Cosmopolitan Colonialism

Jeremiah Jenne reviews Robert Bickers’ Out of China

In the summer of 1945, during the final months of World War II, a concert at the Grand Theater in Shanghai hosted a jazz symphony inspired by American composer George Gershwin, played by an orchestra founded by the British consisting of Chinese musicians as well as Russian and Western European Jewish refugees. The music was contemporary, with a boogie-woogie beat, performed in a modernist hall designed by a Hungarian architect. The principal vocalist was Li Xianglan, a famous singer born Yoshiko Yamaguchi to parents who had settled in Manchuria from Japan. Such an improbable mashup is a fitting tableau in Robert Bickers' new book Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination.


The Woman who Built an Empire

Jeremiah Jenne reviews Alice Poon's novel  The Green Phoenix

The Qing imperial palaces were never easy places to be a woman. You were ranked and your rankings determined your level of comfort and security. The surest way to move up the rankings was to attract the continued favor of the emperor or, at the very least, bear him a son. Should that son someday take the throne, then you, as the Empress Dowager, could finally enjoy some power and prestige, not the least because the Qing emperors were, by and large, mamas’ boys.

Hidden History

Changing the Guard

Jeremiah Jenne looks back on historical reactions to political change in China

Last month, China chose its leaders. As we all knew would happen anyway, Xi Jinping remained in the top job for another five years (and possibly will even longer, according to a few pundits), while the Politburo Standing Committee, the Chinese Communist Party’s “board of directors”, saw new faces as former members retired or were sent into political exile. Each new seat at the table represents the head of interlocking patronage networks with roots and tendrils spreading out from the center and down from the top, throughout the apparatus of Party and state.

Now is also the time for Zhongnanhai-ologists: The China watchers and journalists whose job it is to keep one eye fixed on the gates of the CCP leadership compound, a converted imperial park just to the west of the Forbidden City. Who’s in? Who’s out? What will this mean for the future?