China History Podcast

Follow the Law

Part five in the History of Chinese Philosophy podcast series

Legalism takes front and center stage in this episode. After the conquest of the competing Warring States in 221 BCE by Qin Shihuang, a new ideology was embraced by the new Chinese state. The Legalist philosophers Shang Yang, Shen Buhai, Shen Dao, Han Fei and Li Si are all introduced as well as their individual and collective contributions in laying the Legalist foundations for what was to follow in the Qin dynasty, and over the next two thousand years of imperial Chinese history. Laszlo also shows what happened to Legalism right after the Qin Emperor met his untimely end, and how this led to Confucianism's greatest triumph in the Han dynasty thanks to Dong Zhongshu and others:

Story Club

Discussion: Finished

We invite experts to answer reader questions about ‘Finished’ by Han Song


Steve Bewcyk asks: Did Han Song specifically make the statement that this story refers to migrant workers? Or is the story an allegory of the petition system of China?

Nick Stember: As far as I know, Han Song hasn’t gone on the record anywhere saying that this story is about migrant workers or the petition system. I don’t think it would take a huge stretch of the imagination to conclude that he is gesturing in this direction, though. In a 2011 interview, for example, Han Song talked about using the subway as a metaphor for contemporary Chinese society:

Chinese Corner

The Write Stuff

Writing Chinese is hard. Is technology helping or hindering? – by Eveline Chao

One day in 2010, I was in a car with my cousins, being driven around Taipei by a (directionally challenged) aunt. After our third time getting lost, my aunt finally pulled over, plugged in the GPS, and used her finger to write the address of our destination onto the touchscreen device. As she scribbled out the characters, my cousins all leaned forward to watch. “Wow,” one of them said when she was done. “I don’t know how to handwrite anything anymore.”

Writing in Chinese, in case you hadn’t noticed, is freaking hard. So much so that Chinese people think so, too. I’ve seen everyone from my mom, to a seatmate on a Beijing bus, even to my Chinese teacher, suddenly stop in the midst of writing, unable to continue because they’ve blanked on a word. Professor Victor Mair at the University of Pennsylvania has called this character amnesia (he later clarified he “cannot guarantee that I coined the expression”).


What Does China Want?

Mike Cormack reviews China’s World by Kerry Brown

With Xi Jinping making a bid for global preeminence and the effects of China’s foreign policies seen everywhere from Australia to Iran, the question “What Does China Want?” – the subtitle of Professor Kerry Brown’s new book, China’s World – has never been so pertinent. (The echo of Mark Leonard’s 2008 book What Does China Think? is instructive. The subject has changed from Chinese opinion and feeling to Chinese action and desires).

The very fact that this question is being asked in global capitals might give us pause. A highly-regarded China watcher, Professor Brown reminds us that just forty years ago, China had almost no interaction with the outside world, with very few foreign embassies and even less foreign travel. To go from that to becoming the biggest trading partner of almost every country in the world, with the largest proportion of foreign students in many countries, active in ASEAN and G20 not to mention its own Belt and Road strategy, is a remarkable journey. But the point, which Brown steadily keeps his eye on, is “Where does it go from here?”