Essays

The Chinese ‘alt-left’ who support Trump’s alt-right

How Trump still has fans among social conservatives in China – Alec Ash

“To change a president is common; to change an era is very rare.” So wrote Li Ziyang (李子暘), a 43-year old self-described Chinese nationalist and “self-media” opinion influencer, at 6:24pm on November 9, 2016, Beijing time, when Donald Trump’s electoral victory was secure but America was just waking up to discover it. Li was posting on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Sina Weibo, where he has almost 900,000 followers. And as a Chinese supporter of Trump, he was delighted.

“I like Trump because he’s a businessman, not a revolutionary,” Li told me after the election. We were in a Beijing Starbucks, and the Chinese patriot was wearing an Oakland Athletics baseball cap, slurping an Americano. There were three key areas where he was in agreement with Trump’s policy, he said. First: like Trump, Li is anti-immigration, in a Chinese context as much as an American one. Second: he hates social welfare policies, especially for ethnic minorities (“only Trump openly says that’s not all right”). And last: he enjoys giving the liberal Western mainstream a hard time, taking relish in the drumming that Trump doles out to what he, too, calls jia xinwen, “fake news.”

 

Essays

A Song for Hong Kong

A brief history of Hong Kong's protest music – Alec Ash


Hong Kong has long been a city of song. In the 60s and 70s it was the music bars of Wan Chai and the neon-lit karaoke joints of Kowloon. In the 80s and 90s, Cantopop became central to the city’s cultural identity (as well being go-to KTV picks in mainland China, an important form of soft power). After the handover to China in 1997 Cantopop lost its mojo – supplanted by K-Pop – but over the last ten years a new musical form has come to Hong Kong: the protest song.

Song is often married to dissent, from Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939, with its haunting arboreal imagery of lynching, to Bob Dylan’s 1963 ‘Masters of War’ at the height of US-Soviet tensions. In Hong Kong, musicians took up the mantle in response to Beijing’s slow encroachments on their freedoms, from the protest pop of Denise Ho (subject of a New Yorker profile just last year) to the crowd-sourced anthem of last year’s protests (see my LARB piece following a frontline fighter). Now a new security law muscled in by Beijing has muzzled them. To mark the city’s silencing – and in hope that its voice will still be heard – here are personal vignettes of four periods of the city’s recent history, through the prism of three songs and a silent coda.

Essays

May the 4th Spirit Be With You

The enduring, eroded legacy of youth protest in China – Alec Ash

On September 15th 1915, the intellectual Chen Duxiu wrote a paean to the youth of China, for the opening essay of a revolutionary magazine he had founded:

“Youth are like the early spring, like the morning sun, like the blooming grass, like the sharp blade fresh off the grinding stone; youth is the most valuable time of life.”

Titled ‘Advice for Youth,’ Chen’s essay lauds young Chinese who oppose the nation’s status quo as “fresh, vigorous cells inside the human body,” where the old guard are “rotten, corrupted cells.” In this metabolism of society, fresh cells must “vigourously drive out” the rotten. If “their blade is sharp enough to cut iron and hemp, and they don’t follow other’s lead or hesitate in thought,” he exhorts, then “maybe society will arrive at a peaceful day.”

Essays

Bare Branches

How Singles Day in China forgot its origins – Alec Ash


Every November 11th, while Brits wear poppies to remember the dead of WWI, the China news cycle [rotates] back around to [Singles Day] or ‘Double Eleven’: the online shopping bonanza, Black Friday on acid, pioneered by e-commerce company Alibaba. Last year, over [$30 billion] worth of goods were sold in 24 hours, and the early hours of this year’s discounts (sales start at midnight) are already 32% higher. But Singles Day hasn't always been about sales. The only figure worth crunching when it started was the loneliest number, number one.

In 1993, the story goes, four Nanjing University students were slouching on their dorm bunkbeds, slurping instant noodles, drinking beer, chain-smoking and complaining that the ladies weren’t falling over each other to get at them. They were ‘bare branches’, they grumbled, using a word for single men, guanggun, that still carried stigma. “From today,” one of them said, pleased by the recurring bare branch of the number one in that day’s date, “November 11th will be called Singles Day.”

Essays

The PRC Just Reached the Average Age of China’s Past Dynasties

History lessons for Xi Jinping – Alec Ash

The People’s Republic of China just turned seventy years old. The fatherland is now the same age as Samuel L. Jackon, Ozzy Osborne and Prince Charles; the Chinese Communist Party is already older than Marx was when he died (64); and the government in Beijing has exceeded the life expectancy in Bhutan. Perhaps most tellingly, China’s latest political incarnation has also reached the average age that its previous forty-nine dynasties lasted.

In an excerpted piece the China Channel ran a year and a half ago, Harvard scholar Yuhua Wang studied lessons from China’s dynastial history, coming up with that seventy-year mean average, albeit accounting for “a wide-ranging variation from the Heng Chu dynasty (403–404), which lasted for less than a year, to the Tang (618–907), which ruled China for 289 years.” (It’s worth noting also that although there have been 49 Chinese dynasties or kingdoms in total, many overlapped with rival territories; there are roughly 16 periods of Chinese history, and half as many dynasties which ruled the entirety of what is now claimed as “China.”)