fiction – what need is there for novelists?

Consider a couple of possible plotlines. In Henan province, once the epicenter of Mao Zedong’s calamitous Great Leap Forward, a wealthy fanatic erects a giant gold statue of the late leader in a barren field; the half-million-dollar colossus is demolished just before reaching completion. Over in landlocked Jiangxi, a businessman running a green energy company is gifted an endangered eight-ton whale by a fellow boss in Zhejiang; the rotting carcass is set aside for a staff bonus, but after its foul smell draws media attention, local authorities declare its meat is destined for dog food.