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


Imagining Empresses

Tobie Meyer-Fong reviews the exhibit Empresses of China’s Forbidden City

An older woman with a strong nose, auspicious ears, finely arched brows and a tight, subtle smile looks out from the cover of the exhibition catalog of Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644-1912. She wears a richly embroidered blue vest over an imperial yellow robe, both decorated with sinuous dragons. Soft sable fur trims her hat, collar, and the distinctive hoof-shaped cuffs of Manchu imperial costume. An abundance of pearls from the Manchu homeland completes the ensemble. Her attire denotes status and ethnic heritage, and hints at the possibility of power. Her gaze suggests the opportunity for a direct encounter.


The Banished Immortal

Rui Zhong reads Ha Jin’s biography of Li Bai

The rumors of how Li Bai (also known as Li Po) met his end are greatly exaggerated. The specifics are murky, ranging from alcohol poisoning to drowning while chasing after the moon’s reflection on the surface of a river. It may seem troubling how easily the pertinent details of one of China’s best-known literary icons are lost. However, given that Li often embellished his speech and never liked to stay in one place for too long, his multiple-accounts demise is oddly appropriate.


China in Africa; Africa in China

Ilaria Maria Sala reviews two books on China’s global reach and appeal

Nearly two decades after the first Forum in China-African Cooperation (FOCAC) took place in Beijing in 2000 – and many years into China’s renewed commitment to expanding abroad both economically and politically – Sino-African relations has become one of the hottest topics in Chinese studies. Initially, the bulk of studies were general overviews, often trying to analyze the relationship China had with the whole continent in one fell swoop. Now, increasingly fascinating case studies are coming to press, providing sharper analytical tools and making a larger body of knowledge available to scholars.

Two new books from University of Chicago Press offer an in-depth look at two highly relevant aspects of this political and economic relationship: The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China’s Global Marketplace by Hong Kong anthropologist Gordon Mathews, and The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa by labor scholar Ching Kwan Lee. 


The Personal over the Political

Jia Zhangke scales down in his new film – Amanda Walencewicz

Jia Zhangke, whose cinema has been acclaimed for its social criticism of contemporary China, is contemplating his own oeuvre. The Chinese director’s latest film, Ash is Purest White – which premiered at Cannes in 2018 and was released in the US this March – is sprinkled with references to his previous work. A member of the so-called “sixth generation” of Chinese filmmakers (those born during the Cultural Revolution, now in their fifties), Jia has been making independent features since the mid-1990s, and 1997’s Xiao Wu – about a small-town pickpocket – established him on the global film scene. A former breakdancer from the northeastern city of Fenyang and a graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, Jia’s films have focused on his generation and their milieu, recreating their lives with documentary-like fidelity.