Q&A

Gods of China Past and Present

Kevin McGeary talks to Xueting Christine Ni about Chinese deities

What drew you to the topic of Chinese deities? How are they unique compared to other cultures?

There are very few books in English on the subject that are accessible and at the same time provide sufficient depth. It tends to be either academic research or glib guides that merely skim the surface. Chinese spirituality is one of the best facets through which Western readers can understand China’s society. Its observation and practice have completely integrated with China’s social customs and everyday life, and are also very much linked to broader economic and political developments in history.  Chinese gods have evolved through centuries, from multiple belief systems, some indigenous like Confucian philosophy and Daoism, others foreign, such as Buddhism and even Persian religions. Not to mention the 56 officially-recognized ethnic groups in this vast country, each with their own languages, cultures and beliefs. This process is only really possible in a climate unique to China, and is one of the reasons why Chinese spirituality is so diverse. Whilst there are many unique elements, it’s by no means alien to anyone on the outside, and I do think that letting people in on this subject is a key for better understanding.

Q&A

Crime and the Chinese Dream

Joanna Chiu talks to Børge Bakken

In southern China, the rural town of Fang pulled itself out of poverty thanks to a simple scam. “Cake uncles” approached bakeries outside their hometown to deliver cakes, then faked the receipts and billed for more cakes than they actually sold.

According to Crime and the Chinese Dream, edited by a leading criminologist on China, Børge Bakken, cake uncles and other working class people have turned to illicit schemes in pursuit of the "Chinese Dream” – a modern fixation with economic success, intertwined with nationalism. The collection is a collaboration between Bakken and some of his former top doctoral students at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). (Bakken was Director of the Criminology Program at HKU from 2008 to 2013, and is currently a visiting fellow at the Department of Social and Political Change at Australian National University.) Researchers spent many months, in one case over a year, in mainland China conducting field work, immersed among the country’s most marginalized people.

Q&A

Stories of the Left-Behind

Mengyu Dong talks to Scott Tong about A Village with My Name

Part of the challenge of writing a family history is that the people in the story, or their direct descendents, might still be alive. And they may not want the story to be told. As a journalist, you don’t let a source decide what goes into your reporting. Is it more complicated when the subjects are your family?

Yes. The part about my maternal grandfather was particularly challenging because he was a wartime collaborator and that was obviously shameful for the family. My mother didn’t remember him because they were separated when she was young. But she did remember the pain of growing up without a father. And the family never talked about him. Before I started researching for the book, all I knew was that he worked for the Wang Jingwei government in Shanghai. Then as I started to research and found more about him, things weren’t  that black and white anymore. They start to enter the grey area. You know, as a father, he was trying to put food on the table for his family. He took care of his brother’s widow and his niece. I think during wartime, people face a lot of tough choices, and can end up on the wrong side of history.

Q&A

Personal, Poetical, Political

Nick Stember asks Christopher Doyle about The Hong Kong Trilogy

Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of your work, but I wonder with something so politically charged if you feel like people expected you to be giving answers? You know, Christopher Doyle makes a big statement, like Michael Moore or someone like that.

The point is to embrace the image: whether it’s the image on has of oneself or where one hopes to arrive – as an artist, a banker, a good mother, or whatever. It’s not how society and the tabloids need to “closet” you: it’s a volition, hope, and intention to be more than you would be alone that allows a public persona to help you to hurdle through to a very free and giving space.

Q&A

Life and Love on the Factory Floor

Susan Blumberg-Kason talks to Spencer Wise about his debut novel, The Emperor of Shoes

Spencer Wise’s debut novel, The Emperor of Shoes, came out on June 5 from Hanover Square Press, an imprint of the romance publisher Harlequin. His story centers around Alex Cohen, a Jewish-American man who travels to his father’s shoe factory in Foshan, a city of seven million in the southern province of Guangdong. Alex’s father would like him to take over the family business, but instead Alex falls in love with Ivy, a factory worker and pro-democracy activist. According to his biography, Wise “comes from a long line of shoemakers dating back many generations to the shtetls in Poland.” He also spent time living in a shoe factory dormitory in southern China in preparation for writing his book.

Surprisingly, there haven’t been many books published in the US set in Guangdong. Leslie T. Chang’s Factory Girls is the only one that comes to mind. I recently asked Wise about that lacuna, as well as cultural appropriation in literature and why American men writing about China tend to shy away from romance in their books.