Reviews

Crossing Borders

Cameron White reviews The Crossing, a new film of Hong Kong

Hong Kong has reached boiling point. In June and early July, millions of young residents took to the streets, protesting a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China. They say the change would undermine One Country, Two Systems, the doctrine supposed to guarantee Hong Kong a high degree of freedom in an otherwise authoritarian country.

One Country, Two Systems was first proposed by Deng Xiaoping as a theoretical model for merging mainland China and Taiwan. The vision: separate legal and economic frameworks could allow disparate regions to coexist within a single, unified China. While never implemented in the context of Taiwan, the model was used to reintegrate Hong Kong in 1997. Since then, perceived violations of that arrangement have been at the heart of nearly every major public demonstration in Hong Kong, including the 2003 protest against national security legislation, the 2012 protest against national education, the 2014 protests against Beijing’s proposed election reform package, and the 2019 protests against the extradition law.

Reviews

The Place Where We Buried Our Youth

Weijian Shan’s memoir spans his sent-down youth and immense success – Kyle Hutzler

Weijian Shan is one of China’s most accomplished financiers. But like many of his generation who have lead China’s renaissance of the past 40 years, his path was far from assured. His formal education was halted after elementary school, when Shan became one of the millions of young people exiled to the countryside as part of the Cultural Revolution. In his remarkable new memoir, Shan relives those years of constant hunger and crushing labor, and the historic twists that would transform his life while China reformed.

Reviews

The Beijing Spring

James Carter on Khiang Hei’s Tiananmen exhibition at Zimmerli

The images on display in Khiang Hei’s new photo exhibition, at Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey, are uncomfortable to look at. Not because of the images themselves, which depict the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. Full of color and spectacle, many of Hei’s images taken before the crackdown on June 4 evoke a sense of excitement, even optimism. Some are grim and bloody, but most of them are not. They show students gathered behind banners declaring support for principles such as democracy and free expression, or identifying their universities or departments. Often they are laughing, smiling, even dancing. Some carry small children, or flash the “peace/V-for-victory” sign.

Reviews

Socialist Literature for the Capitalist Era

Dylan Levi King reviews Empires of Dust by Jiang Zilong

Jiang Zilong’s novel Empires of Dust, newly translated by Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne, is unlike anything else published in translation from Chinese in the past decade or so. Jiang, a 78-year-old native of Hebei Province, made a name for himself with A Day in the Life of the Chief of the Electrical Equipment Bureau (机电局长的一天), a 1976 novella first criticized for revisionism and then praised as the future of Chinese literature. Decades later, in 2008, came Empires of Dust (农民帝国), a sprawling epic of modern Chinese history that can only be defined as capitalist realism.

Jiang comes from the same literary background that produced established names such as Mo Yan, Yan Lianke and Jia Pingwa. All of those writers got their start with politically-approved hack work, too. But while they went in other directions, Jiang Zilong continued to write in a literary style codified in the 1950s. Although he published most of his major works in the 1980s and 1990s, and Empires of Dust in the mid-2000s, Jiang is something of a living literary fossil. To understand his work, one has to step back to the era of socialist realism and revolutionary romanticism.

Letters, Reviews

How an Academic Journal Censored My Review on Xinjiang

A squelched review of Oil and Water by Tom Cliff – Timothy Grose

On January 1, 2018, I received a request from China and Asia: A Journal in Historical Studies, a new journal sponsored by the academic publisher Brill, a respected Dutch publishing house with some 275 journals under its aegis, which claims “over three centuries of scholarly publishing.” The request from the journal was to review Tom Cliff’s book Oil and Water – an ethnography about Han settler experiences in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. I agreed, and the review had a generous November 2018 deadline as the journal would publish its first edition in early 2019. The journal’s book review editor is a trusted friend, and I was pleased to read China and Asia’s mission statement: “Its purpose is to promote communication and exchange among the global Asian studies community, especially among scholars based in Asian countries.”

After receiving several deadline reminders, I submitted the review on November 7, 2018. During those eleven months, the deteriorating situation in Xinjiang weighed heavily on my mind, with hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghurs reported to be detained in re-education camps