Essays

Medical Team 19

The Quaker aid group in China that the West forgot – Christopher Magoon

When the Friends Ambulance Unit Medical Team 19 – a Quaker-organized aid group – left China, memory of their humanitarian mission was nearly erased. Like many Western aid organisations, they traveled thousands of miles and saved countless lives during the Chinese Civil War. Yet unlike the others, they served Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.

The seven-member pacifist group, called Medical Team 19 or MT19 for short, built mobile hospitals in caves, completely cut off from news of the outside world, often traveling at night to avoid detection. While serving, the volunteers were widely praised by Western powers and the Chinese Communist Party alike. But as post-World War II tensions congealed into the Cold War, there was little room for humanitarian overtures. They were unceremoniously forced out of China, and became a political liability on both sides of the Pacific.

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.