Essays

The Origins of China’s National Drink

Baijiu and the myth of the national liquor – Derek Sandhaus

No one casually happens upon Xinghuacun, but many are driven there by drink. A dusty backwater in north-central China’s Shanxi province, for centuries its residents have made a dry and herbaceous distilled spirit called fenjiu. The road in from the provincial capital of Taiyuan presents a bleak, repetitive landscape of belching smokestacks punctuated by the occasional missionary church steeple, leftovers from another time. Turning off the main drag toward the town’s largest distillery, I travelled down Jiudu Dadao, or “Liquor Capital Avenue.” I was here in search of the birthplace of baijiu, China's beloved national spirit.

Yet thousands of miles southwest, nestled deep in the mountains of Guizhou province, I later found another Liquor Capital Avenue outside of Maotai, whose namesake distillery produces a pungent savory baijiu sometimes affectionally known as the guojiu, or “national liquor.” You can smell the liquor even before you see the factories.

Essays

A Migrant Pen

How Fan Yusu wrote dignity back into migrants’ lives – Ting Guo

In April 2017, an article written by a migrant worker named Fan Yusu went viral on Chinese social media. The piece, titled simply ‘I Am Fan Yusu,’ was published by Beijing-based new media outlet NoonStory and recounts Fan’s family life in a small northern Chinese village, as well as her own story of running away to the southern island province of Hainan, returning home, and becoming a country teacher – all by the age of 12 years old.

Fan goes on to illustrate her present life as a domestic helper in booming, cosmopolitan Beijing. She details how a mistress to the husband she works for begs for his love; how the capital’s migrant children struggle to obtain an education; and how her fellow migrant workers gather together in local reading groups. Many college-educated urban intellectuals and journalists have said they feel “humbled” by Fan’s command of language, her obvious literary talent, and her sharp insight into the marginalized social class to which she belongs.

Essays

Troubling the Surface of Identity

Coming into queerness in the diaspora – M. Huang

While home alone one day, when I was still in secondary school, I happened to channel-flick to E4 and catch the episode of the Canadian show Being Erica that featured Anna Silk as Cassidy Holland. Cassidy was the titular character’s best friend in grad school: we learn that she is gay and had, in 1999, and in keeping with the trope, fallen for her best friend. In one scene, she tells Erica plainly, “I think you are beautiful. I'm really attracted to you. And I know you just want to be friends and that’s cool, but in the spirit of being frank? I have wanted you since the moment we met.” Her eyes are intent and piercing. It must have been 2009, and I didn’t yet have the language to describe or articulate what it was that I was seeing. All I know is that, watching that episode, I felt something, and although I didn’t know it at the time, that something would stay with me.

Essays

Homeland Calling

China’s ethno-nationalist policies towards the Chinese diaspora – Kenddrick Chan

Recent years have seen a global resurgence of ethnic nationalism. Yet some scholars have pointed out that political identities based on value systems revolving around ethnicity are nothing new, claiming that they are often instigators of history – with disastrous consequences. Ethno-nationalist desires reshaped Europe’s borders in the 1910s and threatened to do so again two decades after. Despite more than seven decades of relative peace, largely kept in place by the multilateral organizations and deepening global integration, nationalism appears to be returning to the forefront of politics once more.

Essays

Could Taiwan Today Be Mainland China Tomorrow?

The shifting river of Chinese politics – Scott Savitt

There is a Chinese proverb: “The Yellow River shifts course every 30 years – three decades east, three decades west – and with it the fortunes of those who live alongside it” (Sanshi nian he dong, sanshi nian he xi 三十年河東, 三十年河西). People say this to comfort each other in times of trouble, the equivalent of “this too shall pass.”

Thirty years ago I was a Beijing-based correspondent in my early twenties, covering the student-led democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and subsequent military crackdown. Those seven weeks of peaceful, celebratory protests were the most hopeful experience of my life, and the slaughter I then witnessed on the Avenue of Eternal Peace the most traumatic. I watched as the army fired machine guns and plowed tanks into crowds to carry out their order to clear Tiananmen square before dawn.