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.

Dispatches

The Case of the Missing Migrants

“Teaconomics” transforms a Chinese village – Matthew Chitwood

Editor’s note: We’re pleased to present a new mini-series by Matthew Chitwood, a research fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs, who is living for two years in Bangdong Village in southwestern Yunnan Province, since fall 2017, researching rural perspectives on life and China’s economic transformations. Each Thursday for the next four weeks, we will feature a new essay from Matt’s blog, examining a different aspect of life in Bangdong loosely organized around China’s four pillars of development: economic, social, environmental and political. – Alec Ash

The blood gushed out with each squeal, dark like vintage Burgundy. Each labored breath cut off the flow, like someone pinching a hose, until a new squeal – piercing and terrifying – opened the floodgates anew. It spilled into an aluminum bowl, turning a bright red, like frothy cooling Jell-O.

That is not what I was expecting, although I suppose it should have been. I was attending a village shazhu fan, or “pig-slaughtering feast,” for Chinese New Year. It was an educational moment for me and a wide-eyed three-year-old next to me. Moments earlier, the boy’s father, Li Rugui, a local tea farmer and the host of our feast, had led the doomed animal from its concrete pen next to their home. Li Rugui was joined by three buddies, with one man holding each ear and two at the tail. The pig made its discomfort clear.

Dispatches

Chinese Burners

China goes to Burning Man, and reinvents it at home – Ian Rowen

Science-fiction author Chen Qiufan recently published an account in Logic magazine of his virgin trip to Burning Man in 2018 as a “Chinese burner.” Chinese tech entrepreneurs, he writes, “act as the first generation of pioneers journeying into the virtual New World. They imagine themselves as packs of wolves in the Mongolian plains who can only survive and emerge victorious through bloody combat, incessantly stalking new territory and prey.” Reflecting on their pursuit of success and power amidst all the surreal art and spectacle, Chen concluded that his tech-networking campmates’ “combination of worshipping totems while pursuing practical benefits is quintessentially Chinese.” Alas, it’s also quintessentially American – as in the myth of the Western frontier – and Burning Man may be the world’s most weirdly scenic place to watch this collision of financial and imperial fantasy.

Dispatches

China’s Anime and Cosplay Obsession

How the rise of “2D culture” helps Chinese teenagers escape pressure and find purpose – Tanner Greer

“Most people have no idea I do this,” said Wu Na, beaming, as costumed conference-goers stopped to take her picture. The 14-year-old was wearing a thin cotton cloak over a knee-length tunic. As I talked to her, a boy walked into the convention hall sporting spiked hair, a neon-purple trench coat, and a bare chest. Like the hundreds of other cosplaying teenagers in the convention hall, he was not going to allow Beijing’s frigid January temperatures to cramp his style. “I have trouble connecting with most other people at school,” Wu reflected. “But in the two-dimensional world there is a sense of community I can’t find anywhere else. My second-dimension friends mean so much more to me than my third-dimension friends do.”

Wu is just one of the hundreds of millions wrapped up in what young Chinese call the “second dimension” (二次元). The closest English parallel is the ACG, or animation-comic-gaming sector, the market’s favorite acronym for a certain class of Japanese pop culture exports: anime, manga, and the merchandise inspired by them. The two-dimensional world Chinese teenagers such as Wu Na live in includes all of these elements, but their self-styled “second dimension” extends further – and is not limited to Japanese ACG, also factoring in anime-styled cartoons drawn in Korea, China and the United States.