Essays

Sin in Old Shanghai

Into the Shanghai trenches, with Paul French

Shanghai’s sin districts, catering to foreigners, were many and varied. They appeared moments after the city became a treaty port in the 1840s and survived through to the 1950s. Whoring at the brothel shacks in Hongkew (Hongkou), gambling at the first race course on Honan Road, illicit betting at the adjacent Fives courts and knock-down-and-drag-out shamshu bars in Pootung (Pudong), were all popular pursuits for sailors. Sin existed across the city – in the French Concession and the International Settlement, around the edgelands of the foreign concessions in the Western External Roads (Huxi), as well as the Northern External Roads that ran across the Settlement’s borders from Hongkew into Chapei (Zhabei).

All of these districts shifted, morphed, rose and fell over the decades thanks to a variety of factors: from suppression by the Chinese and/or foreign authorities; as a consequence of the Second Sino-Japanese War after 1937, and the liberation of Shanghai from the Japanese in 1945; and ending after the arrival of the communists in 1949. All these places were the subject of legend and anecdote, exaggeration, and not a little official embarrassment. The sin districts fill the pages of the files of the Shanghai Municipal Police and the jotter books of the Garde Municipal in Frenchtown. They were patrolled by the Japanese Gendarmerie that, in the late 1930s, controlled the Western and Northern External Roads, and by the Chinese police that governed the fringes of the settlements beyond foreign control. All saw prostitution, drug abuse and gambling alongside murder, mayhem and bloodletting. The stories are legion, such as the unsolved murder of Eliza Shapera in 1907 – one of the many crimes among Shanghai’s multinational underclass, once called ‘Shanghailanders’.

 

Essays

Political Love in the CCP’s China

How nationalistic ‘fan circles’ are redefining love of country – Ting Guo

Ed: This post was written as the third in a series of three posts about different conceptions of love in China through the ages; the first two were published at Sixth Tone. The first post draws out ancient and Confucian notions of ai 爱 as “benevolence,” as well as the coining of aiqing 爱情 as “romantic love” in the late Qing and aiguo 爱国 or “love of country” in the early Republic. The second post focuses on Christian and revolutionary notions of love, including a reprising of the ancient notion of bo’ai 博爱 or “universal love.” The third post, published below and not at Sixth Tone, continues the story after 1949...

The Italian historian Emilio Gentile observed that in modern politics, it’s possible for secular political entities to become objects of faith, love and loyalty. Love is an emotion in which bottom-up agency and top-down power can converge, even as political players seek to manipulate and monopolize its expression. The result is what a different scholar, William Reddy, calls an “emotional regime,” in which the state dominates the discourse of love.

 

Essays

Four Types of Chinese Nationalism

How nationalism in today’s China is far from monolithic – Chang Che 

71 years ago, at 3pm on October 1 1949, Mao Zedong stood at a podium above Tiananmen square to found the People’s Republic of China. Soldiers in pine-green tunics marched across the square in triumphant celebration of victory in the Chinese civil war, four years after Japanese occupation ended. Now the anniversary is commemorated with a military parade, nighttime firework displays, and an extended national holiday called “Golden week.” Yet October 1, National Day, is not fully analogous to a day of independence. It commemorates not a nation’s birth, but a nation under new management — that of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

After seven decades, the Party has undergone a marked transformation. Once a fledgling faction with revolutionary ambitions, it is now a ruling party that detests radicalism and claims exclusive representation over the interests of the Chinese people. National Day is an occasion for patriotic festivities, yet hides within it a hidden premise: by presenting an anniversary for the Party as one for the country, it implies the nation and the Party are one and the same.

 

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

Mulan: More Hun than Han

James Millward reads the original Mulan poem that inspired Disney’s films

Mulan is not originally a story about a patriotic Chinese woman. It is not a story about self-sacrifice to defend one's country. It is not a thrilling tale of martial valor. It is, rather, a commentary on the fruitlessness of war against people who are more like oneself than different, delivered in the voice of a woman who does her familial duty out of necessity and then chucks her medals and goes home – a war-weary expression of truth to power.

Perhaps because of the barriers to actually seeing the new Mulan remake (thanks to the pandemic and Disney's steep charge of $30 plus a subscription fee to its streaming service), commentary about the new film has been trickling out over a few weeks. The most recent controversy is over the credits: Disney thanks security and political authorities in Turfan (Turpan), Xinjiang, for facilitating their filming in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Disney filmed part of Mulan amidst Turfan's desert scenery well after it was clear that just around the corner were multiple concentration camps inflicting "transformation through education" upon Uyghurs and other Xinjiang indigenous peoples. Hundreds of such camps have been built across the Uyghur region starting in 2017 and were well-reported by the time Disney started filming in 2018.