Dispatches

Larkin in the Middle Kingdom

They fuck you up, your poetry teachers – Elyse Weingarten

When I entered the classroom, I expected it to be abuzz with joy. Instead, the students filed in silently, looking at their phones until class began, and then remained characteristically taciturn. It was my second year living in Beijing and teaching at a university. For weeks, I had been looking forward to teaching British poet Philip Larkin’s ‘This Be the Verse’ to the Chinese undergraduate English majors in my creative writing class. They had read the poem as part of their assignment before the class. I had assumed they’d delight in the poem’s mischievousness and musicality, like so many of their Western counterparts before them. I thought I’d finally elicit enthusiasm from them. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Dispatches

Trickle-down Economics with Chinese Characteristics

For rural Chinese, economic reform is worth the 40-year wait – Matt Chitwood

President Xi Jinping’s New Era was ushered in by a new cast of characters: ballerinas in pink tutus, laborers in yellow hardhats, hip-hop dancers in silver foil Hammer pants and a girl in pigtails. The new proletariat took center stage in Beijing last December to ring in the 40th anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening. Their highly choreographed number, ‘Enter the New Era,’ was just one of dozens in a nationally televised epic production that paid tribute to the economic reforms championed by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, and now Xi, that have paved the way for China’s prosperity.

Dispatches

Taking Out the Trash in Rural China

Waste management in remote Yunnan Province – Matthew Chitwood

My friend Little Tao is a fisherman. He lives with his wife and two kids at a small wharf on the Lancang River just before it runs into the Dachao Mountain Dam. (The Lancang River is known as the Mekong once it flows outside China). Four or five nights each week, Tao loads up his nets on a long flatbed boat and points the rusty bow upriver in search of fish.

Hoping to give my friend Dave, an American who was visiting from Shanghai, one last China adventure before his imminent return to the United States for graduate school, I had called Tao to ask whether we could tag along for an evening. “Of course!” he hollered into the phone. “Come by this afternoon and we can be back by morning for your flight.” Not being overly time-conscientious also means people in the countryside are overly hospitable and ever-adaptable.

Dispatches

Ramadan in Kashgar

Searching for a morsel in Xinjiang – Brent Crane

Editor’s note: The Chinese authorities have often restricted Uyghurs from fasting during Ramadan. In 2014, while the author of this dispatch wandered hungrily through the streets of Kashgar, a large swath of Xinjiang’s population was forced to eat during the day. Last year, Radio Free Asia reported that Kashgari schoolchildren and their parents had to sign pledges affirming that they would not fast. This indignity is just one part of an ongoing campaign of repression that has swept one million people into internment camps. The story below is a time capsule of Uyghur life, and of the connections that we can form across religious and cultural divides, if only we are given the chance. – Anne Henochowicz

Unless you are in Kashgar during Ramadan, as a foreigner you will never go hungry in China. Eating is a national obsession, and takes on an almost sacred air. Cheap restaurants are everywhere, people are constantly talking about food, and Chinese hosts will bend over backwards to make sure you’ve eaten enough. Often I'm confronted by a fierce jabbing of chopsticks in the direction of a half-finished communal dish and the barking command, “Eat!”

So I was surprised to find myself roaming the twisting streets of Kashgar’s atmospheric old town with a rumbling stomach and diminishing chances of finding an open restaurant.

Dispatches

New Rites for Tomb Sweeping Festival

An age-old ritual changes with the times – Matthew Chitwood

A Cloud Tobacco cigarette smolders on Shi Wenxian’s tomb. The lit end hangs off the stone ledge, slowly burning down as if Shi’s spirit were enjoying a long-awaited smoke. All around, people are in motion. A cousin pulls pine needles from the top of the tomb while another hacks away tall, dry grass with a hand scythe. An aunt heats a blackened kettle of water over a makeshift fire as mothers and toddlers hide in the shade, dividing fake money into sheets of four so they’re ready for burning. Li Jinlan, the 79 year-old matriarch, meanwhile ignites a pack of incense and begins placing the bright pink sticks around the base of her son’s tomb.