Essay

When Malaparte Met Mao

Anatomy of a fellow traveller – Frank Beyer

In 1956 the Italian novelist, Curzio Malaparte, received an invitation to travel to Beijing for a commemoration of the death of writer Lu Xun. Malaparte is most famous for his quasi-surrealist WWII novels, Kaputt and La Pelle (The Skin). In Kaputt, as a journalist and officer in the Italian army, he narrates what happened behind the Eastern Front. Episodes from Ukraine, Finland, Romania and Poland get us up close and personal with, amongst others, members of the Nazi elite. Malaparte seems to revel in the horrific subject matter, showing the abuses and hypocrisies of the Axis forces like no other. In The Skin he is a liaison officer attached to the American army, taking us on a Dantesque tour of the hell that is Naples after Allied liberation. He exposes the naivety of the Americans and the damage done to the already miserable local population.

Malaparte was a keen observer, who did not shy away from making criticisms. Why then, on his trip to China, was he so charmed by everything? Did he leave his critical faculties back in Europe?

Essay

Shedding Light on Shadow Banking

Demystifying the commoner’s financier – Mary Davis

Shadow banking has a bad reputation the world over, but particularly in China. Major media outlets and economists alike have demonized it, casting their black mark of economic imbalance across all faux-banking operations throughout the country. But what if they were not the evil shark-loaning, wobbly institutions that we’ve been made to believe? What if they were helpful more than harmful?

This was the opinion of one Chinese banker who left his job as deputy head of Investment Banking at UBS to become a shadow banker in 2011. After moving to the "dark side,” Joe Zhang ended up publishing a book on his experiences, Inside China's Shadow Banking, in which he described the greater opinion of shadow bankers in China to be “only slightly more respectable than perhaps massage parlors or nightclubs.”

Essay

Contentious Friendship

Geremie R. Barmé on Kevin Rudd and a decade of zhengyou

It’s ten years since I suggested that Kevin Rudd use the expression zhengyou in a speech he gave at Peking University in April 2008. Zhengyou means a friend or an adviser who dares give voice to unpleasant truths, one who offers uncomfortable opinions and counsels caution. It’s an ancient term in Chinese; in the glib journalese of today it might be rendered as “speaking truth to power.”

Rudd was Australia’s newly elected prime minister and the speech at Peking University was on the itinerary of his first overseas trip in the office, one that included courtesy calls on political leaders in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin, as well as those in Beijing. The China leg of the trip was particularly fraught because of controversies surrounding the international leg of the Olympic Torch Relay and the recent uprising in “Tibetan China,” what the Beijing media dubbed the “3.14 Riots.” These were mostly peaceful protests against Chinese rule that had broken out in March not just in the official autonomous region of Tibet, but in areas with sizable numbers of Tibetans. The official media blackout imposed on foreign journalists coupled with the draconian repression of protesters had caused consternation around the world, in particular among Western political leaders who were anxious that China’s vaunted “coming out" party at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing that August go off without a hitch. Hopeful international politicians, academics, media commentators and China watchers speculated that China’s further integration into the international community as symbolized by the Olympics might be matched by a greater openness and relaxation within the People’s Republic itself.

Essay

What Do Xi and the Pope Have in Common?

One's a powerful leader for life. The other's Xi Jinping – Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Five years ago, when Xi Jinping became President and Francis became Pope in the same month, I wrote a playful piece suggesting that the question in my title could be answered in the affirmative. One inspiration for this was finding, as I toggled between broadcasts on CNN and other networks, that the ascensions of Xi and Francis were being described in very similar ways. There was talk, in each case, of a small group of men using a secretive process to decide which of them should be the next leader of about one-and-a-half billion people. There was speculation over whether the new leader would be a bold reformer or a stay-the-course type. There was also some musing on whether the new leader’s predecessor, who had just stepped down, would fade away or try to exert influence from behind the scenes.

Essay

Red Dynamite

Why China’s patriotic action films are exploding in popularity – Cameron L. White

In late February, Hollywood insiders went through the routine of checking the trades for that month’s new releases. Top billing went to Black Panther, which had bagged $83 million the previous weekend. Yet the weekend’s real winner was a film most Americans had never even heard of. Raking in $106.4 million, Operation Red Sea (红海行动) had conquered global box office rankings, despite barely surpassing $1 million outside China in the same period.

Directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Dante Lam, and a loose follow-up to his previous film Operation Mekong, Operation Red Sea was inspired by the 2015 evacuation of Chinese nationals from Yemen. The film begins with the members of Jiaolong, a Chinese naval special ops force, liberating a hijacked cargo ship off the coast of Africa. From there, the plot pivots into another rescue mission.