Left Out

Grace Jackson reviews Leftover in China by Roseann Lake

First coined in the Chinese media over a decade ago, “leftover women” (剩女 shengnü) is the epithet in China for those women who have failed to attract a husband by their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties, and are considered by their parents and Chinese society at large to be flirting perilously with spinsterhood. Much ink has been spilled in the Anglophone sinosphere over this invented category, and the latest addition – plagued by accusations of using uncredited inspiration from an earlier work – is Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake. A vibrant survey of marriage and dating in contemporary Beijing, the book is supported with research and interviews, and peppered with personal insights into the romantic lives of China’s educated, urban and doggedly unwed young women.


How the Chinese became Christians

Ting Guo reviews Jennifer Lin’s Shanghai Faithful

Legendary preacher and religious rebel Watchman Nee is often thought of simply as someone who denounced denominationalism as a sin and advocated a radical separation from Western missions. When viewed through the personal lens of his grand-niece Jennifer Lin, he becomes something very different: a fashionable young man who loved racecars, was a world-traveler, and collected Life Magazine and Reader’s Digest.

Jennifer Lin starts her book with a question: how did the Lin family become Christians? She begins with her great great-grandfather, who worked as a cook for a household of Anglican missionaries in Fuzhou, the affluent capital of Fujian province. Following the defeat of the Qing in the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century, Fuzhou became one of a handful of “treaty ports” where Westerners were given special privileges to trade and prosthelytize. The cook’s son — Lin’s great grandfather — proved particularly bright, and received a modern education that changed his life. He became a doctor, allowing his son, Lin Pu-chi — Lin’s grandfather — to attend St. John’s University in Shanghai. At St. John’s, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Republic of China who “stirred the hearts of the Chinese people like no one before” spoke to Lin Pu-chi’s class. “The basis of a democratic country is education,” the revolutionary said. “Give unto others what you have received,” Sun exhorted the students. “Let your light shine.”


Off the Plateau

Lowell Cook reviews Old Demons, New Deities

The world of Tibetan literature just got a little bigger. A collection of twenty-one contemporary Tibetan short stories edited by Tenzin Dickie, wonderfully titled Old Demons, New Deities, was published by OR Books in December. The collection brings together some of the best fiction from the Tibetan world, featuring authors from both inside and outside Tibet. For many readers, Tibet means “Free Tibet” bumper stickers and Shangrila fantasies, but these stories evoke a different vision. They offer us windows into the lived experiences of ordinary Tibetans today, capturing the joys and sorrows of modern Tibet as it grapples with both the old demons of tradition and the new deities of modernity.


Sympathy for the Devil

Lee Moore reviews Luo Guanzhong’s Quelling the Demons’ Revolt

Full of blood-thirsty demons, corrupt officials, and doe-eyed beauties popping out of paintings, Patrick Hanan’s posthumously-released translation of Luo Guanzhong’s 14th century novel, Quelling the Demons’ Revolt, is arguably a novel in name only, at times feeling more like a collection of short stories that have been strung together. Unlike later Ming novels, like the Plum in the Golden Vase, Quelling the Demons’ Revolt lacks the narrative tightness that modern readers have come to expect. But, setting aside the lack of a cohesive ending, the novel remains a rollicking ride through the weird and wacky world of the early modern Chinese supernatural.


Seeing Ourselves in Others

Tabitha Speelman reviews Zhou Yijun’s Out of the Middle East

What lead to the nationwide bursts of street protests in Iran in the last week of 2017? “Eggs (a bad economy) and headscarves (a lack of freedom),” writes Chinese foreign affairs columnist Zhou Yijun. The former Middle East correspondent’s popular post on Tencent-sponsored platform Dajia goes on to discuss the possible involvement of “hostile foreign forces” (unlikely) and concludes with the need for Iran’s authorities to allow political reform.

Zhou’s article was part of enthusiastic online discussion in Chinese about the protests on either side of China’s Great Firewall. Although a censorship directive to “no longer hype” the protests came out after a couple of days – perhaps prompted by the amount of online commentators rooting for the protesters – earlier articles were not deleted. This space for coverage of political events outside China, where domestic censorship is growing ever stricter, is also what enabled Zhou's recent book on political reform across the Middle East, including Iran, to get past the censors and into bookstores.