Essays

Racism with Chinese Characteristics

How China’s imperial legacy underpins state racism and violence in Xinjiang – Magnus Fiskesjö

Due to incidents last year in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, where Africans were evicted and forced to sleep on the street simply because they are African, there is a growing realization around the world that Chinese racism exists. Despite the government's denials, racism against Africans in China is often blatant. In one widely circulated clip, one can see a white and a black woman both trying to enter a shopping mall: only the white woman is permitted, and both leave in disgust. Just as in the West's past, in China contempt for Africans is also often mixed up with patronizing exoticization. Chinese comedians wear blackface on state TV. In Shenzhen's Windows on the World theme park, dark-skinned ethnic minority people are choreographed to perform either as primitive Africans, or as primitive themselves.

All such racism is serious, as are incidents of street racism against Muslims in India and against Asians in Western countries that have taken place in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This is to say nothing of the continued racism and police brutality in the United States. But as for China, we must also include the ongoing mass racist campaign run by the Chinese government, in Xinjiang, western China (or East Turkestan depending on whom you ask). Millions of people are being targeted solely because of their ethnicity – textbook racism. These are Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minority people: over 12 million people who are not foreigners, but native inhabitants in their own land. They are also citizens of China, who on paper have a constitutional right to be culturally different. Yet since 2017, their nations have been put under a draconian program of racist profiling which discriminates and denigrates their ethnicity, culture, language and religion. The Chinese state deploys ominously biologistic terminology directly recalling the Nazis, and has detained at least one million people in extra-legal mass camps for “re-education” (that is, brainwashing). Many have perished inside; able-bodied ones are sent to forced labor.

 

Essays

The Trouble with (the Lack of) Accents

How accent reveals identity politics in Hong Kong cinema – Gladys Mac

In the Anglophone media, the incorporation of accents is an essential element to defining a time period, an ethnicity, a culture, or any other type of identity. While it may be difficult to imagine a James Bond with a non-British accent, it would be ridiculous if Queen Elizabeth II did not have a British accent in The Crown. Yet in the Sinophone world, accents are a much more complicated issue, making sound the most revolutionary technological change in Chinese cinematic history.

It is well known that there are numerous Chinese dialects, each region with a specific accent. For those who are overseas, these accents not only take on a dialectal flavor, but are also influenced by the local languages in which they speak. Dubbing over actors was a solution for the accent or dialect issue in the 1960s and 70s for cinema produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is still the main solution for mainland Chinese films and television series today. For those productions that chose not to dub over their actors, such as Ang Li’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the audio aspect of the film can turn out to be very distracting to an audience who understands Mandarin – forcefully directing their attention to the accented speeches of Michelle Yeoh of Malaysia and Chow Yun-fat of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong films and series that were exported to Southeast Asia used to be dubbed over in the local language, the practice of dubbing over accents for the local audience has fallen out of practice.

 

Essays

Journey to the East

Thomas Manning’s journey to Lhasa in 1811 – Christopher DeCou

The mountainous Tibetan landscape was once thought of as impregnable to Western explorers. Today, Lhasa has an airport and a train-station. Yet under Communist rule, access is heavily restricted for foreigners once more. At the beginning of the 19th century Thomas Manning – a Chinese-enthusiast from England – travelled to Tibet, thinking it to be his secret backdoor into China. In the process, he became the first Englishman to enter Lhasa, in 1811. This is his story.

I

 

Born November 8 1772, at Diss in Norfolk, the second son to a middle-class English family, Thomas Manning was a man of “independent character,” known at an early age for his quick intelligence, sardonic wit, and unbounded curiosity. Thomas entered Cambridge at eighteen and excelled in mathematics, eventually producing his own textbook in algebra and arithmetic. But he was unable to advance at the university. He admired Quaker modesty and with it the refusal to swear oaths. Accordingly, when asked to swear loyalty to the Church of England, he demurred and was barred from further studies.

 

Essays

Hong Kong’s Protest of Enchantment

How the soft power of the democracy movement is still alive  – Antony Dapiran

Based on extracts from City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong 

Hong Kong can feel at times like a disenchanted city.

The protests of 2019 drew upon a deep-seated malaise, bringing onto the streets people who felt they were stuck with a leader they hadn’t chosen, running a government that didn’t listen to them, in a city whose housing they could not afford, and with wages and an economy that were going nowhere. During the course of 2020, the new National Security Law coupled with an ongoing crackdown by the authorities has left the population even more dispirited. Many with the means or the qualifications are actively exploring options for emigration. Others despair at what the future might hold for them – or their children.

It is hard to love a disenchanted city. Disenchantment breeds cynicism, and creates an emotional detachment from the community. Yet there is a solution to this state in which Hong Kong finds itself.

 

Essays

Jack London’s Oriental War

The writer’s stint as a war-correspondent in 1904 – Paul French

“I am disgusted! I’ll never go to a war between Orientals again. The vexations and delay are too great.”
– Jack London

He had sailed his broken down sloop, Razzle Dazzle, as an oyster pirate. He had crewed the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland along the coast of Japan. He had served with Kelly’s Army and tramped the western United States. He had dropped out of UC Berkeley. He was just 19. He joined the Klondike Gold Rush; he became a socialist. In 1903, at just 27, he published The Call of the Wild and with it gained money and success (10,000 copies flew off the shelves in the first week of publication). Then, in early 1904, the San Francisco Examiner asked Jack London if he’d like to report on a war between Asia’s rising power, Japan, and Europe’s largest but crumbling monarchy, Russia. Though the war was between the armies of Tsar Alexander and the Meiji Emperor, it was to be fought largely on Korean and Chinese soil. London, in the midst of a protracted divorce from a four-year marriage, thought “why not”? He embarked for Yokohama.

London’s time as a war correspondent in Asia has slipped from his popular biography. The “big books” (The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea-Wolf, The Iron Heel), his leftist politics, his man’s-man adventurer persona – these are what have come to dominate. The same goes for the conflagration he covered, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05: it, too, has rather slipped from history. It shouldn’t have. Instead we mark anniversaries of World War I and, in some parts of Asia, the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War. Yet we need to make room for the big event that fell halfway between the two, a war that not only shook the solidity of Western right and might (the first time an Asiatic power defeated a European one) but offered a first taste to the generals and politicians of Europe and America of what modern, mechanized war would look like.