Barbarians at the Gate

China’s Education Ambitions

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this new episode of the Barbarians at the Gate podcast, Jeremiah Jenne and David Moser delve into the Chinese education system, focusing on the evolution of China’s universities. Starting with Trump’s recent ill-advised (and quickly rescinded) executive order to cancel the F-1 visas of a substantial number of 370,000 Chinese students studying in the US, the discussion moves to China’s multi-billion-dollar effort to enhance the soft power attraction of its universities by building world-class research institutes and recruiting top foreign academic talent. Jeremiah and David explore China’s experimentation with new education formats, the ongoing revisions to the gaokao college entrance examination, and the so-called “creativity problem” of the Chinese educational tradition:

Barbarians at the Gate

Yaqub Beg’s Western Uprising

The rebel general whose demise led to the provincializing of Xinjiang

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

Muhammad Yaqub Beg (1820-1877) was an adventurer and soldier of fortune who led a massive rebellion against the Qing Empire in what is today Western China. From his humble origins as a petty mercenary, he exploited a weakened Qing, carved out a kingdom in the desert and drew the attention of the world's great powers. Ultimately, his rebellion was crushed by Qing forces led by General Zuo Zongtang (of the eponymous chicken dish), and his demise paved the way for the provincializing of Xinjiang by the Qing. In this old episode of Barbarians at the Gate, Jeremiah Jenne and James Palmer look at the life and times of this daring general and what his legacy means for Western China today:

Barbarians at the Gate

The Khitans and their Empire

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

As featured eagle-hunting in the banner image above, the Khitan were a proto-Mongol people from regions of present-day Mongolia and Northeast China, whose history stretches back to the 4th century. In 907 they founded the Liao Empire, one of the first expansive empires in China to establish their capital in the area around modern Beijing. Two centuries later, caught between a rising Chinese empire in the Song (960-1279) and a new power in the Northeast, the proto-Manchu Jurchen, the Liao Empire fell in 1125 and the Khitan were scattered once more across Asia. In this old episode of Barbarians at the Gate, Jeremiah Jenne and James Palmer discuss the history of the Khitans, their empire and their legacy – helped along by analogies to the Godfather trilogy and Game of Thrones:

Barbarians at the Gate

The An Lushan Rebellion

The emperor, the concubine and the general who defied a dynasty

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

Having syndicated four recent episodes of the show’s revival (subscribe for new episodes on iTunes here), we’re going back to the origins of Barbarians at the Gate and running another four from its original run back in 2016, when the focus was more squarely on barbarians and uprisings. The inaugural episode – cohosted by Jeremiah Jenne and James Palmer – looks at An Lushan, the Göktürk general who charmed his way into the court of the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century, then almost succeeded in bringing down the empire from 755-763. It’s a story made for imperial slash fiction: the aging emperor Xuanzong, his concubine Yang Guifei, and the outsider who came between them. The audio quality is not so crisp, but the sharp insights make up for it:

Barbarians at the Gate

The Common Tongue (Part 2)

Dialect and nationalism in China, with guest Gina Anne Tam

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

In this episode, Barbarians at the Gate returns to the contentious topic of language reform in China and the fate of fangyan, the various local speech forms referred to as “dialects.” Joining Jeremiah and David on the podcast is Gina Anne Tam, Assistant Professor in History at Trinity University, and the author of the recent book Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860-1960.  Picking up the threads of the earlier podcast on putonghua, they explore issues such as the central role of language unification in the task of nation building; the tension between the goal of national unity and preserving China’s rich cultural diversity as manifested in fangyan; the future survival of the many local speech forms in the face of China’s ongoing national putonghua promotion policy; and a brief discussion of Chengdu rappers and the sociological implications of Sichuan dialect rap: