Essays

Time-Traveling with Your Uncle Gem

Wujun Ke introduces “Dongbei vaporwave”, the retro electronic rap of China's northeast

When a friend introduced me to the Chinese viral hit “Ye Lang Disco” (“Wild Wolf Disco”) in September last year, I was not sure what the hype was about. Then, like thousands of internet commentators, I fell victim to the earworm. I was captivated by the song’s refreshingly folksy and unassuming sense of humor. Gem (董寶石), a rapper from Changchun, performed the song in the 2019 season of Rap of China, a popular televised rap competition. Soon after, Gem found breakout success on Tik Tok (known in China as “Douyin”) with a vaporwave-influenced track. 

Essays

How Western Media Sees the Belt and Road

Tom Baxter looks at the frames through which Western reporters present the BRI

Ed: This article is a repost from Panda Paw, Dragon Claw, a new website about China’s footprint abroad founded by Ma Tianjie, who also blogs at Chublic Opinion. The site, in their words, “aims to promote civilian-centered storytelling by providing a platform for documenting, reflecting and critiquing Chinese “storytelling” about its footprint overseas … in a dialogue with their international peers.” Below is one of their earliest posts, by editor Tom Baxter on media coverage of the Belt and Road (BRI) , a central concern of the blog. Later, we will also publish one of their deep dives into impacts of the BRI on Chinese communities in Laos.

In April this year, the China-Africa scholar Deborah Brautigam published an article in the Washington Post which fact checked and myth-busted Western media reporting on China’s role in Africa. It included the debunking of such commonly held assumptions as: Chinese companies’ investments and projects not providing jobs or skills to local communities; Chinese banks’ loans as predatory and burdensome; and China as a land-grabbing power, a notion whose implications of colonialism by stealth Brautigam debunks as straight up fake news.

Essays

Hong Kong in WWII

How war changed a city and exposed its colonial lies – James A. Clapp

Somewhat in the same manner that fire anneals metals, terrible historical periods seem to have a way of hardening the resolve of cities. The conquered and occupied city must find new ways to survive in the face of subjugation and exploitation. When they do prevail, there is usually a new reality and understanding. In the case of Hong Kong during World War II, the British were no longer the great protecting overlord. When the local Chinese saw their rulers overrun and paraded in ignominy through the streets and into Japanese concentration camps, and that it would take the Americans to finally subdue the Japanese, and that a new China was emergent, there was indeed a new reality. War changes things, nations, people and cities. The British imperium in Asia was doomed. Two years after the end of the war the “jewel” in Victoria’s imperial crown was gone.

Essays

Fantasy and the Forbidden City

China’s most popular costume drama tells more about the present than it does about the Qing dynasty – Tobie Meyer-Fong

During the summer of 2018, The Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略), a soap opera set in the Forbidden City, mesmerized audiences with its sumptuous costumes and lavish sets. Media analysts celebrated the protagonist – a concubine rising within the ranks – as a bold female exemplar, and noted that it provided a promising vehicle for education about China’s cultural heritage both at home and abroad. The show was made and initially screened by iQiyi, a Chinese internet streaming company owned by Baidu, although it was later also broadcast on conventional and cable television channels. (A version with English subtitles can be found on YouTube.) It proved hugely popular, with episodes streamed over 15 billion times by Chinese viewers. The BBC online breathlessly announced that Yanxi Palace was the “most Googled TV show of 2018 globally,” even though Google is blocked in China.

The series portrays China’s dynastic past in ways consistent with other productions of the late 20th and early 21st century. It glorifies the expansive and multicultural empire of the High Qing period, which roughly coincided with the 18th century. It presents a courtly world filled with marvelous objects of exceptional value and expense. It reflects the muscular vision of China’s past currently promoted by the state, as well as the material aspirations of today’s rich and powerful. In particular, the show spotlights the magnificence of the Forbidden City, which itself has become a brand central to patriotic and consumer-friendly imaginings of the Chinese past – with specially branded cosmetics, elegant reproductions of palace artifacts, ticketed evening extravaganzas, a publishing house, and participation by palace curators and craftsmen in reality television shows. Yanxi Palace buys into an officially sanctioned and consumer-oriented vision of Chinese history, focused on power, wealth, and nationally-identified things.

Essays

Taiwan Too

How the suicide of a female author sparked Taiwan’s Me Too movement – Jessie Tu 

In February 2017, indie-press Guerrilla published a novel by 26-year old Taiwanese author Lin Yi-Han, Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise. The story follows a young girl who is raped by her cram school teacher over a period of five years, beginning from the time she was 13 years old. The book sold more than 200,000 copies in Taiwan, and has been translated into Korean, Japanese and Thai. Speculations arose that the novel was based on the author’s own life when, two months after publication, she died by suicide.

Despite Lin’s public denial before her death that the novel was not autobiographical, it was widely reported that she’d attempted suicide several times before her death, and that the cause of her depression was the years of abuse she suffered at the hands one male teacher. Before her death, Lin was an outspoken advocate for mental illness and had been admitted into psychiatric clinics since the age of 16. In an interview with an online critic before her death, Lin said: “I don’t want people to think of Si-Chi (the protagonist in the novel) as just another fictional character. I want people to sympathise with her.” The preface of the book reads: “The characters in this novel were adapted from real people.”