Diaspora, Q&A

Singapore with a Republican Accent

Rebecca Choong Wilkins interviews Jannis Jizhou Chen about the Sinophonic voice

Jannis Jizhou Chen was born in Chengdu and left China in his teens. Since then he has sojourned in Singapore, Germany and the United States. His publishing debut is a collection of short stories in Chinese, The Stories of Eng Watt Street (永發街事), released in January. Rebecca Choong Wilkins sat down with him as part of her Diaspora column for the China Channel to talk about the controversies of the Sinophonic voice, in all of its varieties.

Can you tell me about your debut work?

It is a collection of 12 short stories taking place in Singapore on Eng Watt Street. I had lived there for six years and got to know many lovely neighbors. I started writing some of the stories while there, and turned many of my dear neighbors into fictional characters. Each story focuses on one household, but when read together, they form certain connections with each other.

Q&A

Thrilling Cities, Hearts of Glass

Susan Blumberg-Kason interviews Ivy Ngeow about her new Macau-noir novel

You write about early 1980s Macau. Not only has there been little set in Macau in terms of fiction, but that period is also special since it’s during the early days of development. How did you research that period?

I found a very old book by Ian Fleming called Thrilling Cities (1963) in Chowrasta Market in Penang, Malaysia, whose strapline was “Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, takes you on an offbeat tour of the flesh pots of Far Asia and America.” It had fascinating, lurid, sexy black-and-white photographs of “thrilling cities” which included Chicago and Macau in the golden days of the 1950s and 1960s.

Q&A

Taking Risks in Hong Kong

Maura Cunningham tells Jeffrey Wasserstrom about controversy at the Hong Kong Literary Festival

In the first week of November, I crossed the Pacific to take part in several events dealing with the past: university talks about the Boxer Crisis of 1900 and a panel on the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, held this year in Tai Kwun – a former prison turned heritage site cum arts and shopping district (think Alcatraz meets Covent Garden). I thought these activities would prove interesting, especially the panel, where I was paired with the versatile writer Mishi Saran (a LARB contributor) and the historian Stephen Platt (author of an acclaimed new book on the Opium War). I was not disappointed.

What I did not expect – though perhaps I should have, given recent clampdowns on rights in the territory – was how many interesting discussions relating to a single contemporary issue, censorship, would be taking place while I was in the territory. Before I departed the US, my schedule for the week included attending a November 3 launch party for the first international exhibition of work by a China-born and Australia-based satirical cartoonist I admire, Badiucao. Two members of Pussy Riot, as well as local artist Sampson Wong and local activist Joshua Wong, were scheduled to speak at the party. By the time I reached the Hong Kong airport on the evening of November 2, however, both the party and the exhibit had been called off due to concerns about Badiucao’s safety.

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.